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Measure developer productivity using the SPACE framework

Dr. Storey explains how to best use the SPACE framework to measure the productivity of software engineering teams. Dr. Storey is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Victoria and a distinguished expert in empirical software engineering.

We talk about:

  • Productivity metrics for software developer
  • Developer experience as a different mindset to improve developer performance
  • The SPACE framework, which focuses on giving a well-rounded understanding of developer productivity. 

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Transcript: Measuring Developer Productivity with Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey 

[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] Dr. Michaela Greiler: 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. Margaret-Anne Storey. Dr. Storey is a professor of computer science at the university of Victoria and a distinguished expert in the field of empirical software engineering.

[00:00:18] I had to pleasure to work with Dr. Storey on many occasions. Even this year, she joined me during a research I led on developer experience, looking at what makes developers happy and productive and leads them to stay longer and more engaged in their job. Today, I have her here to tell us more about developer productivity and especially, I want to know how can we measure it? How can we improve it? And so I’m super happy to have Dr. Story or Margaret-Anne, or actually Peggy how friends call you. Here on my show. Peggy. Welcome to the show.

[00:00:52] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Thank you very much, Mikayla. It’s great to be here.

[00:00:55] Dr. Michaela Greiler: In the last episode. I talked about my perspective on developer experience and developer productivity and well sort of, there was a little bit of a conclusion, uh, bottom line, which is that I think organizations and teams should stay right away from focusing on measuring develop. productivity and more think about developer experience. This means like, how do the developers feel about their work? Are they, are they feeling productive or are they happy? You know, do they feel that they make progress? Are they bothered by some tools and so on? But what is your take on measuring productivity?

[00:01:32] I know you did a lot of studies there, so you have a lot of expertise. What do you see? think?

[00:01:37] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: All of my research that I’ve done over the last few years has really pointed towards taking a lot of effort and understanding what you mean by productivity before you try to measure it. So what does productivity mean to you? I know that in your last podcast, you mentioned the space framework, and that is the summary of a lot of years of research that shows that, that there are many different dimensions to productivity.

[00:02:01] To some people it’s about pull requests or lines of code they committed or features delivered to the customer or ability to be able to learn something new or help other people. You can’t just say that there’s one way to understand productivity or define it. There’s many different ways and consequently, there’s different ways of measuring it as well.

[00:02:23] It’s interesting to say that we shouldn’t measure productivity, but the fact is a lot of companies will still try to do that. And I think a lot of developers also try to think about how productive am I being? Am I being as productive as I think . I really like this pivot towards thinking about developer experience, which is what we worked on together.

[00:02:45] And you invited me to join that wonderful project that you’ve worked on. And I loved that because a lot of my earlier research really distinguished developer satisfaction from developer productivity, they’re definitely related. So more satisfied, happier developers will be more productive and feel more productive and vice versa.

[00:03:05] But there is this difference. Developer productivity to me really it’s about measuring what they do, right. Or how they do it. The amount of work that they were able to do, or the amount of value that they provide, whereas developer satisfaction or developer experience is more how they feel.

[00:03:22] And those are two quite different things. So I really like that nuanced change that you brought to that through developer experience.

[00:03:32] Dr. Michaela Greiler: You brought up two things, which I think are also in my opinion, two extreme different things, which is the things that they do and the value that those things bring. I thought about this, especially in my entrepreneurial journey it even impacts me much more, so that everything that I do should also lead to impact and have impact and have value.

[00:03:54] Sometimes I see in literature that it’s productivity versus performance where performance, a little bit more output oriented. But even there, I think it’s really hard to grasp . So what is productivity? In my last podcast, I was comparing it to the industrial age where we really have off producing something which comes back to lines of code, and impact has nothing to do with lines of code.

[00:04:16] You can have one line of code in. it can have a huge impact. It can be a drastic bug, or it can be a line of code that really is such a satisfying thing for the customer. I think there are really a lot of nuances, and I wonder, people very often, I see them measuring productivity because it’s the easier metric. I actually really liked the SPACE framework. I’m super inspired by it, but I’m also a little bit skeptical on the metrics side of it. I think it’s so great to have it as a mental model to think about productivity in all those different variations. But then on the end we have like these metrics that are very isolated and then we try to stick them together.

[00:05:01] As I understand it. Right. You’re the expert here. So I I’m happy to hear much more about that, but so we should have different dimensions and take at least three or something. Um, but then in the end, like we were taking very different metrics and how are we going to combine them? What will the combination tell us?

[00:05:18] Can we even interpret it? So these are all questions that are racing up in my hat. What do you think about that?

[00:05:25] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I’m not a fan of developing a lot of metrics, honestly. Let me just maybe step back a little bit and just remind our listeners what the SPACE framework is about in case they didn’t get to listen to your last podcast, which by the way was great. I loved your discussion. SPACE framework is very much an overarching framework to think about different dimensions of developer productivity. The goal behind it wasn’t so much defining metrics, but just thinking about when we talk about productivity, what are the dimensions about productivity that we may mean, or other people may mean. So SPACE is an acronym, and the first letter is S and that stands for developer satisfaction and wellbeing. If we think about understanding developer productivity or improving developer productivity, if we make some change, say to improve developers productivity, we need to think about the impact of that change on developer satisfaction and developer wellbeing. The second one is P which is performance. So performance or the outcomes or the quality of the work that you’re doing. And again, what performance means really varies from developer to developer, engineer to engineer, or managers. They all have different views about those performance outcomes that they care about.

[00:06:44] And then the last three dimensions, the A is for activity, which is what a lot of people think about when they think about development productivity. They think about lines of code. They think about pull requests. They think about features that are delivered to the customer. So that’s kind of the typical one that developers tend to think about when you ask them about developer productivity. C is communication and collaboration. In the research that I did with now, thousands of different engineers, when you ask them, what does being productive mean to them?

[00:07:15] For many, they say it’s about collaborating with others. How well I helped others and how well I collaborated with others. And that’s not surprising because software development is such a collaborative activity. You don’t write code by yourself anymore. And then finally, E which you also touched on is how efficient I can be. My ability to be able to get my work done without a lot of interruptions and my ability to get in that very pleasant flow state, so that I really feel immersed in the work that I’m doing. The work that I’m doing, isn’t so challenging that I feel overwhelmed, but it’s at that sweet spot of being challenging enough that I feel that it’s very rewarding.

[00:07:53] Arty Starr also talks about flow in her book called flow about software development, and talks about the joy of development, which relates again to that experience and developer satisfaction. The SPACE framework honestly is very high level because it impacts all of those things, right? It impacts how developers feel their satisfaction and their wellbeing, the performance.

[00:08:15] So the quality, the outcomes of the project that you’re working on, or the tasks that you’re doing. And then it also looks at the activities that you do and then how you collaborate with others. And then that efficiency and flow part, which again, relates into satisfaction and has an impact on performance.

[00:08:32] So these dimensions, they’re not stand alone dimensions. Maybe you make a change that makes developers feel more satisfied and their wellbeing goes up. So for example, you make a change that allows developers to spend one day a week learning something new.

[00:08:47] That could have an impact on their ability to collaborate with others. If they don’t all work on that same day, they won’t hear back from others and it might have an impact on their activity, at least in the short term. So you have to think about these together. In the SPACE framework paper that we wrote about, we spent a lot of time talking about these different dimensions and the fact that there are these different metrics. None of us, I think really believes that, okay. Take SPACE, choose three dimensions and then choose three metrics and you’re done. That’s not really the best way to use it. However, doing that would be better than choosing one metric.

[00:09:26] The benefit from space comes is thinking about these different dimensions and thinking about. What is it we understand about these different dimensions. What do you, and I understand about activity and what that means to have more outputs. When I say software quality, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to my peers on my team? What does it mean to my manager? What does it mean to my manager’s manager? And when I say that I’m spending a lot of time collaborating. What does that mean to you? And what does that mean to other people and so on. So really thinking about those different dimensions, realizing that any change in one is going to have an impact on the other dimensions and coming back continuously to reflect on those and to reflect on how do we each think about these and how do we each think these will be affected if we do make a change to try to improve overall.

[00:10:18] Dr. Michaela Greiler: One thing that came up also in the developer experience work that we did is this idea of between short-term and long-term. And I think, especially in measurements are falling short in that regard, right? With your example where you have wellbeing coming or going up because they’re spending one day learning and then two other dimensions going down because now they have less overlap for the collaboration and they are writing less pull requests or lines of code. There’s also another dimension, which would be maybe learning right. And learning then in terms of what’s actually the performance of the engineers? Do they create better things, maybe they are inspired and all this becomes really intangible. How do we measure it? Is it happening right now? Maybe it’s happening. We see this. If you measure the things wellbeing, let’s say we have a survey and we ask people and we see well-being goes up, then we see from Git, well, the commits go down. We see maybe collaboration overlaps go down. We can measure that as well, but what’s really hard to measure here is that, maybe somebody has an innovative idea. Or maybe somebody had this idea and learned something and this saved us from a bug or created the more maintainable software system because of the things that they learned here.

[00:11:35] This is a little bit my critique point here, and I really like your stand on it. It’s just a mental model to help get all these different dimension, a little bit more organized, because there are so many things floating around. So this helps us looking at the SPACE framework.

[00:11:50] We can at least go through some of the dimension and we’re not measuring it, but we make a thought experiment like I did right now and say we have a very strong feeling that in the long run our engineers will be more innovative. We’ll be up to date. They will learn. They will maybe stay longer with us. I know that for every job that I was stuck, where I felt like I’m not learning. I was very unhappy . And I think a lot of engineers are like this, they want to learn. so I think maybe it’s a nice mental model to think around those things.

[00:12:20] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: That’s a really good summary. I’m going to just mention some of the more recent work that I did with Brian Hopkin and Tom Zimmerman, where we looked at alignment between different developers and their managers in terms of how they define productivity.

[00:12:34] And we also ask them how they define software quality. And what we found is that there are many, many different views of what productivity and software quality mean. If you’re saying to somebody, should we use this new tool? Should we allow engineers to spend time learning?

[00:12:51] You have to unpack what are all of your assumptions about what the impact of that change will be on developer experience or the quality of the product, whether it’s in the short or long-term and literally expose all of those assumptions, but also expose what it is that you don’t know.

[00:13:11] If we make this change or introduce this new tool, what are the things that we need more information about? And often enough, I’ve sat in on a lot of meetings and people are using terms like productivity and quality, and it’s clear that they don’t even mean the same thing. And yet they’re in these meetings trying to make decisions, and these decisions are very strategic and the decisions are often made without really unpacking.

[00:13:37] We have comfort when we have signals of what’s going on, but software development is a very complex sociotechnical activity and you can’t reduce it to these very simple metrics.

[00:13:49] This came out in the work that we did too Mikayla, but not everybody’s the same, right? Some engineers might be happy not knowing what the impact is and they may be happy helping the people around them. And that’s what they really care about. I helped four people today.

[00:14:06] I’ve worked with people like that. They’re not egocentric at all. And they’re less focused on understanding the vision. They’re happy to help the people around them. There’s no single way to measure this, even if we use surveys as well.

[00:14:19] Dr. Michaela Greiler: There’s so many good things that you just said that I want to touch upon. why are organizations striving for measurements? the higher up, the more we want some tools. We want to understand the world. And I think it’s this idea of models. Of abstractions, because it’s just too hard to grasp. So if you are the team lead and you have like five engineers. You probably have a really good idea of how things are going.

[00:14:45] Are we productive. Are we performing and so on? If you then the manager of managers and you have a team of 50, I think it’s really hard to understand everywhere. Like, are we doing good? If you have an organization of 500 engineers, it’s like, I’m flying blind, right? I’m still really, really skeptical about building a model, which is so abstract that every model is wrong, that it doesn’t reflect the reality.

[00:15:12] And it doesn’t really help us. And I like what you said about, there are things that we know, but there are unknown unknowns? We don’t even know what we don’t know. And I think a lot of. Our activities in engineering or some of the else is about the unknown unknowns.

[00:15:27] We have to make decisions with the information that we have right now, to the best of our ability. And I’m really wondering if those metrics, if they’re helpful, or is it just that we feel that it’s helpful? Maybe it’s, I think it’s maybe helpful for somebody that has some agenda, right.

[00:15:43] So they want to come up and so now to make the metrics look great. And it’s, again, this short-term vision of, oh, I want to Excel here. I want to be the VP of engineering here. So I make this because it’s easy, right? And even if you have like five or six or seven metrics, we can tune them.

[00:16:00] We know that we can make people respond to it. We can’t show that this is really the outcome that we strive for longterm, but it enables us maybe for some hidden agenda. And it’s more personal than what we are actually going for this main goals. What’s your perspective on that?

[00:16:19] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I think that a lot of organizations use metrics because it helps have a handle on complexity. If I can somehow measure what’s going on, then I can have confidence that the decisions that I made last week or last month or a year ago were the right decisions. Or I might get data back that indicates that those decisions were not right. And that we need to make a change. Good managers know that there isn’t just one metric. They’ll know that there’s a host of metrics. And I think really good managers and really good leaders will also listen and ask the right questions to find out more nuances, more deeper understanding about what those metrics mean.

[00:17:02] I’m not saying don’t use metrics. Use metrics and also have rich insights and be continually reflecting and revisiting your assumptions and thinking about, you know, what are are your goals.

[00:17:15] Are our goals to sell more of our product? Well, yes. Right? Because we need the money to be able to make sure that our developers are well paid. But once we’ve done that what else are our goals? Is it to improve the culture so that when people come to work, that they feel secure and they feel safe and happy and they have psychological safety.

[00:17:33] Is our goal to retain our really best talent over the long-term and, and how will we do that? Understanding those goals and then understanding which of these metrics from a whole different set of possible metrics, I think is one thing to do, but really looking at what do our metrics tell us.

[00:17:52] But what do they also allied? Right? What do they hide? What are they wrong about? What is our data gathering? What is our data not gathering? Every time we define a metric, what risk are we introducing by using it? And what else do we need to gather? Like maybe some stories or insights to give us that full picture.

[00:18:10] That’s why I think the SPACE framework is quite powerful because it helps us kind of identify a whole set of things that we need to ask questions about and that we need to listen to those answers, to be able to make better decisions in the future and make change.

[00:18:26] Whether it’s change to address a problem or change to make some kind of improvement. There’s a lot of different things to consider and it’s an attempt to get people to slow down and not to rush, to define metrics and then create a dashboard and then look at it once a week and say, look, our numbers have gone up, wait a minute what’s happening behind the scenes here.

[00:18:46] Dr. Michaela Greiler: So what comes to my mind when you talk about that is the goal question metrics framework ? And it’s a little bit of a different approach. I always say, do not measure productivity. You know what I mean by that is in this very simplified way. I think the data is so, so powerful. And I think those things are two very separate areas. The critique that I have for how people use it is that they are creating metrics. But they’re not data driven. I always felt like this connection because you had the same thought about data-driven investigations and research, which is we combine qualitative with quantitative. I personally really think that they’re only in combination, they become powerful.

[00:19:32] I think that only qualitative isn’t as powerful, only quantitative can be extremely misleading. This is the metrics area that I’m talking about in the net critiquing so strongly. But I think that if we combine them, this can be extremely powerful.

[00:19:45] In industry, it hasn’t really landed. It’s also quite complex to combine that to have mixed research approaches. And behind the research approach, there is also a hypothesis. Questions that have to be tackled and so on.

[00:19:59] I’m consulting organizations, where we look at their data because I think it’s so powerful and it can help us guide and make decisions in this very complex world. But I’m always missing this qualitative aspect that we actually go and say, what does this mean? And so coming back to code reviews, it’s turnaround time is on one hand super interesting metrics. On the other hand, it’s completely meaningless. If I take it as face value, if I built a dashboard and I’m printing out turn around time there it’s maybe meaningful for the first week. It only becomes meaningful if I do the qualitative work which means that now I’m digging deep and I’m trying to understand what’s happening here. Why I’m seeing this number? Is this even a number that I should take at face value?

[00:20:51] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Probably not most of the time, not. And I wonder how can we bring that to industry ? How can it be applicable and manageable for industry what’s your take on that?

[00:21:01] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Oh, that’s such a great point. I think that there are a lot of cases of industry that do use mixed methods and do use qualitative data and quantitative data. I’ve seen some examples of this and I’ve seen some examples be used really, really well. I don’t want to mention any company or any person in particular, but I saw it with large companies.

[00:21:23] And I saw one colleague in particular. He went and he sat and he watched developers to see what their pain points were. And that was incredibly valuable to identify some really easy to solve pains.

[00:21:37] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Another example, this was more research that I did with, with Microsoft and we published this in our Tripoli software or my student, Laura McCloud. She was looking, we were looking at the data and looking at the. And she was going around and following sort of jumping from office to office and seeing what happened behind the scenes.

[00:21:57] The code review tools collect all of the telemetry of what happens that the tool records, but it doesn’t record the engineer jumping over to somebody’s office and saying, ah, by the way, I just tagged you in a, in some code that needs reviewing. Do you think you could do this quickly for me?

[00:22:13] Or, oh, I see that you submitted this code and it’s got this really big problem with it. Do you want to fix it before you really send it to me to review it? Because they don’t want to embarrass somebody by finding a big bug. So understanding what kind of happens behind the tools and behind the data is really, really critical.

[00:22:32] Sharing examples of this with companies and showing them why that’s powerful to have these rich quotes, these rich stories. about what’s going on to augment the data, to go hand in hand with the data, I think does shift how people approach it.

[00:22:48] Data only tells us what’s happening. It doesn’t tell us the why. It doesn’t tell us what we should fix. It doesn’t always tell us what is actionable in here that we can change. So we may see over time that engineering productivity, according to the activity metrics goes down. But that doesn’t tell us why it’s going down, necessarily. We have to observe, talk to developers to find out what’s going on here. Why are you not committing as much code as you used to? And then by talking to them, you can then get insights that help you make changes, and then you can use your metric to see, okay, is there a change? Do we see this change?

[00:23:26] Dr. Michaela Greiler: And I think especially with that one, it could be just a change of how people use the tool. Maybe they squash commits and we are commits

[00:23:34] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Yes

[00:23:34] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Right.

[00:23:35] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Yeah.

[00:23:35] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think the, the biggest problem here also is that okay, if you have one team it’s normally quite simple, but if you have several teams and they have very different work styles, then, these numbers really become meaningless.

[00:23:48] I would love to find more ways for organizations to bring that insight . This ability to actually have metrics. But not only have metrics really have measurements. I distinguish between measurements, investigations instead of metrics. I define it once and then, half a year later, they are outdated. They’re not reflecting reality, but I’m measuring and I’m having data. I’m looking at data, I’m doing investigations . This investigation mindset. I think that would be so strong for organizations and the ones that I’m working with I see so many really good results. It’s almost like enlightenment ? Where metric is a light somewhere making a little bit, in the dark, something visible.

[00:24:28] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: The other thing that I’ve come across is that a lot of folks in industry think that interviewing or observing developers is very time-consuming and it doesn’t have to be, you can learn a lot from sitting with your team at lunch and asking them, what are your barriers? What are the challenges that you face? How is your experience. And gathering those insights just even once a month can lead to a lot of insights that you can then use to make change.

[00:24:59] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think one perspective that I also want to add here is that this qualitative aspect that I’m talking about, doesn’t always have to be talking to people or observing people. It could be that there’s a person that has this task and they’re going in, they’re investigating, let’s say 50 pull requests. And they writing down what’s happening here, or the last three bugs, why did that actually happen? Some quality metrics or if you’re thinking about metrics again, metrics for me would be oh, line coverage. But then a person really doing the investigation going and saying, why is this project so different in line coverage than that project ?

[00:25:36] Or why are people having those large pull requests over here and not there? And very often, if we then do the work, and I call this also qualitative, because you’re not collecting data. It’s not quantitative. You have to look at it, you have to investigate and you have to see, oh, actually this is very coupled ?

[00:25:52] This is the reason maybe there’s a framework.

[00:25:54] And metrics, don’t tell you this story . And I think that this is really what’s so important for engineers to improve the experience and to improve their productivity, their performance. To reduce their pain points

[00:26:06] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Actually, you reminded me of one good example when you talked about coverage We did this study that I mentioned that looked at the quality, how developers define quality and how managers defined quality. And we have this framework called truce, which is the timely delivery of robust features that delight users, support future collaboration and future evolution of the product. This definition of quality came from the developer and managers words that they gave us in the survey we did. Again, there are five dimensions ? Quality you can think of according to these different dimensions and test coverage is quite interesting because that would fall under robustness.

[00:26:48] That you have really good tests for the code that you’re delivering so that it will potentially catch some of the bugs that you have in the code that you push out today. But you might also have tests that don’t necessarily cover the code as it is today, but are there to support change in the future. So they allow you to make changes in the future. Obviously they cover the code still, but they’re more focused on not finding bugs today, but allowing somebody else on my team to make changes in the future. So how do you tease that apart? Understanding what it is that you’re looking at is really, really critical.

[00:27:24] Metrics, if you use them or measurements, any measurements, if you use them in a blind way, you’re going to be missing that nuance and they’re gonna get stale. And people will misuse them. And they’ll be abused and they’ll be gamified. So really bringing that nuance in is critical and addressing the misperception, I guess, that it takes a lot of time to bring that extra information and it doesn’t . We need to think about it and build a culture that it’s important to ask these questions along all of these different dimensions.

[00:27:56] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think there also have to be role models. But I totally agree with everything that you said. I actually think we are at the end. I’m so happy that you were here and I definitely will invite you again.So thank you so much, Peggy, is there something that you think makes this conversation a little bit more rounded that is still missing from this productivity idea?

[00:28:17] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I guess, just to sum up that if you’re thinking about developer productivity, also think about developer experience, and also think in terms of quality, like product quality and to really kind of think about those three independently and to think about if you make some changes or you’re making decisions, what are the dimensions of each of those three things? What are those dimensions that you need to think about? And if you’re working with other people. Find out what their assumptions are. If you’re talking in a team and somebody is talking about developer experience or developer productivity or software quality to say, hang on a second, what does that mean to you? Even if you do that, I think it’ll shift the conversation in the room quite a bit.

[00:29:03] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Unpacking their assumptions, this is so powerful. So thank you, Peggy. Thank you so much for joining my show.

[00:29:09] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Thank you so much. It’s been great.

Do not measure developer productivity

In this special episode (50th) I’ll tell you a bit about the research on developer experience and developer productivity that kept me so busy this year. 


You will learn about:

  • some history of productivity focused thinking
  • new productivity research like the Space Framework that helps understand and measure developer productivity
  • the difference to the Developer Experience framework that I co-created
  • why (IMHO) metrics and a productivity-driven mindset can be problematic for your culture and long-term success
  • and what you should focus on instead.

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Transcript: Do not measure developer productivity

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today is a special episode. Today is the 50th episode. Can you imagine? Time flies! And as I announced last time, this one has a new format. It’s not an interview. No, no, no. There’s only me talking. There’s no other person joining me. Well, I want to tell you a little bit about the research that has kept me so busy over this year. I spent really hundreds of hours investigating what makes developers happy, productive, and satisfied with their work. I was especially looking at the concept of developer experience and what that is, well, that’s, that’s the content of this episode today.

What inspired me to talk about this is that I recently gave a keynote at a large internal conference at a large corporation to over 1,300 developers. And when I was preparing this talk, I thought, well, this could be actually an interesting topic also for the podcast. And yeah. It’s something that I know a lot about that I spent many years actually researching being in this area. And so, yeah, I wanted to tell you a little bit more about developer experience and code reviews, obviously, and productivity. And today’s episode is really about productivity and developer experience and you know, what those two concepts have in common and what makes them different. And so, yeah, well, let’s, let’s try it out. Cut me some slack, please, because as you know, I’m experiencing experimenting with the new format and I would also love your feedback. So I will link at the end. I will link a survey. You can always go to the survey and let me know what you think about it. Let’s start. And do you know why we start? We started in 1440

[00:02:00] that’s right. 1440. We are not stopping in 1940. He started in 14, 14. 1440. There was a very unsuccessful businessman that wanted to reveal a new and really astonishing invention. And he was hoping it’d with this new invention, you will be able to pay off all his death. In fact, he did not manage to do that, but what he revealed was really, really unique and very game changing. It changed a lot. Do you know what mean. It was the printing press and the, the guide revealed that boss called Johannes Gutenberg. And the printing press was a machinery that the loud to print books and other documents extremely efficiently. And what this means is that now books and documents could be manufactured in mass and it could also reach masses. So it was not only one book that was super expensive because it was hand printed or handwritten, but they could now print really a lot of books and became much cheaper. So everybody could actually buy one. And this invention lad to many, many. Changes, right? It led to widespread literacy and education, especially of the middle-class. And also change of thinking came with that suddenly a new thoughts, you know, became, could spread around very easily. And so this invention also played a key role in development like the Renaissance or reformation or age of enlightenment and the scientific revolution. And so it permanently altered the structure of society through mass communication. And this is why this printing revolution was so, so important. But also with this printing revolution and new thought was really made to work and that is productivity. So in comparison, if you had this printing press, you could produce up to

[00:04:00] 3,600 pages. But before the ad, you could only print 40 by hint printing or only a few by hand writing head copying. Right. So we really saw that suddenly we can produce much more efficiently. But this was obviously only the tip of the iceberg, right? There was the industrialization which came later starting mid 18th century and more and more production processes became driven by technology and by machine. And also the machines, like the printing press that was first hand operated now became operated by steam engines and electricity. And this led to another level of mass production and the thought of productivity became even more engraved in our minds. Right. But it also meant that a lot of professions became obsolete. Right. So we, we didn’t do. Everything from start to finish, like producing a shoe. There wasn’t like a Shoemaker that would know how to do that completely. But new and new professionals born at that was the factory worker. And because we were so focused on making the production process more effective and efficient, we realized that actually, if you do fewer staff, And, you know very, very focused task that this would lead to better results, more quality, but also really a higher production scale. And well this means that only even nowadays, right, a lot of those factory workers only have to do a few hand movements or tasks, so. With this, we could really reach a productivity level that we haven’t seen before, but you also noted that industrialization. Wasn’t where we stopped. Right? Mid of the 20th century, the digital revolution took place. And this is really important for us, right? Because now automation happened and that was enabled by computer.

[00:06:00] And once again, it’s replaced a lot of professions, but also it aided a lot of professions. Right. And so when computers took over work, that before hand was only done by humans, right. They could do it faster and with less errors than human. This technology was more, much more versatile than a technology before, right? It’s not one machinery that can do one task, but it’s a machinery that can do so many tasks in theory, perform endless operations. And so it’s very important to ask about, well, what, what can this technology enabling even at a Loveless already ask herself? Well, Can Kim computers even think, and she concluded a machinery is only as intelligent as we instructed. And while AI promises to shift us, we are not there yet. So we have to, we have to instruct machines. We have to instruct the computer to do it. And so this is all professional software engineers, developers, right? But there is also product managers are HITECH testers, UX designers, and many, many more, many more that really are needed to work with this versatile new technology and make it do what we wanted to. The problem is that productivity is still on the forefront of our minds. And it’s a goal that we have, right. But we face this dilemma that now these professions it’s not about doing so much as it’s about thinking, right? So the fuel of the productivity is our thinking, not so much our doing and now assessing and grasping what productivity even means becomes extremely difficult. Yeah, we try, we try we all know that, you know, if we want to measure productivity, we can do it by lines of code. We can also not, you know, measure our productivity by the number of meetings

[00:08:00] we attend. And the company, unfortunately, does not automatically gets more successful as we, you know, ride more. It doesn’t get more profitable with that. It’s not a guaranteed the recipe, but still we try, we try and we try and we also try to measure productivity because somehow we want to be accountable and we must be accountable organizations. I want us to be accountable. Our, our team wants us to be accountable. Right. And so we have to demonstrate our contribution and this thought of productivity. That’s very, very connected to activity and output is, is, is on the forefront of our minds. And so, yeah, we’re measuring, unfortunately, some companies, some teams are measuring lines of code or features now, although those kind of things, because we can easily access it. And I think there’s this heritage that we have from how we did it before. But it’s not as accurate anymore as it was before. and so yeah, I want to talk about that a little bit about productivity and how can we assess it and an interesting, very new. Approach to assessing this productivity problem comes from Nicole four screen from GitHub and Margaret and story from university of Victoria. And then there are a lot of Microsoft research faults like Chandra Mudela and Brian hook and Jenna Butler. But what did they do? Well, they created something called the space framework and the whole idea behind it is let’s look at productivity and let’s try to measure it. Right. And I think that the biggest takeaway from their work that they did is that. Well, we cannot measure productivity with one metric to one, you know, with one single dimension. And, and I think that’s very true and there’s also a really, really excellent book. I will link everything in the show note, which is called. I have it here next to me. It’s called

[00:10:00] rethinking productivity in software engineering. It’s not that new anymore. I think it’s 2019 or something. And it’s the, the editor where Tom Zimmerman as well, right. Also from involved in the space framework and Caitlin Spassky and there a lot of different researchers around the world actually write some essays. That are based on their research that they do about what does productivity mean? And here we have also to other people talk about well, there’s not a single metric, right? This is something that actually comes also from Kathleen’s Bardowski and, her colleagues at Google, right? Where you say, well, let’s actually not one similar metrics. You cannot compromise that. And if you look through the book, you will see that productivity can have so many different dimensions and people look at so many different things. What does productivity even mean? And but coming back to the space framework, I want to talk a little bit about this. And so this ad, well, there’s not one dimension that we can, you know, somehow. Measure productivity, right? So like lines of code, but there are different dimensions that you have to look at. And they, I think they are really interesting because it’s the first dimension it has to do. You have to measure something around satisfaction and wellbeing, right? So this is helpful filled our developers with their work, with the team. Oh, happy and healthy. Then you have to measure something about performance. And this is more in terms of outcome than output, right? Output would be well, the, the features, right? The number of features, for example, that we do, but outcome would be more, oh, how happy our customer. What’s the quality of our, softhearted VO developing. And does it make revenue, right? Something along this lines. And then you talk about activity, right? Activities very often, you know, in the center of our minds, when we have probably think about productivity and it would be for example, commits how many commits are happening or, you know, what are you

[00:12:00] doing? That very easily maybe can be measured through our systems that we have. Uh, Another dimension is communication on collaboration, right? How people in teams communicate and work with each other. And again, the idea is, again, how can we actually measure that? How can we put it into a metric? And the final thing is efficiency and flow, right? So do developers have minimal interruptions or delays for them? And if you look at the space framework, I’m going to link that as well. Then they have some example metrics, right? Because it’s all about metrics. And they give some examples, right? Like for satisfaction, you could have a developer satisfaction survey. So you know, a little bit about how people feel about it, about their work for performance. Well, he could have cultural view blossom for activity. You could have the number of code reviews completed, right? This is really just a activity metrics and then communication and collaboration would be well. You know, PR merge time is something that they came up with, right. And efficiency and flow would be the code from your timing. And while I think it’s really one of the. One of the most holistic views on productivity that I have seen so far. And I think it gives a good balance between those things. I still have the feeling that we are trying, you know, to measure things that are very often meaningless, right? Like for example you know, PR merged times. It has a meaning, but most of the time, I would say the meaning comes from really looking closely and qualitatively at each of those PR merge types. Right. So you can, if you, if you put up a dashboard. What will they say, right. What, what will happen to all of that? And then also, how can you combine those different metrics that you’re not having and get this, this holistic view of productivity? I think it’s very, very difficult

[00:14:00] understanding. And there’s also a nice essay, very short essay. So if you want to read it I will link it from Amy Cole as she’s a professor at the university of Washington. And she says why we should not measure for active. And she wants us to be really cautious because it can send the wrong incentives. Right. So when you’re measuring, if you start measuring, for example, cultural view, velocity, what will happen if people know it? Right. And if you didn’t know that this is actually something that you that you judge and is, is the changes in behavior. Is that really what you want? Do you want them to finish that pastor? But you know, are you lacking somewhere else? I think it’s a little bit tricky. And so I find the space framework extremely inspiring, but for my research, we took a little bit different stand on the whole, on the whole part. And it goes away from measuring productivity to more, to measuring developer experience because there’s a lot of research that shows. Productivity and satisfaction somehow hadn’t had, right. They somehow influence each other. They are entangled. The people that are more motivated, they are also performing better. It’s a lot of research around this. And so developer experience was something that we thought well, instead of, you know, looking at those metrics and really about productivity, let’s think about how do be puffy. Uh, About the work, how do they think about their work and how to do value, but right. Which is our definition of develop experience. So what are the encountered in their day-to-day work and how does this make them feel? And so we also looked at different dimensions that are. Influencing how a developer feels about their work. And I’m going to, to show you a couple are, tell you a couple of those dimensions, right? So we also thought about collaboration and culture. You can see there is a parallel to the space framework. We thought about developer flow and fulfillment. I

[00:16:00] would say to somehow goes into this efficiency and flow area. We thought about product management, which is not really there. Right. So it’s different. And development and release, which is really the tooling. And I think this is also very different. And so if you assume in a little bit to this developer experience framework, and I will link that as well. But I think that the basic concept is quite different than. We don’t want to have any metrics around that, but we really want deeply to understand what impacts, how good a person can do their work. A developer can do the work, right. And I define it as well. Developer experience is all about doing. Your best work joyfully. Right? So that you can do your best work and it it’s, it’s fun. And so I did really a lot of interviews with people and I think this fun aspect or that I’m proud of my work. I think this came up a lot. And, and so we want the, to understand what’s, what’s impacting people and we started culture collaborative ness, right? So supportiveness how connected to a field with my team? How, how safe do I feel? My work environment, all these are really, really important. There’s a lot about product management. Is that actually going very well? Right? Do we have clear goals, requirements? Can we work iteratively, right? Do we have reasonable deadlines? I mean, do you know how, how unreasonable deadlines, how do destroy moral. It’s crushing it’s soul crushing. I heard stories and, and with the soul crushing activities that we have, we definitely reduce our productivity. We reduce our performance, right? So we want good experiences for our developers. And so this developer, extreme Springbrook book is really all about. Understanding what makes for a good day, what makes for good work for joyful book that people can nicely work. And I think Dan, it’s all about how do we assess that? Right. So and it’s not metrics, we don’t, we don’t crawl data from guitar or get lab and then,

[00:18:00] you know, merge it and then it comes out the number. It’s really about understanding. I think this is so important. So this is really where I’m coming from. I always think it’s about understanding what’s really happening. So let’s say one of the things in the bucket of development and release would be the code based help. So really understanding how is our code base health, but not, you know, one metric that tells us, oh, we score a 71% out of a hundred. No, it’s about how do we think. Are we going into our code base and it’s really cumbersome. If we have to fix a bug or add a feature, we don’t want to touch this part of the code base. Well, this is really bad, right? And here we should something do something independent of some number that comes around. It’s about, you know, the flow, the flow would be how challenging was stimulating. Do I feel my, my work is right. Do I feel motivated to do it? How often am I interrupted? And it’s not, again, not that, you know, become that or that somebody observes, maybe the camera it’s really about how do I feel? Do I feel uninterrupted? Do I feel interrupted to have the ability to do. And in my courtroom workshops, I do the same, right. So when I work with, with teams, when I work with companies to improve the culture processes, I definitely look at data. Data is important, but it’s like a small thing. It’s it’s, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s tipping us off. You know, so let’s say if we are looking at our contribution, I definitely ask you, so how long are you code reviews? Taking which we could say, well, this is turnaround time or whatnot, but I don’t want you to build a dashboard and look at this number. I want you to get a feeling really, really understanding what’s happening here. Oh, you know, we feel, and maybe the best is to say, we feel it’s too low. Or we feel it’s just right. You know, this is maybe even more

[00:20:00] important than knowing it’s it’s a week or it’s a day. And obviously there’s evaluation in it. There’s judgment in it. Right. And then we can go back to the data and say, okay, you are not feeling so right. It feels, you know, we are a little bit too slow. It could be faster. How long is it taking on Everett? And then we look at particular things the longest one, how long are they taking? Right. And then we try to, let me try to really understand why are you taking so long? Are there specific code reviews that are taking it on? Do they have some certain characteristics? Right. And then because of that, this is really an investigation and an improvement mindset. And we can try to come up with solutions because if you have a dash. Then it’s one thing, right? It’s, it’s making those things faster. But maybe there are some cultural use that can’t be faster and they shouldn’t be fast that it should take long. Right. And it’s okay that they feel too long and, you know, so really looking at the particular uh, things. Yeah. So I also wanted in this new to format to make my, my podcasts a little bit shorter, I hope I gave you a little bit to think about and Maybe the main message here is that productivity metrics, right? They come, they come from a different age, I would say from a different time. And I think also in a different setting, they probably in an industry setting, they are still very relevant and they can be very. Important, but as knowledge workers. Right. But we think them do, or you know, where everything that we do should be thoughtful. It become very meaningless and I think they are really dangerous for organizations. I think it’s super atrophy that we, you know, sometimes take data to investigate, especially investigations around how are we doing a really good, but. I have never seen them really work very valid in dashboards, maybe very short term because we have one particular goal, but in general,

[00:22:00] it’s really about helping us to meet. Make decisions and make improvements, right? So the data should just help us to go in the right direction and help us to dig a little bit deeper, right. To know where to dig deeper, to really look what’s going on here. And I think the developer experience, I liked this contest concept a lot. I think that people that are happy that, that liked to work that can do their best work. Joyfully. If you can reach that then, you know, Trying to measure productivity or performance becomes really a little bit more obsolete, but I’m super happy to hear your thoughts on that. What do you think how are you assessing some of those things? Is there something, how do you keep yourself accountable, your team, your organization, and, yeah, and as I said, For the survey, I will link it. Maybe you, let me just know how you like this new format, this new episode, it’s a catastrophe, or was it good? A good start. Maybe some topics that you want me to talk about and that I was thinking about the sad question that I will end at there. Right. So three questions. It would be really, really grateful if you, if you let me know. And yeah, so that was it. And by.

Content creation as a career path for developers

In this episode, I talk to Florin Pop. Florin is a web developer that started building websites in 2013 and worked many years as a successful freelancer. I know Florin from his super-popular YouTube channel and his funny and inspiring Twitter stream. In this episode, he explains how content creation became a lucrative career path for him. 

We talk about:

  • how he turned from developing software as a freelancer to a successful content creator
  • his recipe of success through failure and smart goals (e.g. specific and measurable goals)
  • his journey to more than 100K YouTube followers.

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

Transcript: 

[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. mackalya and today I have to pleasure to talk to Florin Pop.

But before I start, let us talk about this extremly long, and very unexpected break. You must have believed that I might never come back. But thankfully, that’s not the case.

In fact, I actually came back bigger and multiplied… Yeah, from today on, I’m not doing those interviews alone anymore, but I have a little intern for the next couple of months – which is sitting right in my belly. So far, the intern has not been very helpful I have to say – instead, I got horrible morning sickness, which is also called hyperemesis. Well, that’s also the reason why there was this long, unannounced and unexpected break. But I had a good talk with the intern and put it right on a performance improvement plan, and yeah, it seems we are slowly getting better.

So, we both started working on new episodes for you again. During this break, I also decided that it is time to shake things up a little bit. I will start to experiment with the format and content of the podcast.

I have a couple of ideas that I will try out and see how you like them. So, stay tuned for new episodes! But now back to Florin and his insight into content creation.

Florin is a web developer that started building websites in 2013 and worked many years as a successful freelancer. I know Florin from his super popular YouTube channel, and he’s funny and inspiring on the stream. He’s dedicated to grow and learn in public. And what fascinates me the most is this Florin always is humble, honest, and very, very kind. So I can’t be happier to have Florin here with me. Florin, welcome to the show.

[00:00:34]

Florin: Thank you very much. And thank you very much for the kind words that oh [00:00:39]

Michaela: yeah. I’ve been following for, for quite some time and I’m really always impressed , . It feels very authentic. If you do a YouTube channel, if you do your challenges and how you share what you’re learning. And also sometimes you’re vulnerable, right? If people, you know, online can be a rough place, you probably know that. And, and I think it’s really important to also show that, you know, words can harm and can. Yeah, you can feel it. And I like that, that you shared that. Like, if, if you are deep down, you’re sharing it. If you have like success, you’re sharing it. And I always feel like you’re very, very honest with your journey and not everything is like super fine. And, you know, I’m writing three blog posts and now I’m famous and make the most money or something. Right. So yeah, I always say, give and take, [00:01:29]

Florin: right? Yeah, exactly. So this is how life works. You have successes and failures and some days you’re doing great and other days it’s not so great. And I like to share that and to, because. I always, I’m thinking of people who are following me. I want them to learn the most after my experience. This is one of my values to share what I’m learning and alongside my journey. There are also failures and I’m messed up a lot of things. Usually people are kind of afraid to share that because you have to be vulnerable about those. But if you don’t do that, especially as a influencer quote it just sends the wrong message that everything’s perfect, but in reality, not everything is perfect all the time. It’s just a continue grind of doing your best every day. And sometimes you mess up things and that’s okay because that’s how we learn by messing things up and. [00:02:34]

Michaela: Yeah, it’s true. Like, it’s really easy to say for others always. Oh, it’s, it’s totally fine. It, I think they are. They’re also forgiving for artists very much, but not so much for ourselves if you’re messing up. Right. And you’re afraid to, to show that things are not. Not going as well, or, you know, we made this big goal. You make this big goal, right? You said like 100 K you didn’t say many how many days. Right. But you said 100 K so it’s a list, but you know, like, can you fail with that? How would you say it? Would you say, oh, it didn’t work out or, you know, and actually. [00:03:09]

Florin: I like to create big goals for myself. This is probably the first challenge where I didn’t have a deadline for, for it. For example, 365 years days of running everyday, I did 100 projects in 100 days. I did, when I started my YouTube journey, the first challenge was 31 videos in 31 days. Then I did the frequent camp curriculum in a month. So everything kind of was kind of had a deadline because. Those are called smart goals. They have that deadline aspect of it. The reason why I didn’t add the deadline to this new challenge, which I’m currently working on going from zero to 100 K I mean revenue is because I wanted, I, I just feel that there are so many variables. I don’t know. And I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself, although I kind of have a deadline of one year, 1.5 years, roughly, I don’t want to go 10 years with it. And I’m sure that I, so I have kind of a hidden deadline for myself. Oh, I don’t make it public. Although in some of the streams, we talked about it when we kind of decided, okay, how many projects I should work on? What should they do? And what are kind of the deadlines just to see, just to keep track of what’s happening. And I think that’s, for me, that’s highly motivating because this is how I worked in the past couple of years. I just. These kinds of challenges got me out of my comfort zone. Also the public aspect where I share on, in public, what I’m doing is what makes me kind of have to do it because now people watch me and, you know, I, I it’s okay to fail. But like, The challenges, which I’m doing. I try not to make them super, super hard. Like, I don’t know, make 10,000 pushups in a day for 100 days, you know? But rather make 10 pushups every day. For one of the days, it’s more about the consistency aspect than having crazy, crazy, crazy goals. I might do that, but like with shorter, like 10 days or something, Yeah. So it’s going [00:05:31]

Michaela: into the building. I have it building thing, right? So I say tiny habits are actually better for, in the long run. [00:05:37]

Florin: Right? Exactly. So it’s not about doing super, extremely hard things, but then just doing something which is relatively easy to do, it’s just a matter of being consistent with it. And it will over time change. Change an area of your life. Like when it was for running, I lost weight that period, then I felt much energized and yeah, building the projects have learned stuff along the way. So it’s just being the consistency. Yeah. [00:06:08]

Michaela: Yeah. And so, for example, we’re coming back to the running because I also follow that one. I’m following a lot of things, but so you lost weight and then after the challenge, do you keep up with the things, do you still run daily or several times a week? And did you know, did the, the way you go up again or, and you share that as well? Like if it’s setbacks, for example, [00:06:31]

Florin: Yeah. So when it comes to weight, my weight journey II, it’s kind of rough because I did this like several times in my life so far, I would lost the way doing a challenge. Then when I kind of gave up on being public about it, I started to go back to my old habits and I got some of it back. So right now I’m. Doing on tick-tock I’m doing this weight loss challenge again and I’m sharing what exercises I’m doing, what I meeting everyday, just to, again, hold myself accountable. And what I’m trying is to, which is really tough. This is one part of my love with my life, which is tough for me is to not only lose the weight because that’s relatively. it’s just the map. If you have ambition, you can get it done. You just said, okay, for the next three months, I want eat and healthy. I will do these exercises. And it’s that the most challenging part is afterwards, like keeping the weight off and keeping the habits. So that’s where I’m a. Kind of going now is to build a healthy lifestyle, which can continue after I lose the weight. So I want to keep it off for good. And it’s still a challenge for me. It’s been going on for a couple of years now. But yeah. Yeah, I think a little learning and [00:07:55]

Michaela: yeah, I think having a healthy lifestyle is a challenge for, for many, many, many people. Right. Be it sleeping enough, eating healthy, you know, don’t not gaining weight. I think also sport, like sport is something. I have a lot of friends that don’t do any sport and I’m like always, I’m always amazed. I also have two. Struggled quite a bit to make enough place and space in my life to do sport, but I always do some kind. I mean, there are always like weeks you know, where I didn’t do it or sickness, for example, I was very sick at that time. I didn’t do sport for a really long time or what I wouldn’t consider sport that the, you know, the doctor would consider it even sport like walking and things like this. But in general, I try really to make sure. You know, I also needed, it’s also for my health, for example, for mental health. I always feel much better if I, if I do, if I do sport, but yeah, it’s, there are people that don’t do any sport and I’m always amazed. Like how, how are you doing it? Like, I really feel completely. And ease and very unhappy. So yeah, maybe everybody is different. Right. But I think a lot of, yeah, [00:09:06]

Florin: yeah. He’s like, so we are different and some people can just have a great body and all of that without doing any exercises. With eating like junk food and all that. For me, you can quickly see that. So if I don’t take care of myself for a couple of weeks and I start eating junk food and stuff, it just, you can clearly say not only that my mood is going down, I don’t have energy. And part of my reason why I’m doing I’m working out and all that is because of that energy, I need a. What I’m doing now as a content creator, making videos, live streams and all of that, I need energy and I need a clear mind to be able to do that. And for that, I need to take care of my health. I need to go to sleep early. I need to eat healthy exercise and follow the. I mean, I guess everyone knows what are the good habits to do in this area. It’s just sometimes we, we mess up and it’s okay. So if we mess up once it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just, the problem is when we do it through Peter Lee for weeks, that’s one, that’s when sort of say that our lives. Yeah. [00:10:24]

Michaela: Yeah. I think can even, you know, mess up for several years and still start today and say, well, today’s a different day. Right. So yeah, exactly. Yeah. I have two little kids and I have to say it’s so much more challenging to do all those nice things with little kids, because like, for example, sleep. I mean, you can, it actually messes you up. If you have like this goal of having a healthy sleep habits and you have like a newborn, I mean, it’s just two competing goals that are not, you know, you can’t, you can’t do them at the same time. And I think it took. It took almost three years that, you know, each of my kids, you know, we’re able to slip through. And so until that time, there is no healthy sleep you know, balance, for example, for yourself and with the sleep thing, you know, a lot of other things deteriorate because you don’t sleep, you don’t eat healthy because you’re like just not, you know, really awake and not clearly thinking and so on. Right. So that’s, I think, and the same for sickness or other things, right. Just struggles in your life. And I think that’s okay. Yeah. Whenever you wake up and you can try again and maybe you fail and you know, don’t give up. I think this is probably the most. [00:11:32]

Florin: Yeah. Yeah. This is something I like about what I’m doing now is that I’m okay with failing for me every day is a new day to do things. If I mess up, for example, last week for a couple of days, I felt unproductive and that and that for me was okay. I accepted that, that it was okay for me to be unproductive because now it’s a new week. It’s a new day and I can pick up things which were not done last week. So it’s okay to always like, give yourself this. Boost of all right. I messed up, but it’s okay. I can start over and I can do it right to this time. [00:12:19]

Michaela: Yeah. And so content creation, this is really the big thing now in your life, right. It’s also where you build your business around and how did that come about and how do you, how does the monitorization work? Can you live from it or, you know, how long did it take you to live from it? I think content creation. A dream of, from many people. And then the question is, you know, is it really working out or is it not working out? Do you think that you can sustainably do that for a long time? [00:12:50]

Florin: Yeah, so I expected as a content creator on my blog writing articles. This was in 2019, I think in February or March, I posted my, I restarted blogging because I had like seven articles. But they at least started logging in. I did it sort of consistently three blog posts, two or three blog posts per week. I had a job back then. And it just said, okay, after my day job, I’ll just write something because it felt like something fun to do. And they always wanted to get down this path of blogging and creating content. So I started blogging and at the same time I picked up a Twitter and I started sharing on Twitter. I started to be active on Twitter, really. I think I spent hours and hours per day on Twitter, interacting with people, with people, replying to them and all that. And it took like six months. Well, the, the plan was actually to leave my job. Next year. So in 2020 January, that was the plan they need for plan. So I’ll just try these for 10 months and see how it works. And then if it’s all good, I’ll just quit my job and do this full time. But then on June in 2019, so six months prior to my actual deadline, I was like, I told my wife, you know what I just, I want to do this now. I mean, we had some money saved up from the job. And I was like, you know, let’s, let’s do it earlier. I mean, if it failed, I failed in six months, I’ll get the new job and it should be okay. We use the savings and it was an interesting journey. I can say that it was tough because my focus wasn’t. Monetization. So just imagine, like in the first month I gave up my job, I made 150 bucks. So yeah, it went down for several K two to 150 bucks. But for me, that was okay because I never. I didn’t chase money in the first year or so of concentration. Right. I liked what I was doing. I wanted to grow my reach to grow my audience, to get in front of multiple people. And I knew that it will pay off one day. And they did that for, so basically I was blogging for six months or so. And then in November, that year I started my YouTube channel. And in 2020, my main goal for the year was to get 100,000 subscribers in a year. And they started working really, really hard on that, I think in six months or so I published over 200 videos and livestreams on my channel. Yeah. I was in the crazy, crazy mode where I was putting out content like crazy. Of course it wasn’t like. Highest quality and all that. But for me it was a great practice. I, I know people say quality over quantity, but for me it was quantity brings quality. So I was pushing out a lot of content and see what works and then doubled down on that and made it better and better. And I got monetized in February 18th or March. No, it was in March. 2030. I was monetized. Quickly compared to other YouTubers. And probably because I also had an audience on Twitter, so that helped. And then the amount of content I was putting off out was was a lot. So that helped as well. But from the YouTube revenue side, it wasn’t a lot, it was like probably $400 a month or so. Yeah. After two months or so, I don’t, I don’t remember now exactly the numbers, but the peak on my YouTube channel. Was it September where, when I did a live stream, another challenge, 10 pro 10 JavaScript projects in 10 hours. I just got the idea that morning and it was like, okay, I’m going to go home prepared. These inches go live for 10 hours to do 10 projects. Wow. And that turned out to be great. That video now has over a million views. Wow. And brought in like three or four K sense. But like when it comes to YouTube, the trick is that YouTube revenue from ads is oh, okay. It really depends from which, what, which part you’re saying now is roughly seven, $800 per month. So it’s okay. It’s probably not lots of people can live off of that, but the, the main source of income from YouTube is that the audience, where if you create a digital product, you can sell that digital product and you can also have sponsors. So those two combined will bring in more revenue. Yeah. That combined with some, I think I had a couple of projects for someone I managed to get past to that period of low-income and now the digital products are making good income. Roughly 3, 4, 5 came depends on the month just from digital products, which is mostly passive. So there, the products are out there. And they’re just selling on their own, I guess that’s your book, for example. Yeah, so I have my ebook and I have a course on you than me, and they’re both both doing this. Like [00:18:27]

Michaela: that’s not counting them for the zero to 100 K. No that’s so exactly. [00:18:35]

Florin: Exactly. So those projects I bead last week last year, and I’m not comping for challenge for, for this challenge, which has started. Two months ago or one and a half months ago. I started from zero. So everything I’m monetizing in, the challenge is built during the live streams. I go live every day from Monday to Friday and I build something and the things I’m monetizing then are the things which come for the challenge. Because right now I also have some sponsors on my YouTube channel. And they can’t add that too. I don’t feel like it will be okay to add that to the challenge because it kind of uses my audience before the challenge. Right. There’s just some extra income which I have. And it’s not for the challenge. The challenge is something else in it. [00:19:26]

Michaela: Yeah. And so today I went on YouTube and to your profile, and then I saw that now you can not only subscribe, but it seems like there’s a membership thing on YouTube. Now, is that something that you offer and you see that it’s working already? Or how does that work? Yeah. [00:19:42]

Florin: Yeah. I offered this for quite, I think over a year now. And it’s. It worked out well at the beginning, when I started to promote that I had, I mean, well, I had several people who subscribed who became members, but it’s. I don’t know if people can rely that maybe if you offer something valuable, it can work out. Well, it’s sort of like a Patrion, but it’s built into YouTube. So if you have something to offer you might get more people to become members. For me, it was just like, Hey, if you want to support, become a member. So that’s not like a high incentive to people. To become a member. Yeah. I still get one. She remembers every now and then, but it’s not something you can at least not for me because probably I haven’t laboratories date to the maximum. [00:20:35]

Michaela: And so what do you do members get? Do they get something else or is it just really that, you know, they, they get the same public videos and it’s just like, they support you and they want to be. [00:20:46]

Florin: Yeah, so you can do like sky’s the limit through that? For me right now is you get the special badge and you get your name collar to the live streams. You get some special emotes who can use. A lot, a lot of value there. That’s why probably I don’t have a lot of members, but you can do that. So you can have specialty videos for those members. You can offer them a one-on-one consulting or coaching, or you can send them a discounts on your products and like the sky’s the limit to. What you can use it for. I’m just yeah. I even forgot. I have that enabled. And now you also have a button, a YouTube. They added it recently where people can thank you. So they click the button and they can donate you. If they liked your video, they can donate a, I’m not sure if anyone used that button so far on. I’m not sure if where I can see that. So, and people also can donate through the livestreams. And I got a couple of those along the year or so I’ve been streaming probably for streaming. I’m still debating, which is best YouTube or Twitch, because I noticed that on Twitch people are more likely to support creating. And like donate more become members and all that. It’s just the communities built around, you know, supporting creators on YouTube is more like people come to watch polished videos, which are edited and all that it’s nicely placed. So they’re not that popular right now with streaming. So probably that’s why. People, at least in my niche, people are not. Likely to donate, [00:22:36]

Michaela: but how many people do have on your life? Coding streams onto it? [00:22:40]

Florin: It depends on if I like, for example, last week I had a special livestream where I announced it two days prior to the event and I had over a hundred people joining me, but in the day day by day-by-day stream, I gets 30, 40. Tomorrow or less that [00:22:59]

Michaela: are, that are following you and your [00:23:02]

Florin: staff. Yeah, but I mean maybe some of them leave and others join, but like an average of 30, 40 people tuning date. I mean, that’s the number I see of viewers at the moment, but who knows how many people show tonight? [00:23:20]

Michaela: And so you, do you use restream Dan too, or something like that, the platform stream your Stritch video also on YouTube and the other way around or? [00:23:28]

Florin: No. So right now I’m only streaming on YouTube. So I’m using just OBS to stream directly to YouTube last year I streamed. So I started streaming on YouTube last year, then I moved to Twitch and now I’m back on YouTube because I just felt like I have a big audience here. And I don’t know. I was thinking that I’ll get more viewers over time. I still don’t know. I might have to test multiple times to see all right, which is best Twitch or a year to maybe just keep Twitch for streaming and a YouTube for videos. But I found myself that that was too lazy to just take the videos from Twitch and upload them again on YouTube. So I I’m just dreaming now because. Easier for an hour. The goal is not necessarily to have the streams go out to thousands and thousands of people because I only see them after a day or so. They’re not very polished. So the goal is to have a place where those who are interested to follow. Day by day didn’t know that, okay. Flooring is life this hour everyday. Let me check what is day. And I’m also doing recap videos every week. Now I messed up a couple of weeks, but the goal of the recap videos is shorter videos, which kind of describe what I did in the past week. And those should like push out the challenge idea to more people and get more people. To eventually join me. [00:24:56]

Michaela: Yeah. So I have been streaming on Twitch for, I was 2019 a long time ago. I actually almost said, no, it wasn’t. 2010 days, sorry, 2020 last year for a month. And also for like my challenge of building, you know, building a tool within 30 days. And I also went live every day was very, very nice. I was a little bit exhausted to be honest, after 30 days with like, oh my God. And it was fun, but I also feel like it’s really hard to do something meaningful in an hour. Without really preparing for it. Right. So this was also always like great, just jumping in and doing it on the spot. And, and then even talking with people, like if people are coming you’re a little bit chit-chatting and then really getting something done, I feel it’s very, very challenging is it’s something that you felt you grew into and you just got some more, you know, some muscle memory to do it better. Or do you prepare before the stream or how, how do you. [00:25:58]

Florin: Yeah. So I have to agree, like it’s very exhausting. For me, I just, I kind of noticed that after two hours of going live, building, researching, brainstorming, chatting with the people from the chat for two hours, I’m just dead. Like it just can’t function anymore. I need an app very bad. It’s just, that’s how it is. I mean, I can think on my head hurts from after two hours, because I think. Too much going on because I’m also coding and thinking at the same time, because it’s not something I know by heart. So I have to research it. I have to think about the things I’m doing. And at the same time, people from the chat are talking with me. I have to interact with them. So it it’s, it’s tiring. But I liked the, I liked the fact that I do this every, every day and the, it just. To be honest, some of some days, this is the highlight of the productive part of the day for me. So if I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t do anything that they, so for me, it’s. Motivating to keep doing something, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour, it’s doing something towards the goal of what are a cake. And like the money aspect is nice. It’s kind of intriguing for people to join and see, let’s see how much money flooring made. But for me, the real goal is not necessarily the 100 K in revenue. I could make that it don’t have to make it public. I almost did that in a year, so it’s not the, I it’s it’s possible, but for me, it’s just who I have to become, what skills they have to learn and develop and what knowledge I need to learn along the way to be able to do this. And I also do it publicly. So it’s, it’s more about my personal growth than it is the money aspect. That’s what motivates me. So the money goal is nice. We could public people like to chase those things. But yeah, it’s more about, because I’m also going out my comfort zone because I’m building projects to monetize them. So I need to maybe learn new skills of how to develop a proper database and how to get that education and how to design well and market and all that. So there are new skills I have to learn along the way. And that’s, that’s motivating for me and hopefully inspiring for others to get out of your comfort zone and money is just a return of the value you bring and grow to have. So it’s just a matter of time afterwards. [00:28:35]

Michaela: So it seems like you never suffer from analysis paralysis, right. Where you’re like, oh, what should I do? Oh, this or that? Or they say that, how do you do, do you just do all of that? Or do you feel that [00:28:47]

Florin: something. I feel that probably all the time is just the chat helps. So whenever I don’t know what to do, usually what I try to do is to set the side tasks for tomorrow. So whenever I’m live and I have inspiration of how to develop the project to bring it to the next level, I just write down a series of tasks. So then tomorrow, when I’m not that inspired of knowing what to do. I just have the tasks and another thing which really helps is the chat. So I have a couple of people who are joining every day and just having people to bounce off ideas and they give you feedback and their critique, your work is it’s a great way to have something to do. But I, yeah, sorry, [00:29:38]

Michaela: man. Do you know how, how old. Audience is, or the background or the new developers or the senior people are they’ve maybe indie hackers as well, or, [00:29:54]

Florin: yeah, probably those who follow me along everyday are indie hackers or at least want to be in the hackers. The reason why, like I have 115,000 subscribers, but. Dan’s joined the live streams and there isn’t why is that? Because most people who subscribe to my channel, they subscribed for my tutorial. So like probably they want to learn to code, but what I’m doing now in this challenge, basically it’s not necessarily beginner friendly, although I kind of try to make it beginner, flan friendly, where we build a project from scratch, but there are. Some things which go out of that comfort zone is some things which are more of a business related thinking. And not a lot of people are interested in it right now. You know? So most people who follow me day by day they are interested in this like building projects, monetizing them and work for themselves kind of. Entrepreneurial stuff. [00:30:57]

Michaela: So you have actually two, two sort of niches. One is the indie hacker niche where you have, you’re building a following and then you have that mixed in with the, I want to be a developer niche. Right? So teaching niche, do you want to have them separated more? Do you feel like. You started off it, for example, teaching development. And now you want to be more in the D you know, indie hacker space, or is that both that represents you? How do you think about that? [00:31:27]

Florin: So throughout my journey, as a content creator, I mostly shared what I was doing. So I started off as a blog. Right. I was posting articles. Then I moved on to YouTube creating YouTube tutorials, and now I’m moving on to being an indie hacker. So I’m kind of doing my own journey and. People who follow some people follow me for me. But then I have separate audiences for those separate stages. As I said, most of the people I most of the subscribers I gathered along the past year or so were those who are interested in learning how to code, but now as I’m approaching like a new direction, some of them will be interested in this too. But I’m also now targeting another audience for me most, most about my own growth. And I know that if I learn stuff and share stuff, people who also want to do the same. The same things they will follow along. I know that with this new indie hacker kind of journey, I’m not targeting my older or my old audience. But that, that’s fine because it’s, it’s a progress in my own life. I’m just, I want to be I feel like I would be starting. In a place if I just don’t grow, you know, and I will continue to address that audience as well with tutorials, but my life goes on and I learn your stuff and I, it. Move on, on a, on a new, because at the same time, there are so many YouTube stars out there doing tutorials for beginners and much less of those who just use the skills you’re learning. And building stuff, monetizing them, be your own boss. Yeah. Yeah. Kind of thing. I think that [00:33:23]

Michaela: that thinking and those fears around those thinking are very, very similar to those fears that you have. Oh, I studied computer science and now I want to be a writer. Oh my God. You know, my life will end. I’m even allowed to do that. Right. So these growing aspects, I think of people and, you know, whatever you set out to do, and then you grow and you realize actually something else. It’s happening in my life. I think this is very important that we acknowledge that and that it’s really normal and it’s okay. Right. You, I don’t know, you studied history and now you want to be a developer, go do it. Right. And now you did those videos and you want to be, you know, want to do other videos that are following along your life. I think that’s a super important and we shouldn’t be afraid. I think it will work out wonderful. You’re very charismatic. So I, I was really happy that you have been on my podcast today and to talk with me about all of those things, content creation, monitorization, building an audience, and I will definitely follow you. I will link everything down in the show notes and yeah, with those words, thank you so much, Lauren, for being on. [00:34:31]

Florin: Thank you very much for having me was very nice step. Yeah. Thank you, [00:34:35]

Michaela: flooring. Bye-bye [00:34:36] Florin: thanks. [00:34:38]

Michaela: I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe and I’d talk to you again in two weeks. Bye.

Driving innovation and engineering practices with Dr. Holly Cummins

In this episode, I talk to Dr. Holly Cummins. Holly was the development practice lead for IBM Garage for Cloud, before becoming an innovation leader in IBM’s corporate strategy team. She drives innovation for companies in various industries, such as banking, catering, retail, or even nonprofit organization. She is also a Java Champion, a JavaOne Rockstar, a published author, and a regular and vivid speaker. 

We talk about:

  • What it takes to drive innovation in an organization
  • Test-driven development (TDD)
  • Ensuring a healthy and welcoming company culture
  • The benefits of Pair programming

This episode is sponsored by IBM – where innovation and transformation come together.

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

Transcript: 

[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.]

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 Dr. Holly Cummins. This episode is sponsored by IBM. IBM not only produces and sells hardware, middleware and software, but also offers hosting and consulting services. The part that is the most interesting to me, is that IBM is also an active research organization, and an enabler for innovation and transformation. One interesting business area is called the IBM garage – which focuses on accelerating digital transformation, by helping people generate innovative ideas while it also equips them with the practices, technologies and expertise needed to rapidly turn those ideas into business value.

Dr. Cummins was the development practice lead for IBM Garage for Cloud, before becoming an innovation leader in IBM’s corporate strategy team. She drives innovation for companies in various industries, such as banking, catering, retail or even nonprofit organization. She is also a Java Champion, a JavaOne Rockstar, a published author and a regular and vivid speaker. So what should I say? I’m super thrilled to have Dr. Holly Collins here with me today. Holly, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:56] Holly: Thank you so much. It’s yeah, I’m really looking forward to our chat. 

[00:01:00]
Michaela: Yeah, me too. I mean, my introduction was really, really long because yeah. You have so many accomplishments. It’s really cool to talk with you. So how does that work? Driving innovations for organizations? Can even one person drive an innovation for a whole organization? Or do you need like, that everybody is on board. How do you. 

[00:01:21] Holly: I think one person can make a whole organization innovate, but one person can help create an environment where innovation flourishes. I think we’ve certainly all seen the opposite as well. One person, if they do it wrong, can really best innovation across the whole organization. And I think. With innovation. It’s about making this sorts of environments where ideas can grow and where there’s the second, the logical safety for people to express ideas, but then also the organizational tolerance for risk too, to be able to invest in those ideas. But then also I think you need some methodology or, or some rigor to try and. Manage your innovations, because I think a lot of us have as well have seen innovation labs where there’s all these amazing ideas and then none of them actually make it out the door of the innovation lab. And that’s fun for everybody, but it’s not really moving things forward. And really what you need is innovation that matters. 

[00:02:29]
Michaela: Yeah. . I’m currently working on a research project where we look at cultures, especially for development teams. How do they have their cultures? What makes them happy? What makes them productive? What makes them innovative and psychological safety and, you know, being able to speak your mind. This is also important. And I conducted a couple of interviews. I also have worked in different organizations and it’s just really tricky, right? I mean, it’s really tricky to be in a work environment and being able to voice your opinion. And some people get really lucky, but a lot of people really struggle with that, I think. And I don’t know if it’s, if it’s bigger organization, I can’t, can’t even say like a bigger organization. It’s more tricky than in, in smaller. I’ve been in startups. So you think, well, innovation should really flourish down. There were like brilliant people on the team, but they’re are also. They take all the space, right. They’re very dominant people. So then all the others conferee so much, then there are like larger organization where you can strive. Is there some recipe that you can recommend for people to, you know, follow to get more psychological safety or do you know, be, be more self-aware if others even can speak their mind or, you know, like, how does that work? 

[00:03:40] Holly: Yeah, that, that that’s yeah. Super interesting about the startups. I I sometimes feel at a disadvantage talking about culture cause I’ve worked for IBM, my whole career. And IBM clearly is not a startup. It’s about as opposite a startup as, as you can get in terms of its history. But one of the things that I. Like to talk about, which I think is probably quite related to your, to your research is the importance of fun in the workplace. And I deliberately talk about fun because it’s a little bit provocative because we all have this sort of instinctive reaction that says work is a place for work. It’s not a place to have fun. And so then. I think by sort of choosing something that seems counter-intuitive and then peeling away the layers to talk about why actually that fun environment is really closely correlated to a productive work environment. And I think as well, it’s, it’s quite closely correlated to psychological safety. And I think, you know, the psychological safety manual, certainly doesn’t say let’s have achieved psychological safety by, you know, installing. Ping-pong or, you know, that kind of thing, but, and it’s, you know, and I think what I mean by fun as well, it’s not those sort of that superficial layer of fun. It’s that, that deeper thing where you feel the connection to your colleagues and you feel the work gives you joy. 

[00:04:55]
Michaela: Yeah. I also saw that coming up in my own research, but also related research, right. That satisfaction, happiness and productivity. They are really concepts that are very intermingled. ? So engineers also having fun if they are feeling productive and productivity also means connectiveness. ? So a lot of developers that are interviewed, they talk about supportiveness and how they have to know that there is another person that I can. Call or no call before we could walk up to them, but now we call them and they are there and they’re helping us. If you’re stuck, we don’t see the siloed. Right. There’s a friendship coming up as a concept. Right. People want friendship in their workplace. Yeah. I can totally relate to that. I felt really lonely last year working as a solopreneur. And so that’s also why I stepped a little bit away and was taking on more customer work again, because now I’m in teams and I’m feeling, you know, I’m talking to people more and this is really, I mean, it’s also joy and yeah, so I can totally relate to that. How, how do you engage with organizations? So you are at IBM, but you got into different other organizations or is that all internally where you have like little labs that you, you know, that you try to get to flourish? 

[00:06:09] Holly: So my role at the moment it’s somewhat internal and somewhat external. We’re always working with clients, but sometimes I’m working with an IBM team who is working with a client, but in, in the garage we were, we were very outward facing client facing. And, and I think there’s, there’s lots of different answers for how do you engage with an organization? How do you change an organization? Right. The, the answer that we chose in the garage is really sort of support at the top and then making the change bottom up. So we would try and get buy-in from the senior stakeholder. And the organization wanted to try working in a new way that it wanted to try bringing some of these, the psychological safety in the innovation. But then also some of the other things that we talk about a lot, like, I mean, agility is an overused word, but that, you know, that ability to respond to change that, that tolerance for risk. But I think sometimes know. If if we try and make that change only at the top level, then it just ends up being as a lot of words on slides and so in. And, and there’s a lot of resistance to these ideas as well because people work in the way they work for a good reason. It’s not like everybody’s sort of set out and said, I know we’re going to make our organizational cut culture so that it, you know, crushes the spirit and destroys productivity. You know, the intention was always to, you know, to try and achieve something good. It’s just that the side effects. Yeah. We’re not good. So then what we do is we work with a particular team on a particular project, and we say, we’re going to, we’re going to do this particular thing and we’re gonna get a result and we’re going to do it in this new way. And you can see that while we work in this way. Actually good things are happening, not bad things. And bringing in dev ops, for example, hasn’t increased the, the odds of something bad happening. Look, we can show you it’s reduced the odds of something bad happening, and look, it’s actually made the process more rigorous, even though the process is also more seamless. And so if we can do it on this one project, that’s maybe not super business critical, let’s try and now expand it to the next project that maybe is a bit more business critical. That, that ripple I would affect because I mean, I think success is the best evidence. And so when you can do something and show the results, then that makes people much more keen to try it for themselves. 

[00:08:32]
Michaela: Yeah. So you are coming in and then you’re working with one team. And is it only you, or is it you and the team that’s working with that other team with that project? How does that work? 

[00:08:41] Holly: Usually we’d have a team. And I think the, sort of the, at that teamwork aspect is, is so important. I think going back a bit to what you were saying about the lockdown that even the most introverted developer, I think, you know, we, we get something. Team and the, the effects are much better as well. So we try and have really diverse teams in terms of the skills and the disciplines of the people. So normally what we would have is we’d have a handful of developers. We’d have maybe some, some architecture support. But then we’d also have designers who are really making sure that we’re focusing on. The humans using the technology rather than just look, it’s a thing and it’s shiny and I can install it and I can write code on it. And so I’m happy, you know, trying to sort of reel it back, but I’m glad you’re having fun Holly, but how are we making life better for someone else? And, you know, what’s good. You know, cause success for any software project. It’s not just, I did code success is something is better somewhere either at a business level or, you know, at a user level or that kind of thing. So on, on our side, we try and have this really diverse team, but then we also want to make sure that we’re co-creating with the client. So our ideal is that they’re bringing their developers along. They’re bringing their architects along. They’re bringing their designers along as well. And then they’re bringing a product owner because they’re the one who owns the vision for what we’re trying to do. And then that means that as well as making the thing we’re doing a skills transfer. And so I when I was first working in the garage, one of our, the the IBM sellers who we were working with got a bit grumpy because the, the sort of model that they had done was that we would do a thing and then they would sell training for the thing. And because we were. Co-creating that training just sort of happened on, on the job and it didn’t slow anything down. So we would be pair programming and that knowledge transfer would happen. And it would happen in both ways as well. So we, we know things about the carriage method that we can share. We know things about test-driven development dev ops, but then, you know, they’re going to know things. Or organizational context to say, ah, yes. When you want to do this, you need to tell, talk to Bob on the second floor. And so having the person who knows that pairing with you means that you don’t sort of have to go through this elaborate process of I’m stuck. Who do I talk to you? And then, you know, try and figure it out. And they know things about their, their business domain as well. And you know, the sort of the, some of these problems are really quite specific and niche. And, you know, you couldn’t have just a general consultant go in and solve it without doing that. Co-creation. Yeah. 

[00:11:24]
Michaela: And how long are those engagements normally until there is some transformation and some knowledge transfer, how long does it take 

[00:11:31] Holly: for the license? I don’t think the sweet spot is about six weeks, so that’s, that’s long enough to do something that’s really meaningful to get an MVP, but it’s short enough. That an organization will feel okay with the risk. Cause, you know, if we, if we sort of say, and, and, and as well, you want to make sure that at the end of it, those results are going out and are really visible. So having that short cycle and then say, okay, and if we’ve done it once and you like it now, let’s do it again because. You saw that result and it wasn’t this sort of really protracted process where it took 12 months to see any change. Yeah. 

[00:12:10]
Michaela: So you are mentioning already a couple of development practices, like Def ops test driven development, and you have, I mean, the development practice lead for IBM garage. So. Do you think, what are some of the development practices that you recommend that really everybody should do? Is it like peer programming? You also mentioned that or code reviews. What about testing? Do you think this is crucial? Do they have to do it? Can we just do it a little bit? Or can we just skip some of those things?

[00:12:40] Holly: Yeah. We sometimes have conversations about testing because. The there’s a trade-off I think between doing something quickly and failing fast and getting that rapid feedback and not over-engineering while you’re doing that and the enormous benefits of testing. So sometimes if we’re doing something that we know is going to be throw away, and I think there’s a lot of value in doing something that you know, is going to be thrown away. That is that, you know, sort of lean startup , methodology, maybe testing doesn’t make sense. But I think in general, The, the benefits of testing are so great in terms of the quality of the code, but also automated testing is absolutely necessary to support dev ops and dev ops is really. Necessary now in order to support any kind of automation and efficiency and any, you know, that, that ability to do those repeated deployments and the ability to respond, to change and to manage risk. Sometimes, you know, you sort of hear these stories of something that goes wrong and then an organization doesn’t have any way to make a change to fix the problem, except either to go through. Lengthy process or to completely short circuit and bypass the process and, you know, have someone secure shell into the effective machine. And then they change the things by hand, which is obviously not going to be particularly robust in terms of the repeatability or the safety or anything. So you sort of get this chain where you. Do dev ops, because I know it gives so much better results in order to do DevOps. I need to have automated testing. If I’m going to do automated testing, I want to do it with test driven development, because that gives so much better quality for the tests and it. ensures the testability of the code and as well, I think one of the biggest benefits of test driven development is really to refine our understanding of the problem as well. Some people call it tested and design rather than test driven development because of that effect that when I sit down, I think we’ll see, what am I really trying to do? How will I really know what I’m successful? Let me write a test for that. And usually what we look for with a test is something that we would have been looking for manually. Anyway, you know, I go to a web page and I see this, or it prints this. It’s always, you know, we’re always looking for some evidence. We just try and encode that, looking for the evidence in, code, which is efficient. Usually. 

[00:15:09]
Michaela: Yeah. So test driven development often is I see it a little bit synonym to also unit tests instead of integration tests. But now you also mentioned something like a UI test, for example. So do you have, like, do you make some distinction here and do you think one is better than the other? Do you see that there’s a shift nowadays in industry? I see a shift and a little bit that, what is your perspective on that? 

[00:15:33] Holly: Yeah. I mean, I like to do test driven development at, at all levels. So I like to do test driven development for my integration tests. I like to do test driven development for my unit tests. I think sometimes you do get a little bit tangled where you can’t have, you know, you sort of, you, you do your, you write your unit test and then it passes. And then in doing that, you’ve done enough that actually your integration tests is already passing. So then you’re. Catching up with your integration test a bit, but sometimes we do it the other way and we say, okay, I’m going to start with my integration tests. I’m going to get those integration test passing. And then I’m going to fill in a bit with the unit tests. But I think like, I don’t think it’s something that is just for one level. I think if it’s an outcome that you care about and that you don’t want to regress, then there should be an automated test on it. I mean, I, I. I’m a huge fan of contract tests as sort of an intermediate layer between the integration tests and the unit tests. Cause I think sometimes with unit tests, well, integration tests are really expensive to run in any kind of complex environment, especially once you’ve got 60 microservices. Good luck running the integration tests in any kind of regular way. But then with the unit tests, I think you can sometimes get the sort of abdication of responsibility where everybody owns their microservice and they run their unit tests and everything works great. And the system as a whole doesn’t work. And so somebody has to care about that at some point, but then you sort of end up playing this sort of. Sort of pass the parcel of responsibility, where everybody goes more, my services working as designed. And so then an on all the problems happened at the seams. 

[00:17:13]
Michaela: Yeah. , my PhD thesis was about playing in testing our plugging systems and how you test them. It was more or less also services, service oriented architectures at that point. Right. And it was pretty new. People were just jumping on that vegan and so on. And I said, well, you know, you were going to get a little bit into travel if you’re, if it stayed the same with how we are doing testing and nowadays but you’re also an expert for cloud computing. Would you say that in the cloud world, somehow testing or in general engineering practices change, is there, do we have an impact we should we or can be developed in a different way, test, deploy everything. Why is said the same? 

[00:17:54] Holly: Yeah, I think it has to be different in order to take advantage of the cloud. So one of the things that you’re almost certainly going to want to be doing on the cloud is, is that DevOps it’s that more rapid deployment. And then if you. Deploying rapidly. And you don’t actually know if your code works, then either you’re going to have an enormous issue in production, or actually you’re not going to be deploying rapidly, you know? So we still sometimes see these cycles where something is getting deployed to the cloud, but then there’s a three week UAT phase before anything can be deployed. And so then. You know, that just doesn’t work. It’s a waste of the cloudiness. It almost may as well be on-prem. So, so you sort of get this ripple back from, again from the dev ops, which you want to be doing to the testing to the TDD. 

[00:18:42]
Michaela: I also think like we had, we had very strict roles back then. Right. So whatever, like operations. Yeah. The engineers, the software engineers or developers. And we had like the testers, then there was like a time. Now we have this dev ops for, you know, at one point for dev ops, I feel like every engineer was supposed to be a dev ops engineer. And and then we had like the full stack. So you’re not a front end or back end, your full stack, your full stack from front end to back into dev ops to everything. And now I feel people start to struggle with that concept again. No everything because there’s so much to know that there’s not a single person that can be like this end to end dev ops engineer to front end you know, genius. You see dad, like is there, is there again do you see that there are more roles that are forming itself or a person is bringing more Def of engineer and then more of backend, more front end, you know, cloud maybe, you know, even more concepts that we have here.

[00:19:43] Holly: Yeah, that one’s a really tough one. And I, yeah, I sometimes sort of, and I think I sometimes talk to people who ha, who say exactly the same as you, that, that there are too many expectations on me and actually trying to do all of these things means that not only will I not be quite as good in all of them, actually, I’m going to be pretty inadequate in all of them. And are you sure that’s what you want? And so. I think there probably is, is a space for having those specialist roles. But I think part of the issue as well, sort of is there’s an organizational decision about where do you, where do you put the boundaries? Because I think we probably still do want to be saying. That if you are too specialized, it creates organizational friction because it means that you risk becoming a bottleneck or, or the opposite as well that it, you know, it means that you risk not being deployed because all of a sudden, none of the projects our organization is working on, have a need for your skills. And since you only do this one thing really well. You’re just going to be sat around and that’s not great for us cause we’re paying you and it’s probably not great for you either because you’re really bored. So let’s try and have everybody at least be able to do a few things and let’s have people really comfortable sharing their skills as well. Cause I think that comes back a bit to the pair programming and the multidisciplinary teams that maybe I’m pretty sure. Pretty bad at front end, but I know just enough front end that if I’m collaborating with a front end developer, I can bring my something else. And we’re still going to do a better job than if that front end developer was on their own. And we’re going to do a way better job than if I was trying to be a front end developer on my own. And so then you get these sort of complimentary skills in, in the pairs. 

[00:21:37]
Michaela: I think we are coming back again to the teams as well, or to the concept of a team. And that people are really strong as a team. Maybe they are. And there was like, I did an interview with it, very senior engineer. And what he said is like, , if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with the team or with people. Right. And so this was indeed in one of the interviews about productivity and happiness and so on. And I think. I was also talking to Alex from FedEx and she was on my podcast. He’s a testing expert. And she was also talking about these teams where you have like a person that has a strong expertise, but then this expertise somehow overlaps. Right? So you want to expand your expertise to other roles. Let’s say you are a testing expert, but then you want also to understand development a little bit, then you want to understand maybe dev ops a little bit. Right? And so you’re having this. These shapes that are overlapping. And then in the same team, you have a person that is very similar to what you said, right? They are front end expert. And so you’re overlapping in your understanding each other quite a bit. Right. It’s good. If you don’t, if you’re not solely responsible for everything and you can learn from each other, I think learning is also such an important concept for happiness. Do you see that, that people want to learn? 

[00:22:47] Holly: Yeah. A a hundred percent, I think it’s, it is one of those things that motivates you at work. Isn’t it is, is that desire to learn and, and, you know, if you just do the same thing every day, it, I mean, it’s, it’s awful. Isn’t it? There needs to be something coming in. And I think you’re right. That, that does come back to that teaming that if you’re working in a team and people have different skills than you, then you’re, you’re automatically going to be learning. And one of the things that I always said about pairing in particular is, you know, there’s sometimes we put sort of a hierarchy on pairing doughy and we say, okay, so we’ve got the senior developer pairing with the junior developer and they’re teaching everything they know to. It always, it always goes in both ways. So as a senior developer, if I’m pairing with a junior developer, often they’ll know a framework I’ve never heard of. And so then they’ll teach me about that and they’ll know keyboard shortcuts. I’ve never heard of. So they’ll teach me about that. And so it’s always that, that two way knowledge transfer in, you know, independent of your position in the hierarchy or how long you’ve been anywhere. Yeah. 

[00:23:50]
Michaela: So I hear you talk a lot about pair programming, so. I don’t hear you talk about code reviews. What do you think about them? Do you do them, are they not that important? Do they compliment or do you don’t need them, if you do poor programming, how do you see 

[00:24:03] Holly: that? So my, my, my personal take is that one of the great advantages of pair programming is that it eliminates the need for code reviews. And we sometimes talk about You know wait, isn’t pair programming, more expensive. I’ve got two people doing the work of one person and, and, you know, there’s all sorts of reasons why that’s not true, but I think one of them is that otherwise you have, usually you will have a para-pro code review process at the end, otherwise, and that can be really expensive, so it can be expensive in terms of people’s time, but then it can also be expensive in terms of the sort of thing. Bottleneck and the blocker that it creates, and it can be expensive as well in terms of the, sort of the patterns that it encourages. Because if people know that when you put something in for code review, it takes three days to get it back and get it approved. You know, that’s maybe a pathological case, but it’s not that pathological people. Aren’t going to be putting things in every 10 minutes. You wait until you’re finished something and then you send it over and then you get this. Spiral where the person who’s doing the code review gets a mountain of code and they go, Ooh, I’m not, I’m not looking at that until I’ve got a bit of room in my schedule, which is three days later. And then as well, when they look at it, usually. I see a couple of things happen. One is that because it’s so much work, if there’s a really fundamental design problem, either it’s sort of too late and they can’t see it, or they do see it, but they think, oh man, you know, they’ve been working on this for three days. I can’t go back and tell them they should have done something completely different or that they shouldn’t even written any of this code. And so then the sort of the big problems don’t get fixed and. But then you think, well, but I’ve got to show that I did the review. I’ve got to show that I’ve got some value in this process rather than just annoying them by waiting for three days. Let me find the position of the semi-colon line 36. Let me comment on that. Then everybody knows I’m contributing. So you get this sort of bike shedding. And as you can tell, if I find the whole, the process for us one of the patterns that I really encouraged with the pair programming is that you rotate the pairs every day. So that gives you a much deeper code review. Cause I think otherwise you only, you get like one person’s code review, but then you sort of end up where two people can be wrong just as easily as one person or two. Certainly, you know, two people can be wrong. So then on the second day, A third person comes in and then there’s already sort of another built-in code review where they, in order to be able to contribute, they get walked through what was done the day before. And then they’re able to say things like, oh, well, but why did we do this? And here, why don’t we just try this? And it it’s, you know, it’s not a formal review. It’s an interactive sort of getting them up to speed teaching experience, but then it means that there’s this second chance to catch errors before. Developed too much, but I think, I mean, I think you probably are. You’re asking the question cause you, you probably have quite a lot of expertise on code reviews and you’re gonna tell me all the patterns where it does work, which of course it can, then it can work 

[00:27:07]
Michaela: with no, no, but I definitely did the recall and realize all the things that you said, because this are definitely really common problems that I also see that teams have. Right. So this is also one of the things by in my view, Teams come and they bring all really everything that you said, right? Like, and this whole chain of how it just doesn’t work. Great. How to process doesn’t work and where you, where you have this waiting time, where then the code reviews are too big, right. Or you’re done, cannot understand them. You still have to do them. What do you do? Right. So this, there is definitely this, this loop that you are describing. Totally recall, because this is, you know, this is the, the problems that all the people are bringing on the table when they’re coming in, when I’m working with it. Maybe what I see, I actually really liked code reviews because of this synchronicity. Right. So you can have them in a very lightweight way. I also see them complimentary a little bit to peer programming, but you definitely have to do them in a different way. Right. And I think what many organizations don’t understand and why we are creating this loop of yeah. Troublesome problems that we have, how we doing is that we don’t understand the goal of why I’m doing this. Right. What do we want to get out of that? And then also, okay, what do I want to get out of that? And how can I shape the process in a way that I’m getting this out of that? Because I really see that they have all these painful drawbacks. Definitely. But they also have like really wonderful benefits. So I think the most important is that you really understand. The pain points that you said very, very deeply, but then also, what can you, you know, what can you do to counteract them? How can you change your practice but, but I see, I see all the things that you say, and I’m actually a big fan of pairing as well. For me personally it’s very draining to do it. Like I love it from time to time, right? Like it’s the best where I feel like. You have your mentor there, or, you know, you have just this connection and the supportiveness with the people. So I totally enjoy it from time to time, but not too often. How often do you do pairing? 

[00:29:17] Holly: So what, what we used to do. In the, in the garage is, is we would do it pretty much all day, every day. And there was, there was a few advantages to that because I think one of the, sort of the hardest things of pairing is the logistics. And so then going back to the PA to the code reviews, you know, there’s some circumstances under which pairing just will not work and makes no sense because it’s, it’s so synchronous and asynchronous doesn’t scale. So, you know, you need to have that kind of asynchronous process as well. And if you’ve got Particularly, you know, if it’s something like open source where people are in different times zones and they’re working different schedules and some of them are doing it in their own time, you know, something like pairing it, it, you know, it’s almost off the table to, to begin with. But what we found is if we tried to be. Ad talk with our pairing, which of course works quite well for a lot of teams. We sort of, we never ended up doing it because it would be well let yes, let’s pair today. Yeah. We definitely want a pair today. Okay. So, so maybe after lunch. Oh, I can’t after lunch, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got a thing. Okay. Well we’ll maybe, maybe at two o’clock. Oh, I can’t. And then, you know, we, we settled that we’re going to start pairing at three o’clock, but then something would come up and then somebody would be unavailable. So by sort of defaulting to pairing, we’d keep our calendars free. And it was great actually, because if we got invited to. I’m afraid I can’t attend this meeting. I’m pairing. So if you interrupt me, you’re interrupting my hair as well as it was sort of, it was like this sort of intro we could block your time. 

[00:30:43]
Michaela: a couple of organizations that are working with and That we try something out and it looks really, really nice is that you’re doing code reviews on a particular time. And then it’s done by one engineer. Right. But they’re doing all the others can go in and now everything is via suit, right. As are our teams and whatnot. Right. So by that video conference, and so they’re doing this cultural view, right? Everybody that’s interested can join. Right. And those sessions really, really particularly work well. I’m very surprised by that, but I really have good feedback from, from different organizations where you know, you have this casual thing where people know this is happening, right. One person really drives the review and the errors can watch ask questions, clarification questions, or, you know, other things maybe learn just have their fairness. Have you tried something like that? Is that 

[00:31:36] Holly: we’ve tried some similar things? Not, not exactly like that, but that, yeah, that seems, seems really good. So we did I mean, one pattern of course is the sort of the mobbing pattern where we say We don’t just want to do it with two people. We actually particularly for knowledge sharing, you know, we want to do it with six people. So let’s all gather around the keyboard or let’s all gather on the zoom, but as well, what we used to find was, again, it’s that scaling that the pattern I described, where you rotate the pairs every day in a big code base. With a big team is still gonna be quite a while before you rotate round. And so then you do need something else. So what we’d sometimes do is on a Friday, we’d do a show and tell session. So it was, it was very similar to what you described actually, but we’d sort of someone would say, okay, well, I’ve just done this particularly evil thing in this part of the code base. And nobody’s sure. Yeah, understand what I’ve done unless I talk them through it, or I’ve just discovered this really counter-intuitive behavior in this library. Let me show you all what it does. So you don’t get called out the same way I did. So it was sort of partly a code review and then partly a, an education session, but it would just be really informal and just whoever had interesting code. Would show it and talk it through the rest of the team and then they’d ask questions and that kind of thing. 

[00:32:46]
Michaela: So maybe one last thing that I would like to talk a little bit with you about is because you. You actually transitioned a way, right? From, from being this development lead at the IBM garage. And now you’re an innovation leader in the corporate strategy team. What does that mean? And what, what’s your role there? What do you have to do? 

[00:33:05] Holly: So our, our, my role in corporate strategy, it’s really interesting. It’s because I’m sort of in the, you know, we’re sort of a headquarters role, so I’m sort of in the, in the heart of IBM in, in the center of IBM and I sort of get to see a lot of what’s going on and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to. Really just be the, sort of like a free resource, both people and financial to try. And when we see something amazing that can’t quite happen because there’s some sort of blocker or there’s just, you know, it just needs a little bit of money to, to get over a starting line that we can sort of give it that, that push. And then hopefully. Make something amazing happen so often it’s where if we have a client team and you know, the client really wants to do something and we really want to do something, but just somehow it just needs a little bit of money just to demonstrate to the people who have the large amounts of money that this is really worth doing. And, and one of the things that we do as well, because I think as an industry, we’ve, we’ve moved a lot now, too. Every, you know, we always want to be trying to do things by actually trying them out rather than doing slides. So that that’s not, it was new when the team I’m part of was started. It’s not, it’s not new anymore, but still in a larger organization, you still sometimes get things that fall between the cracks where it doesn’t quite fit in, in anybody’s mission. But that means it’s actually extra important. So then, because, because we’re sort of central, we can bridge those, those internal barriers. 

[00:34:39]
Michaela: And do you still have a lot to do with engineering? Do you still develop software or is it more really strategic and leading that you’re doing right now? 

[00:34:49] Holly: It’s a little bit of a mix, which I think going back to what you were talking about with the learning and the, and the variety, I think it is good. So it means that whatever, whatever seems most necessary. We’ll do that. So sometimes it’s actually let me go in and architect this, let me, let me go in and out a bit of code. Let me, you know, I’m not a data scientist, but some of my colleagues are data scientists and they’ll okay. Let me fix your model for you. And then sometimes it’s more strategic and more making those connections to say, actually, I can see that this is going on in one part of our organization and something complimentary is going on in another part of my, let me connect those two, and then we’re going to get a better outcome. 

[00:35:31]
Michaela: Oh, that sounds like you’re really having a lot of hats. I really liked that when I was at Microsoft, also driving bit innovation there and having all these different hats, like you’re, you’re driving projects, but you’re also doing the implementation. I was mainly prototyping at that time. But it also means that you, as you said, you have to learn a lot. Did it take it a little bit to get used to that role and know what you have to do? Do you have like mentors that help you or is it. Structure around some, formal mentorship program at IBM. How does that work? 

[00:36:03] Holly: I think. With that kind of role where, where you have a lot of hats. I think it comes back to, to the team again and the sort of the resiliency and the team. So what we tend to do, because we’re doing challenging things and we don’t know in advanced necessarily what skills will be required is we, we do sort of go around in groups where there’s more than one of us. And then that means that whatever hat ends up being needed, there’s someone who has that hat and then someone else who can sort of shadow the hat. 

[00:36:34]
Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. That sounds really a great team to be in. Maybe the last thing really last thing. And then I’ll let you go. Or that I want to talk with you about is there’s the same culture eats strategy for breakfast, right? So, and what it means is that. The culture is of utmost importance. But also it’s a very vicious cycle that, you know, how do you get your culture to apply and how do you get your team members to, you know, like each other or at least respect each other, right. Especially if you have, so sometimes people have I also have that in my workshops when we are, you know, when we are working on these problems, that code reviews create right where we have, for example, very strong personalities in a team with very strong opinions. So it have problems, you know, like giving into, what did you hear? Do you have like do you have like some strategies for that? Do people do something to do, do some coaching or can you help can the team help itself? What’s your experience with that? 

[00:37:34] Holly: It’s. It’s tricky culture, because in some ways, some things about culture, you, you can change because you can, you know, sort of start with your small changes and then success is the best evidence. And then you can roll it forward and you can make those little changes to encourage psychological safety. And you can have, if, if the leaders are bought in, then they can make some of those changes as well. But part of it then does still come down to the people in the team. And that is often the thing that is. Most challenging to, to change, but, but even, even people I think are, are changeable. And I think sometimes characteristics that we assume are just this person actually are the context in which we put them as an organization or habits that they’d learned that with the right environment can be unlearned 

[00:38:27]
Michaela: or teamed up that makes maybe right or one person creates or reacts, but only two, right. Person, but to really the whole team dynamics. Are you are you a fan of like bonding sessions and you know, we’re people, what a team really can, you know, get to know each other, do you think that’s 

[00:38:45] Holly: I really like them, but I think they, they need to be done sensitively because they do end up sometimes not being very inclusive if we. If, if we choose something that half the team love, and then some people are sort of stood there going, well, this isn’t really what I wanted. So I think there sort of needs to be some, some pre-thought to, well, there’s everybody in the team going to like going out to a noisy bar or. Does that actually not work. And I’ve seen I’ve had some good conversations with people actually, when I talk about fun, because sometimes we get these sort of bonding sessions that get put into a team and we say, right, we’re going to have fun. Now we’re going to, you know, do our bonding and we’re going to go out to a bar and some people are going to know this, this isn’t fun for me at all. But then there can be alternative. So some teams, for example, they’ll play a board game at lunch. And so it means that people who need to rush home after school, you know, are after work to get kids from school or that kind of thing. You know, they’re, they’re included and people who don’t drink are included and it’s in sort of at work. So then it feels like an extra nice treat. It doesn’t feel like you’re sort of being required as part of your job to go out and do things out of hours, which some people really object to. And so then, you know, and there’s other things like, like that, or. This is a really old example because w w one of the other things that happened when I started talking about fun is lots of people told me about their workplaces and that the terrible unfun things that had happened. And there was a team and they were sort of there were a support organization, so they would work quite long hours and shifts. And it was a distributed team. So what they would do is AF after five 30, they would all play quake or doom or something like that together. And it was sort of back in the day when broadband at home was a luxury. So you would take advantage of your office network and they were, you know, they were, it was completely you know, a bonding thing. And they were told by management, if you’re in the office after five 30, you have to be doing work, which I just thought was. Incredibly short-sighted on the, on the part of the, that management to say, you know, your, your people are not on your time making the effort to get to know each other better and to work better as a team. And not only have you not, you know, encouraged this and, you know, put in money for cakes or something, you’ve actually told them they’re not allowed to do it. Yeah. Yeah. That’s very, 

[00:41:08]
Michaela: very shortsighted. Yeah. Terrible mistake. But sometimes I really like for management, sometimes I really ask myself. How can you make this decision, but you know, different story. Okay. Well, Holly I know we are on time, so thank you so much. I could have, you know, like talked with you another hour, but thank you so much that I could pick your brain about everything, about all your experience and you know, your knowledge that you have. Yeah. It was really wonderful that you have been on my show. Is there something that you want to share with my listeners? Did you think it’s important for them maybe around culture, happiness, fun productivity, maybe a little thing that they can start doing today? 

[00:41:49] Holly: I mean, I th I think, yeah, just to sort of think about those, those, those aspects of fun and, and think about how can I have more fun at work? How can I bring more joy, joy, and delight at work, but also how can I make. Those around me are also having more, more joy into life at work because otherwise it becomes a bit one-sided. Yeah, I 

[00:42:09]
Michaela: think in general, after Corona, I call it now after COVID right. I just say after, because it’s just nicer to say that I think we really have to come back to thinking more about others. I think we haven’t been thinking. Enough about others before, but I think, I don’t know how it’s in, in, you know, in the UK, but it, at least here, I feel people are more distance because of it. Right. And I really think we should think more about each other and you know, what brings us joy? How can we help others? How can we be nice to others? Right. Yeah. And I think this can bring joy again to yourself, right? If you maybe should think about how can I make the day, a little bit better for my colleague today? Or help somebody? I think this can be a cycle of positivity. I dunno. Like, yeah. 

[00:43:00] Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I think we realized one of the things that we realized with, with COVID is how, how much we need others and how it’s, you know, it’s not much fun without others. Yeah. Yeah, 

[00:43:12]
Michaela: exactly. I think so, too. So I hope you all can come back together and then really be nice to each other and care for each other. Yeah. Okay. So Holly, thank you so much for being on my show. Have a wonderful. In them. Yeah. I hope I talk to you soon again. 

[00:43:29] Holly: Yeah. Thank you so much. It was, it was great fun. 

[00:43:32]  Michaela:  Yeah. It was really fun.

Better collaboration & performance through diversity and inclusion

In this episode, I talk to Trier Bryant and Kim Scott who co-founded the company Just Work which helps organizations and individuals create more equitable workplaces.

Trier Bryant is a strategic executive leader with distinctive Tech, Wall Street, and military experience spanning over 15 years and the CEO of Just Work. She’s previously worked at Astra, Twitter, Goldman Sachs, and led engineering teams in the United States Air Force, where she already also drove diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Kim Scott is the author of both successful books: Just Work and Radical Candor. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. 

We talk about:

  • how they both landed in tech
  • their diverse and exciting background
  • how to counter bias, prejudice and bullying in the workplace
  • the framework for diversity and inclusion they developed
  • and how engineering teams can be more inclusive.

Today’s episode is sponsored by CodeSubmit – the best take-home assignments for your tech hiring!

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

Transcript: 

[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.]

Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today after pleasure to talk to Trier Bryant and Kim Scott who just released the newest book, just work. But before I start, I want to tell you more about code, submit the best take home assignment platform to streamline your tech recruiting. Yes, exactly. This amazing startup is back sponsoring. Over the last month, they introduced a lot of exciting new features, such as live coding within a full working ID, running directly in your browser code submit makes it really easy to recruit and hire amazing title, and they support 64 different languages and frameworks and integrate seamlessly with. Beginning of the year when I was hiring engineers for a startup, I worked with, I used the tool during the interview process for all the candidates and was extremely satisfied. Their mission real task. No, brainteasers resonates a lot with me, so I cannot recommend coats. Admit enough, please check them out at codesubmit.io. That is codesubmit.io, but now back to Trier and Kim who founded the company just work, which helps organization and individuals create more equitable workplaces to your brand is a strategic executed leader with distinctive tech wall street and military experience spending over 15 years. And the CEO of just work. She previously worked at Astra Twitter, Goldman Sachs, and led engineering teams in the United States air force, where she also drove diversity, equity and inclusion. Kim’s cough is the author of both successful books, just work and radical candor. Kim was the CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrix, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at apple university and before led AdSense YouTube and DoubleClick teams at Google. So what should I say, except that I’m super, super thrilled to have both fantastic and super accomplished women here with me through here. And Kim, welcome to. [00:02:00] [00:02:00]

Trier: Thank you for having [00:02:01]

Kim: us. Thanks so much. It’s an honor to be here. [00:02:04]

Michaela: Yeah, I’m really, really excited. It’s also the first interview for me, where I have like two guests here on my shows. I’m so I’m super excited. And I normally start my show with asking my guests how they actually landed in tech. So a little bit about your journey and here, I think it’s really interesting because you both have such a wild, a little bit wild and very diverse backgrounds. So three, I want to start with you. You served in the United States air force. Like, I mean, it’s already makes me wow. Right. And you led engineering teams there. How did you get into us air force. And how did you get into software engineering and how was that experience before. [00:02:44]

Trier: Yeah. I actually got into the air force through, by attending the air force academy. So I attended the air force academy for four years for college and then got commissioned as an officer. And I actually. Wanting to be an engineer. I majored in systems engineering because my dream job was actually to work on the planes. The future planes at the airport was going to build and take feedback from the pilot to make changes. That’s not what I ended up doing. I ended up doing cybersecurity, but that’s what I wanted to do. And here we are, so [00:03:21]

Michaela: okay. And cyber security. So. And did you do that as the U S M U S air force? Or where did you, when you do do that? [00:03:29]

Trier: I did that. I did that for seven years, active duty in the air force, cyber security, primarily defense. So preventing adversaries from getting into the us military is now. Oh, that [00:03:42]

Michaela: sounds very, very exciting. How was that experience for you working with probably quite a lot of man at that point. I mean, maybe that’s a very naive picture of the U S air force. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like equal, but I mean, engineering generally is very heavy, you know, unbalanced work [00:04:00] with diversity. So how is that in the us? [00:04:04]

Trier: Yeah. So that’s actually then how I, I usually say I stumbled into my passion with diversity equity, inclusion, DEI, and that was because there weren’t a lot of women in the military, particularly as an officer in the officer Corps. And as a black woman, there definitely were not a lot of black officers as well. Fewer black women officers. So that’s when I really started to understand what could we do as an institution, both at the air force academy level, air force, and DOD to increase representation in the U S. [00:04:40]

Michaela: And then you have also been at other companies like Twitter and other tech companies. How has that experience, is it different at the us air force or is that very similar? We say, well, people are similar or work. Cultures are similar, you know, problems are similar. [00:04:55]

Trier: Yeah. I think that, you know, every organization has similar problems. I mean, cause you’re dealing with people, but how you may approach them or solve for them will be unique and different. But every company and organization and industry has their own cultures and subcultures within those cultures. So it’s been quite an experience going from a military type of a culture to then, you know, wall street and Goldman Sachs and then two tech companies. But I think ultimately what’s really exciting is that. Really great challenges and really incredible smart people across all of them, but they’re vastly vastly different for sure. [00:05:32]

Michaela: What do you like? Could we generalize that it’s more, that’s more hierarchy there in the U S air force, at least that’s what I would think that it’s very radical and very like order and the, you know, [00:05:44]

Trier: yeah, there, I mean, there’s definitely a chain of command. You, you know exactly how many people in levels there are between you and the commander in chief, the president of the United States, but there’s a, you know, I think the biggest difference from a culture [00:06:00] perspective is. And the military, as I say, everything that the military does is either to save a life or take a life on wall street. Everything at Goldman was about making a dollar, losing a dollar. And then I found at tech, you know, it’s, it’s really just about. What’s been really energizing about tech. It’s like, what is the cool new thing, right? Like what’s the new, cool thing that people want to build or how do you want to solve it? And, and, and building upon that. And it’s been really interesting, but very different cultures as far as like what motivates people to show up. [00:06:36]

Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. I like it this very, very, to the point abstracted essence of what it means to work somewhere, right? Like a dollar alive. And now we say, well, the coolest and newest and shiniest thing, even though I think maybe Twitter and, you know, like those tech companies are a little bit more advanced. There are a lot of tech companies that are quite old school, boring tech companies, where I wonder a lot, like I’m doing a study right now. Um, work culture and what motivates people and productivity, satisfaction, happiness, and a lot of people deal with not that new and shiny thing, right. They work with, you know, established technologies and. What I’ve seen from the interviews that I did is that people are not only motivated by, you know, the new and Chinese thing, but really the, the value also that they bring with their, with the product, for example, or sometimes it’s just the people that you’re working with that are very, very energizing and, you know, bring your motivation. And I have seen it as quite diverse and really depending on the company and the environment, people are very, also adaptable to the environments that they are in. When, you know that thing isn’t going so well, they can adjust and focus on something else. Is that also your experience that, you know, even if you’re in a workplace where some of the things aren’t going that well, depending on what kind [00:08:00] of things you’re focusing on, something else, and people are tough. [00:08:05]

Trier: Yeah, I think that that’s one of the things that, you know, professionals that you gain with experience is just how to be adaptable and how to understand, you know, how to make the biggest impact you can with the resources you have and, you know, collaborating together efficiently. And I think that that’s why, you know, just work the book and the framework that we have. Is really being so receptive to tech companies because we, we need to increase. We need to, you know, efficiently collaborate. Like how do we, how do we increase collaboration while also, you know, respecting individuality? And that’s what just work is because, you know, that’s, that’s the two by two that Kim gives you. And if, you know, cam from radical candor, like Kim’s going to give you a two by two and Kim is going to give you a framework. And, and it’s been really exciting too. Have the framework and the book leveraged in that way that, you know, teams are able to increase that collaboration. Yeah, [00:09:04]

Michaela: that’s really cool. I really want to deep dive into that and really understand a little bit more about that. But before we go there, I want to ask Kim a little bit about, about her background, because this is also super fascinating, right? So you manage a pediatric clinic in Kosovo. That’s what I read online. And you started a diamond cutting factory in Moscow. I mean, how, why, how did that come about? I mean, this is really a big change. We were just on vacation with my kids. And I read this article on a guy that, where he was looking for diamonds, and I told him about this to my kids and he actually found one and proposed with this diamond and that, and he was like, yeah, we are going to do that. And I was like, yes, I didn’t even know that it’s still a thing. So how did you do that? Like how did you diamond cutting or diamond timing companies? How does that go? [00:09:59]

Kim: [00:10:00] Well, so I, unlike TRIA, I had a very impractical major in college. I studied Slavic literature, so it wasn’t totally clear when I graduated, how I was gonna, how I was gonna make it. And I wound up, I wound up going to Russia and moving to Moscow and I took a job earning $6 a month, working for Moscow physical technical Institute and what I was doing there. I was the reason why I studied Russian was that I was very interested in. And ending the cold war and then the Berlin wall fell and it solved that problem solved itself. So I wound up in Moscow doing a study on military conversion, sort of swords into plowshares. And, uh, and that was very interesting. But then that company wound up pulling out of Russia and I wanted to stay in Russia. And so. As all things, this is what TRIA and I ain’t going to talk a lot. It all comes back to relationships. So through a friend of a friend, I wound up. Job in Moscow with this, with this diamond cutting factory. And that was actually where my interest in management started was, was I had a higher these diamond cutters, these workers, and I thought that they wanted that they were going to just want to be paid. I didn’t have any notion of management at the time. 22 years old. And I thought it would be easy. Cause I had dollars may have rubles dollars worth something and rubles were worth nothing. And so I went to them and I just said, I’m going to give you this salary. And I just assumed they would take the job, but no, they didn’t just want money. They wanted a picnic. And so we went out on a picnic together. And it turned out after a bottle of vodka. I finally figured out what they really wanted from a leader was someone who would give a damn who would get them out of Russia if things went sideways in that country, as they were apt to do at that time. And, and so that was all of a sudden [00:12:00] management became much more interesting than being just about paying people. It became about for me, Relationships. And as tree are said, learning how to create environments in which we can collaborate and respect one another. That didn’t lead me to attack immediately. That was a longer, I wound up in. I wound up in tech after I, after I, I graduated from business school and I worked for them. I worked for the federal government, the only person in my class to do so working at the FCC. And when I was there, the T this was, gosh, it was long time ago. Now it was in 1996, but the telecommunications revolution was, was in full swing. And that was, that was actually where my interest in tech. Working for the us government. So go [00:12:48]

Michaela: figure. Yeah. Yeah. And so there, you started doing something technical or managing technical people. How, how did you tip [00:12:56] Kim: I, so it’s very strange. So we were trying at the FCC to. And the settlement right system. So it turns out the United States is a net exporter of telephone calls. And because we had broken up the U S had broke it up. It’s it’s telecommunications, monopoly. We, these different telcos us telcos were negotiating with, with PTT that were monopolies and we were losing those negotiations. And so we were exporting billions of dollars in what’s called settlement rights. And those days it was quite expensive. I remember. The man I was dating at the time was in Africa and, and I called him and had an hour long conversation. And while that with a thousand dollar phone bill, so that was, remember those days we forgotten those days. But that, that, that was when I was there. And I, we were trying to end that we were trying to bring down the cost of international phone calls. And as, as we were looking at doing this through regulation, I learned about voiceover IP, and I thought, you know what? That [00:14:00] is the solution. W, and I wound up starting in Israeli voiceover IP company called Delta three. So that was my foray into tech. I thought, oh, well, yeah. Tech could solve these problems of bureaucracy. Wow. [00:14:14]

Michaela: Yeah. So you found it a lot of companies even in different countries and this must be such an. Impressive experience as well. I mean, I moved to several countries, lived there, established a life there, but even, you know, starting a company is another, another step. Right? Like you have to understand how to do that there, how people work, how people think that’s really, really impressive. And so you both together work on chest work. You wrote the book, just work. And now you have a consultancy around that. As I understand it, it’s like. Focusing on recognizing understanding and preventing or fighting injustice. But if you have to summarize it in one sentence, how, how would you say what’s the, what’s the essence of the book and, and why, why would people care? Why should they go and read it? [00:15:08] Kim: So the essence of the book is about really diagnosing and treating the problem of workplace injustice so that we can build the kind of organizations where we all want to work, where organizations that are optimized for collaboration, which is humanity’s superpower and organizations in which we can all respect. One another as tree said before, I don’t know if that counts as one sentence about chair can do it better than [00:15:34]

Trier: me. No, I think that’s, it can that’s that’s the essence of the book. And then for just work, the company, the company helps leaders and organizations build more equitable, productive, and successful workplaces. But what makes the company unique is that the just work framework. Book is definitely part of that, but we meet organizations where they are, because there’s also other things, you know, there’s not a [00:16:00] silver bullet to get this right. You have to have a very comprehensive strategy. And so we provide, you know, a full suite of D and I solutions and products that, you know, can help organizations get there so that they can just work because it takes a lot, you know, there’s not just one thing. That’s gonna get you there, but you have to have a starting place. Right. One of the things that’s just so powerful about the book is that, you know, we don’t have a lot of frameworks. We don’t, I, I have never been familiar with a. Framework that employees can use, that organizations can use, that leaders can use, that you can add to your toolkit. That’s very tactical, right? And so the fact that Kim has really built this and provided this is really powerful that you can point to something and people can easily grasp it and start using it in their every day, you know, in their everyday work situation. [00:16:57]

Michaela: So, what you’re describing is this diagnostic tool for identifying and treating systematic work injustice. Is that also described in the book? And can you describe it for my listeners? How it looks like, how can they imagine it? What does it do? [00:17:13]

Kim: How do we work? Sure. Absolutely. So I think we tend to treat the problem of workplace injustice as though we’re one big monolithic problem. And when we treat it that way, it becomes very difficult to, to, to cure the problem to solve the problem. And so what we’ve done is we broken down the problem into its component parts. So the, the, at the root, the root causes of workplace injustice or bias, prejudice, and bullying. And I think too often, we tend to conflate those three things. We treat. We treat them as though they’re all the same thing, but they’re different. So bias is sort of not meaning it. It’s often unconscious. Prejudice is meaning it it’s a conscious belief and bullying is being mean or meaning [00:18:00] harm. And so each of these, each of these attitudes and behaviors demands a different kind of confrontation. And then when you add power on top of bias, prejudice and bullying, you wind up with discrimination, harassment, and physical violations, and we can walk you through some of the, some of the solutions that we recommend that leaders can put into place and, uh, upstate. Can use so that they don’t get slimed by other people’s bad behavior. And that we can use when we are the person who’s harmed by these attitudes and behaviors. And also how we can respond when we get feedback that we are the person who was harmed. So in some senses, it’s like a six by four. It’s a big, it’s a, it’s a big problem, but six by four is not intractable. So there’s bias, prejudice, bullying, discrimination, harassment, physical violations. So those are the problems. And then each of us play four different roles where either the leader where the upstander. We are the person who’s harmed or where the person who’s causing harm. And one of the things that trio and I are working on doing is, is coming up with very specific interventions for each of those problems. Enrolls. [00:19:13]

Michaela: Yeah, I really liked that. And I think, especially when I was younger, I’ve ended up, I don’t know why I ended up quite often in situation where there was harassment or really bad situations. And I felt like people could already smell that they can step over boundaries and, you know, be mean, be bullying, um, even more. Right. And so, I don’t know. Is that something that you, that you saw, you probably did some research around that and, and very familiar with. [00:19:44]

Kim: So I think that it is one of the things that I have found is that when we, when we observe workplace injustice or we observe that someone is a colleague who we care about is coming into work, having experienced [00:20:00] injustice in the society at large. And if we don’t do anything about it, if we, if we are a passive bystander, Then I find at least I often wind up feeling quite good. And then, and then that wakes me up. And now all of a sudden, not only am I a bystander, I’m also harmed by it, but I also have caused harm by not intervening. And so now all of a sudden I’m playing three of those roles. And so teaching teaching. Sort of bystanders to become upstanders is really important. And then also working with people who are the targets, bias, prejudice, and bullying to know how to respond. Cause it’s it’s. I think we have a default to silence and very often when, when there is a default to silence, then we reinforce the problem. So, so helping people learn how to choose a response. [00:20:58]

Michaela: I also think like I’m coming from Europe and especially Australia. So I don’t want to generalize for whole Europe now. There is in Austria then was when I entered the workforce. I wasn’t really expecting that people were really nice to me. You know what I mean? Like the school system here is already that, you know, there’s like the power hierarchies and teachers can be quite mean and you know, the person is the boss, so they can, they have, somehow people are expecting the boss to be mean and, you know, to be in power and to be able to say mean things. Over time. Very, it took me many, many years and you know, many countries to work on that. I also changed my, my perception and I said, well, what happened at that point where I felt really shitty as a, you know, as a student, for example, with professors or even working at university horrible, horrible work environment, harassment, but really official harassment, like shouting in front of the colleagues. Like the professor, for example, nobody would stand up because. [00:22:00] The new it, but it weren’t like it wasn’t, it wasn’t something that you would say, oh, it’s not allowed. It’s not good. We know it, but it wasn’t really not allowed. And just over time, and those were being in the U S I get more sensible for it. And I was like, this was really unright at that point, I would, you know, like, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t my current. Understanding at that point that this is something that is not allowed. How do you see that? Is that, is that a cultural thing as well? Or it has to do, I think it’s cultural, but it’s also probably with the age, right. That you’re really young and you’re coming into and you don’t know what’s right. And what’s wrong. Is that allowed or not? [00:22:37]

Trier: Yeah, some of that, some of it is culture and how things are communicated, but you know what you’re, I think that what you’re, what you’re getting to are some gaps within organizations, within their people, HR practices, because there’s a need for things to be very explicit and not be implicit. And one of the things that we talk about in the framework is having a code of conduct. Right. And it needs to be very clear. So. People can think and believe whatever they want, but you can’t come into an organization and do and say whatever you want. And so in a company to your point, like it has to be very clear. This is not acceptable, or these behaviors and attitudes are acceptable. And then another part that we talk about in the framework is having, you know, a holder of consent. And that’s another one that, you know, Kim and I have spent a lot of time talking about, about we’re in an organization. Organizations, aren’t very explicit on a culture of consent. Right? So like McKayla, you’ve probably worked at organizations where if we said, Hey, was there a culture of consent in your previous organization or companies? And most people will say, well, yeah, there’s a culture of consent. No, one’s going to say no, we don’t have a culture of consent, but it’s, it’s, it’s implicit. But those are things where organizations have to make it very, very clear. Right. Like in whatever type of documentation employees, reading adhere to that, [00:24:00] everyone can point to it. Everyone understands what it is. And the other thing that Kim and I have talked about a lot is that in this, you know, environment of a pandemic with COVID and people going back into the workplace, having that being explicit is really important because it goes beyond. You know, these physical interactions, it might be more intimate or personal to something as simple as like a handshake, right. There’s culture of consent. And COVID is like, what are we going to do with the handshake? It was interesting yesterday in my building, someone reached out their hand to introduce themselves to me because they’re a new member of the staff. And I was like, I’m never shaking, anyone’s hand again, but we can like nice to me to pull it out. Right. But like, how are companies thinking about this in your organizations or even, you know, you’re in a meeting. If someone wanted to borrow my pen and didn’t ask you just grabbed it. I wouldn’t think too. Now, if we’re in a meeting and you grab my pen and I’d be like, you know what, it’s yours have it. I have plenty on my desk. So, you know, these are some of the things that I think there’s real opportunity for leaders and organizations to really pause, look at the artifacts that they have for their employees that help them understand. What is acceptable, what is expected of their behaviors and their actions in the workplace. And if there’s things missing, then where do we need to add and fill some gaps so that we can get it right. And it’s very clear of as far as like, what is expected of people. [00:25:22]

Kim: And I think also McKayla, I’m sorry you had those experiences in school. It sounds like. Sort of acceptable for professors to bully students. And I don’t think that’s unusual, unfortunately I don’t. I think that happens everywhere in the world to a certain extent. And, but I do, I also think it’s changing. I’m Optum. Well, I’m, I’m an eternal optimist, but I really do. In fact, I learned how to deal with bullying from my daughter when she was in third year. So she was getting bullied on the playground as happens, children everywhere in the world, unfortunately, and, and her [00:26:00] teachers weren’t doing enough about it. I mean, one of the things that trior and I work with leaders on doing is creating consequences, but there were no consequences for this kid who was bullying my daughter. And so she and I were talking about how to deal with it. And I was sort of. Trying to convince her to use what we call an I statement with this little kid and to say, I feel sad when you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And my daughter banged her fist on the table. And she said, mom, he is trying to make me feel sad. Why would I tell him he succeeded? And I thought, oh my gosh, she is exactly right. And so we talked about it and we realized a use statement is much more effective. If an I statement sort of. Invite someone in to see things from your perspective, a you statement pushes them away. So you can’t talk to me like that, or you need to stop now or, or what’s going on for you here. If, if it feels like those first two statements might escalate the situation too much. But the point is with the use statement and the Facebook. You are now in the active role and you’re making the other person, the person who’s bullying. You answer your questions. So you’re not submitting to the bullying and that is really crucial to respond to it. So I think it’s, and I think increasingly leaders are beginning to understand that it is a part, whether they’re a teacher or a manager or a CEO, they’re beginning to realize. Part of their job to tamp down bullying in their organizations. Because if humanity, superpower is collaboration, as we were talking about earlier, bullying is a collaboration killer, and it might work for the person who’s bullying, but it’s bad for the team collectively. [00:27:52]

Michaela: Yeah. One thing that came to my mind is I love to talk about software engineering practices ended [00:28:00] on this podcast as well. And. What I’m wondering sometimes is how, and probably you, as the experts here, you thought about that already. How can some of the engineering practices shape our culture, or how are you doing this? And do you think that they can increase or decrease, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion? For example, cultural abuse, right? There are also studies on biases in culture abuse that, you know, certain, certain types of groups GAD, their cultural views rejected for, you know, for no reason or less of a reason than other people or what I always saw. Like the Friday night beer. Well, like I hated the Friday night there. I don’t drink beer and, you know, it’s very, very stereotypical, but I don’t drink beer and there was no wine, never, ever a wine, right. Or a coal gore, you know, I would even like more, just a soda or something. Right. It’s sort of the Citroen. What is your, what are your thoughts on that and how, how we should, should we reflect on it? Is there something around engineering, testing, code reviews, even there’s Def [00:29:06]

Trier: ops. Yeah. Okay. It’s so interesting. Having been an engineer, led engineering teams, working at tech companies, working very closely with engineering leaders. There was a lot of things that are problematic in kind of the engineering culture and it doesn’t have to be right. That’s the part that. So, so silly is that it doesn’t have to be that people consist, like continue to perpetuate and make a conscious effort not to change their behaviors because it works for that person or the status quo. But we have to challenge the status quo. What are some things that engineering leaders and teams can do? One that I was really inspired. And there’s a bunch of, there was an article written about it and there was a bunch of tweets on Twitter and it got a lot of attention actually from a black engineer that when I was at Twitter, my university recruiting team actually hired, but they created this docu. [00:30:00] And really getting engineers to change even the language that they use, right? Like a black list versus a white list. There’s a lot of problematic language and language is so important in engineering. And so even like going and finding that list and saying, okay, we’re going to change some of this language. We’re not going to use, you know, this language anymore because it just reinforces bias. And, and our, our minds are very, very powerful. And so I think the language that is used within engineering is step one. Right? That’s that’s one, two. What is really interesting is I, I was working with a white man engineering leader. At a previous company once. And he’s a true, I have one of the highest performing engineering teams at the company and they’re all white men. So if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Like, why would I need, you know, like if, if we’re performing and we’re high performing, like w why does it matter that everyone on the team are white men? And I said, wow, like you, you think if you’re high-performing with just all of these white men on your team, The data, the data and the research is there that we know more diverse teams, outperform homogenous teams, right? Imagine what you could be if you actually had representation on your team. And I wasn’t even my, my engineering background didn’t even align with what he did, but I pointed to an engineer on his question. This was a team that part of their responsibility was to write algorithms. To identify hate on a platform. If you look at most platforms, underrepresented women, first of all, trans women and black women face the most hate on most social media platforms. So if that is the population that experiences the most hate, but yet you have a group of white [00:32:00] men that are supposed to write the algorithms to do find that hate. That’s problematic. Right. There we is that we are, I don’t even know exactly how to do, I don’t know how to do your job, but I just know that it’s not working. Right. And we also know that. These populations are still experiencing so much hate on every single platform. And one of the problems is that we don’t have a people who look like the populations who can identify that those populations have considered the table and have those conversations about like, how do you really define that and make it better? And so I think that, like, we really need to think about representation on the teams for that that’s inclusive for the problems that we’re solving for the communities that it impacted. [00:32:42]

Kim: I think, I think that’s exactly right. It’s so important to be willing, to interrupt bias in engineering culture. And there is a lot of it. And so one of the things that TRIA and I work with with engineering leaders to do is to, to, to begin to disrupt bias. And, and so there are a couple of points to, to disrupting bias. There are a couple of different. The first is you need to come up with a shared vocabulary. So TRIA and I use a purple flag. So if I wave a purple flag, it means either I’ve said something biased or someone else in the room has, and we know that fear. And I know that. So, so shared by other teams we’ve worked with, have you. I come again, or I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded or piece it doesn’t the words matter. But, but I can’t give you the words your team has to choose the words that you will actually use. So come up with the words. The second point is you’ve got to commit to using the body center up there. You know, that bias is occurring in every single meeting you have. So you need to come up with an expectation that bias is going to get flagged at least once in every meeting. And then the third, the third thing to do is [00:34:00] to teach people what to do when they are the person who’s caused harm when it’s their bias, who’s being flagged. So if, if TRIA waves a purple flag at me, I get two choices of what to say back. And she asked the same two choices when I wave one at her. The first is thanks for pointing it out. I’m going to work on not doing that again. That again, or thanks for pointing it out. I don’t quite understand what I did wrong. Can we talk about it after the meeting? And then we do have to talk about it, or if we’re on video meeting, we can drop a link into the chat that explains it. And the reason that it’s so important to interrupt bias is that if we don’t interrupt it publicly and in the moment where we reinforce it. And so I’ve seen this happen, In code reviews, you asked specifically about code reviews all the time, where, where you find that, that people are reviewing. Code of, of, of someone who’s underrepresented very differently from the way they’re reviewing other people’s code. And it’s important, this, this brings us to the second point. So we’ve got to interrupt it when we notice it, but we also need to quantify it to go out, looking for it, quantify your bias and. This means that if you, if you are in your code review, you can quantify how many times someone has negatively reviewed people’s code. And then you can take a look at whose code they’re not going to play review it. And if you notice that men tend to negatively review women’s code more than. Men’s code then you know, that you have identified some bias in your code review. Another simpler thing that I experienced, I was working with a leadership team at a tech company, big tech company, and their bias quantification did not take a lot of effort. They noticed that they had not promoted any women to the executive team at this company. And the [00:36:00] company had been around for about 10 years. So they knew it was a problem. They knew the problem was not the women who worked at the company. They had a lot of great women, so they knew there must be something broken in their recruiting process. And so they invited me to their credit to join their promotion committee, meeting to note because everybody on the committee was man. So they thought maybe I would notice something that they themselves had not noticed. And. There were two people up for promotion. One, a man, one, a woman, both of them had great reputations for being excellent managers, building teams that were very highly functioning and very loyal loyalty. Each of these, these two individuals and. They referred to the man who was up for promotion as a great leader. And they prefer, they referred to the woman who was up for promotion as a real mother hand. Now, who are you going to promote the real leader or the real mother hen. And, and so I pointed this out to them and at first they sort of were like, oh, Kim, come on. It’s no big deal. I said, it is a big deal. This is why you’re not promoting women. It’s like the, the, the subtle ways that language impacts the way you think about people, it, you know, is real and you’ve got, that’s why it’s so important to quantify your bias and then go look and figure out what’s wrong and not what’s wrong with the underrepresented candidates, but what’s wrong with your hiring processes or your promotion processes or. [00:37:33]

Michaela: So you’re saying that we have to be very consciously thinking and looking at bias and what’s going on to do work. And it looks like it’s not just work, but it’s also work all the time on, you know, improving our collaboration our way we work together. More powerful. Yeah. Maybe the last question that I have for you too, as you’re giving workshops on inclusion, diversity [00:38:00] and equity. So. How do that workshop works. And also who should be on the workshop should be asked advocates, like people that are already pro diversity, equity and inclusion, or should we better have the skeptics participate or a mixture, or how are you going about that? Is there a minimum number of people at the company that have to take such a workshop to be, you know, to, to, to get that ripple through in the organism? [00:38:28]

Trier: Yeah, I think that, you know what we have seen and it’s, it’s, again, it’s been so nice to have such a positive response that we can come into an organization and do a, just work keynote for an hour or a half day workshop. And that we’re literally leaving people with tactical and practical things that they could implement. And it’s for everyone right now. Yes, there are. In the frame where we talk about, you know, what do you do? Whether any w if you’re in either of the four roles, like a person who’s been harmed. A person who’s a upstander, which is a bystander who actually intervenes, or if you’re the person who caused harm or a leader, and we can do a deeper dive as far as like what leaders and organizations should be doing. But there’s something for everyone in the framework now just work the company. We also though have a lot of D and I. Seminars that we do talking about language, talking about, you know, what does, how do you reduce bias in your recruiting? What does it mean to, you know, take all this education and awareness that you get and put it into action in the workplace, right? And those are seminars that are for everyone as well, whether it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey. Because for those who actually think that, Hey, I am a, I am an advocate. I am a ally. You know, one of the things that we talk about in one of the seminars, How do you go from being an ally to an advocate? Because allyship is very passive, right? And ally is saying, I’m not going to cause you harm, which is good. Right? We don’t want people to call [00:40:00] each other harm, but an advocate, it says, not only am I not going to cause you harm, but I’m going to through action. Stick up for those who have been marginalized and through action. And, you know, create a platform and uplift those who, who need, who, who have been marginalized and know that like they may not have access to all the same opportunities as you. And so how do you use your privilege in that way to be an advocate? And so it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your journey. There’s something that we all need to continue to educate because. It’s not a sprint and it’s not a marathon either. I hear that a lot of like, oh, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. No, it’s actually not a marathon because for those of us who have run a marathon, there is a destination, right. When we’re very happy about that, but there’s no destination for this. We have to continue to do this work. And you know, the other thing that I tell folks is one of the reasons I love, I love this work is because as long as there’s a majority, there will always be a minority. And what’s interesting though, is that as time goes on, Those audiences and those groups have changed and they’ve evolved. And so it’s, and that means that we always have to continue to the work to understand who are the minority groups that we need to ensure that we are paying attention to that we are representing them and that they are having equitable experiences, just like every. [00:41:15]

Michaela: Is there something that you would say to my listeners that they should take away from this episode? What is like the one tip that they can do maybe from both of you? So we have two tips for them that they can go and start doing just today and in their workplace to make it better and nicer forever. [00:41:37]

Kim: Sure. I think if you can distinguish between bias, prejudice, and bullying and respond to bias, which is just not meaning it with an I statement, which invites the other person. And to understand things from your perspective, respond to prejudice with an it statement. Cause prejudice is a conscious belief. The person means what they say. And so you need to show them where the boundary is. They can believe whatever they [00:42:00] want. They can. Do or say whatever they want. So, and its statement can appeal to the law. It is illegal and it can appeal to an HR policy. It’s a violation of HR policy, or it can appeal to common sense. And it’s ridiculous, you know, to, to refuse to hire a woman, for example, and then last but not least with bullying, which is being mean, respond to it with a use statement. You can’t talk to me like. [00:42:25]

Michaela: Okay. I like that. Very, very concrete. Cool. Do you know one thing that you would want tip that you could give me? Yeah, [00:42:32]

Trier: so I think it’s really interesting. And Kim is the one who really pushed and challenged me on this is that I’ve always said that Kim empathy is the catalyst for change in this space. And Kim would say, We need more compassion. And I was like, I want, no, I want more empathy. And then I really had to understand the difference between empathy and compassion. And so I still do believe that empathy is a catalyst for change, but the change actually occurs through compassion. And the difference is, is that empathy is yes, you are putting yourself in that person’s shoes. You’re understanding what that person is going through, but compassion is you wanting to. Through action. Take that pain away, take that suffering your way, do something about it. And so it’s, I think that it’s a journey, right? There was something that I saw about how you go from feeling sorry for someone and having pity to having sympathy. To having empathy and compassion. And so what I would encourage your listeners is to say, where are you in that journey? And to really strive to get to compassion, which means that, you know, that’s showing up through action and then understanding what that app. [00:43:54]

Michaela: Yeah, thank you. I really like it. Great. Thank you so much. You both for taking the time [00:44:00] being on my show, I really enjoyed it. I will put the book there. If you have other links, I will share them down in the, in the show notes. So thank you so much. I thank you for being on my show. [00:44:10]

Kim: Thank you. [00:44:12]

Michaela: Yeah. Wonderful. Bye. Bye. [00:44:14]

Kim: Bye. [00:44:15]

Michaela: I hope you enjoyed another episode after sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks. Bye.

 

Falling in love with the JavaScript community

In this episode, I talk to Tracy Lee. Tracy is the CEO and co-founder of This Dot Labs, a widely successful dev shop. She is also a speaker, conference organizer, and blogger.

We talk about:

  • how she dared to start her first start-up as soon as right out of college,
  • how she learned to program and fall in love with JavaScript and the community,
  • how she founded a successful development shop,
  • her advice in terms of a marketing-driven versus product-driven startup launch.
Continue reading

Bootstrapping Netlify to a multi-million-dollar company

In this episode, I talk to Matt Biilmann. Matt Matt is the CEO and co-founder of Netlify – the modern platform for high-performance websites and apps. Netlify has around 150 employees and an estimate of over 20 million dollar of annual revenue. Matt also coined the term Jamstack, which stands for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup. 

We talk about:

  • his journey bootstrapping Netlify to a million-dollar company
  • how he got the vision for the JAM-stack,
  • how it feels to grow a company from a two-person adventure to over 150 employees,
  • how he envisions the collaborative software development of the future,
  • and the acquisition of  FeaturePeek.

Today’s episode is sponsored by CodeSubmit – the best take-home assignments for your tech hiring!

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

Transcript: 

[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.]

Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Matt Billman.

But before I start, I want to tell you more about CodeSubmit – the best takehome assignment platform to streamline your tech recruiting! Yes, exactly, this amazing start-up is back sponsoring the podcast. And over the last months, they introduced a lot of exciting new features such as live coding – within a full working IDE running directly in your browser. Beginning of the year, when I was hiring engineers for a startup I work with, I used their tool during the interview process for all the candidates and was extremely satisfied. CodeSubmit made it really easy to create custom tasks that reflect the actual work candidates would be assigned to on the job. Their missing: real tasks, not brainteasers, resonance a lot with me. So, I cannot recommend CodeSubmit enough. Please check them out at CodeSubmit.io. That is Codesubmit.io.

But now, back to Matt. Matt is the CEO and co-founder of Netlify, the modern platform for high-performance websites and apps that defy has around 150 employees. But that’s not all: Matt also coined the term JAMstack, which stands for JavaScript, API APIs and markup. Today, JAMstack is even more. It stands for collection of technologies and languages, including web oriented databases, frameworks, like Nuxt and NextJS, and even framework less approaches. So I’m super, super thrilled to have Matt here with me today to talk about his experience founding and running Netlify and also JAMstack and
software engineering practices at Netlify fly. So yeah, I’m super thriller that you’re here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Matt: [00:00:57] Thank you for having me. Yeah,

Michaela: [00:01:00] really, really excited. So how is that? I looked a little bit like a research you obviously a little bit. And so I started it’s around, you know, seven, eight years ago that you, you for aided or you found that and Netlify how, how was that? Is that. Or you have an idea and you do it, or what was the process like?

Matt: [00:01:23] It was a long, it was a long process that, that, that started way before Netlify itself. So. I I’m originally from Denmark, but spent seven years living in, in Spain, in Madrid, where I worked a CTO for a company that built websites for small to medium businesses, but at a very large scale. So we would build something like a hundred websites a week, tens of thousands of sites in total. Right. And in. And I let the whole product and engineering or built the platform that all the designers would do the design with it, all the clients with useful content management that, that powered every single website from brief to production in. And then, then I actually started a CMS startup in, in Madrid together with the founders of that Spanish. Is that up because we had just tried building sort of several iterations of this. Develop a platform in-house and we thought, okay, we can build a cloud hosted multi-tenant version that, that other agencies and other professionals can, can use to get a lot of the same efficiencies when they are building websites for their clients. Anyway, that was sort of the first take on, like, how do you really remove all of that? The friction for web developers in, building deploying operators. With properties, but, but it was built as Hess as a traditional, like monolithic application. Multitenancy Amisu with database and template engine and all of that. And I came to the, to the bay area and the whole tech scene here, working on that. But while working on that, I started getting this sense. But even if it, if it was a product that was, I was very proud of building. It had a lot of like early innovations in it that had serverless functions before. That was the thing you could write, like service side Java script to running in, in this case, within the JVM in isolates and so on. But I got the sense that the fundamental architecture of this. This monolithic approach where data business, logic template language, front end code is all closely tied to gala was just not going to be long-term the real, like the few charts I could take chunks the way. Yeah. I was looking at lot at, at, in, at what was happening in the, in, in, in two different areas. One was like the space of static site generators. Jake hill and middleman were at the time in the other ones, the whole no JSPs ecosystem and Beaufort was having what was happening there in terms of the early built tools and task runners like grunt and gulp, but also. The first sort of real full race into the, in, into the whole world of single page application with originality tools like sprout Cole or Andy and Leyda in birth in angular react to all of that. Right. And I got this sense that. Pretty soon as browsers really started maturing, it would make much more sense to have an architecture where you try to decouple the front end web UI layer completely from the backend business logic, Leah, and the best back in business logic layer would likely Kelly split into all these different API APIs and services where someone to them, of course I, your own in Europe. But a lot of them are other people’s services, like Stripe oil, goldeo Twilio, and the like, and I also saw that if, if you could do that, you could sort of map that whole web UI there. You could map the workflow around that pretty tightly into the get centric workflow that developers were already working on, where in pull request and merchants and so on. Right? Like it was much more straightforward to. Map that whole process on twist StatePlus, UI Leah, then mapping it onto both the UI layer and the whole business logic data layer that tends to require all these kind of migrations and the settings and so on. So I got, I got the sense that that architectural approach would win out, but I could also see that there was just too many too, too much friction. Standing in front of developers that wanted to go that direction and then actually building, deploying and operating with properties like that. So I built a small in VP of like, what’s the smallest thing I can build that that’s sort of. Aims at edit dressing the workflow for those kinds of web developers. And the first MVP was this was a small service called bit balloon, where in the very first version, you could drag a folder with your friend dot com and it would immediately go live on a, on a, on a URL. And then I edited some CLI tooling and some in API tooling around that. And, and quickly saw that it, that it resonated with the right kind of early adopters in the front end space and, and got very validated in the idea that this architectural shift was going to happen. So at that point, I started to talking to one of my best friends back from Denmark, who Chris was my was my co-founder today. Him. He. We we’ve known each other all the way back from, from high school, which is sadly a long, long time ago by now. But while I, I spent seven years in Spain, he had built his own production company back in Denmark is specializing in like in very interactive, often video power websites typically built in flash for some of the largest brands in the world. They won a bunch of international awards for its work there. And then sold that to a full ed foot, to a full service agency where he became the partner and the chief digital officer. And I started talking a lot to him about this architectural shift and what it would mean if you could sort of pre compile the whole UI and put it on a globally distributed network. And then just talk to these different APS and services. How we could really fundamentally solve a lot of the problems around global performance, around scalability, around reliability, around security, in an, and even in the process, potentially really address to develop a practice city. And all of these areas were where areas that, that. Like he, he knew from, from operating across like web properties from, from tons of different companies and running digital strategy for the sort of Walmarts of Scandinavia and the, like how, how big these problems were and how enhanced they were. Like how, how much worse the problems got as, as, as we also started having more and more people using mobile devices for the web and, and expecting a different kind of, of both pace and use experience. But we could also just see again, how much friction there was. If a team wanted to adopt this architecture, suddenly they had to stitch together like CIC CD with object storage, with CDNs. They had to figure out cash perching rules and it’s caching. They had to figure out how to connect to all these different API APIs and services, and typically had to pick out triggering, rebuild swings. Content that data changed and so on. And there was just no viable tool chain for saying like, okay, we’re going to do this. What do we do it with? So that became the core idea. We, we, we sat down and discussed and came up with from fo for Netlify and still the mission we’re we’re still working on, right? Like how can we create a. At cloud platform for the collaborative work, where teams can really operate efficiently, where we can remove all the friction involved in going from pull requests to live code running in, in, in front of a real uses in. And yeah, we, we, we started out just bootstrapping the two of us. Build on top of the, of the product I had already built and turned it into Netlify launched on air show. Heck a news post the in, in March, 2015. In, and by the end of 2015, we were still just two people bootstrapping a company, but we are serving around a quarter billion web requests a month out of our homegrown CDN for customers. Like we work in Sequoia capital and the Molalla foundation and, and was realizing at that point that, okay, now, now we need to raise capital, build a whole team around this and, and really accelerate. Hmm. Ray cell first round of venture capital in the start of 2016 and hired the first engineers in March, 2016. And then, and then it, of course, it’s been a really fast paced growth since then by now we’ve raised about $107 million. From top tier find slack, Andreessen and Kleiner Perkins, Menlo ventures, EQT M we have for you onboarded more than 1.5 million developers onto our platform and, and, and sites are now like just, just the sites and web apps on our platform are reaching the close to 700 million unique visitors every month. It so. So, yeah, it’s, it’s been quite the ride so far. Yeah. Mine’s lowing.

Michaela: [00:11:26] Wow. Yeah. It’s mind blowing. Yeah. And so for me, You were really very, very involved with the technology. And you had like this vision where it’s going to go and it also went there. Right. So it was spot on. Do you feel like that you’re still very connected to that? Like, do you still feel like that you’re so connected to technology or are you now more involved in, you know, you have to see overall. I am now a little bit more away from this technology side. And how is that for you? You, for me now, how you explained it and how much passion I could really see that. Right. I can imagine that you have also like this passion for the role that you have right now. So you’re probably extremely. Business oriented and you know, all these funds and you know, like where to raise money and how to acquire a company and all of that. Are you still very technical? Do you feel like you’re as technical as you have been before?

Matt: [00:12:24] I I’m obviously not as involved in building Nipsey five from writing code perspective at Southwest, right? Like the first version of I built a CDN from there, from the ground up and the CSTD platform and the react UI that powered it and everything. Right. Like, and now I typically don’t like by my working space, now it doesn’t involve writing code file product eight. Like. But in a curious thing about my background is that that while I’ve been programming as a hobby, since I was 10 years old, I studied the musicology and cultural studies in and was always more interested in how humans adopt ideas and make sense of the world and understand things. So, so I think some people are, need to feel very hands-on with the coach to feel that they are doing something. I, I, I get a lot of joy also out of building the culture and the organization and the, and the engine that can build things without me. Right. And trying to understand both how, when we talk about something like the gem stake emerging, for example, and the shifts in technology. There’s always a mixture happening of like the actual sets of technologies involved and, and the specific program languages and API APIs and infrastructure evolutions that we’re seeing. But in the end, technology is adopted by humans, learning about things and building things, right. And you can understand where technology is going, what will happen in an ecosystem? If you don’t understand how humans adopt technology and why developers built with certain technologies at certain points in time and why you’ll sometimes see technologies that are technically better loose out in the marketplace because their adoption path is harder. Right? So for me, it I’ve always been a very curious person and, and, and, and like to understand. Both sides of that spectrum, both the lower details of, of how does technology, like how does that technology work behind the scenes, but also the details of like, how does human beings approach it and understand it and build with it. And of course, as I been building this company and it’s, I am building it right. The layer of where I operate them, we’ll have to keep shifting. Right? Like in the beginning I had to be the one who just sat down and wrote the code. And then I had to be part of a team that wrote the code. And then I had to be more warfare at it, take lead for that team and guide them in the right direction. And so. And now I have to build the right kind of organization and the right kind of organizational structure to allow our company to build the kind of product that. That we think we need to build. And that’s that, that in some cases also requires finding the right partners to build it with in terms of fee investors or, or ecosystem partners in, or finding the right people to join our team and, and help build it.

Michaela: [00:16:01] So, this is really, really super interesting. Is it, is it for you all about the people or is it also about the structures and how people are working together? Do you see it as a system? Or, you know, like, or is it self forming, like is a company self forming or do you give it some structure?

Matt: [00:16:20] No. No, we, you, I believe in, in trying to, to, to. Bring some structure along the way. I think both me and Chris have always fought that did that, that intentionally building structure and organization is really, it’s really important for building a company that can, that, that can scale to, to become a really large company. Right. Like I think. If you, if you try to ignore the structure, you, you will hit a point where, where everything’s that’s is that’s falling apart. And it’s very easy to hit points along the way that feels like that’s happening. Of course, you’re always a bit riding on a rocket that’s slightly out of control. Right. But I think culture and structure and And value is a really important for how a company functions. And then of course, like you can never replace the, like, it’s in the end, it comes down to actual people doing stuff. Right. But the structure is important and it’s important to be intentional about it. I think we’ve seen some companies that tries to build completely like say they built completely flat structures with. In any kind of structure to it. And that, that just means that as a leader, you’re not taking any intentional decisions and route the structure, because your team is still going to have people that have more offices than other people. And they’re still going to have, it’s just going to happen by politics and, and, and sort of maneuvering rather than by any intentional process of like how strict the structure. Do you see

Michaela: [00:17:51] like a parallel between like I texture, like software, I attacked her and technical debt and structures of companies. Like where you say, well, we try to build the best system with the information that we have right now. Obviously also looking into the future, but then, you know, things evolve, things change. So we actually have to go back and change the architecture or change, reverse some decisions, you know? Remove some technical debt. Do you see the same happens in company in your company structure? Or do you feel like, oh, this is for what we have foreseen, but now we actually have to restructure and re refined or redefine ourselves.

Matt: [00:18:31] Yeah. You absolutely see that happening. And of course it could be a useful metaphor too, to compare like your company through to the machine, building the thing and, and, and think of it as an architecture and that point. Just also have to remember that Indian, the pieces of the machine. So not lines of codes that, that are predictable. They are people with goals and dreams and carry ambitions and interpersonal. Characteristics in. So you have to be aware of both, both sides of it.

Michaela: [00:19:07] So you’re what you’re saying is that technical debt is sort of peanuts, right?

Matt: [00:19:12] Complicated. I just, it to deal with, with, with technology. It’s a lot more predictable Indians than people are, but it, yeah, in the same way, it can also be a lot more fun. To deal with, with human beings. Yeah, obviously.

Michaela: [00:19:30] Yeah. Yeah. I’m, I’m super impressed. Like I can’t imagine how much personal growth has to happen on a way from, you know, like bootstrapping something, then getting investors, you know, scaling probably if you get investors, you normally scale really fast really quickly. And yeah. So th that’s.

Matt: [00:19:53] Yeah. And it’s also, I mean, it’s also a choice you take when you go and raise venture capital that, that raising venture capital is only one way of building a business, right? Like the many other approaches to build a business. In, in our case, we felt that there was also the kind of market opportunity, right. Because we really, from the get go belief. That there was a real opportunity to shape how the future of the web is, is going to be built and how it’s going to function. But we could also see that, that making that big of an impact and getting there in time. And so. There was not something we could, we could have done if we had grown just organically based on our revenue. Right? Like, so that’s, that’s why we, we went out and, and, and raised funds to be able to, to scale and grow much faster than we would be able to do organically. Right. And that, of course always didn’t happen. Half the trade-off of like all the older challenges you get when you are trying to scale an organization very fast. And it has like, you have to know what you’re going into as a founder also, right? Like, as you say, of course, it’s a, it’s a learning curve and you have to be very okay with continuously taking things that, that you saw as quarter your role, like writing the code, building the technology. And then have other people come in and do them instead of you and step away from it. Right. But if you do that, you’ll also learn very quickly along the way. The more like that, no matter how much of your job you seem to delegate it at way, you only get more busy somehow.

Michaela: [00:21:39] Yeah. So one thing that that would really interest in me is like you said, you wrote this little first version MVP of, of Netlify and. A lot of people adopted it. So it seems like you didn’t really have to convince people about this solution or that there is a problem because sometimes like founders it’s, it’s hard. Right. You think like, oh, I have this idea. And then is it too early? Do I have to convince people to have to explain it better? Do you have like to, do you think that this is, this is the right mindset or should people step away from something like where we have. Tweak one sentence to be really powerful and express like the pitch. Right. Is that really too important? Or should we read our focus, our energy on finding the thing that people actually want? Even if you write a sloppy sentence about it, you know what I mean?

Matt: [00:22:34] Yeah. I think, I think it it’s never completely one or the Euler in, I think. You have to in like initially for example, the mental model we had around adoption was that for these kinds of technology products, if you’re trying to build something that’s in that the future of how things will be built, you would expect it to sort of grow in concentric circles where you sort of have these very early adopter technologies that are constantly. Joking too, to broaden their horizon, then find new things that work and so on. Right. And, and, and you want this kind of product to resonate with them first, right? Like in the initial stages of this product, you wouldn’t expect someone who was like aids. Are they working in a law long enterprise company? Very focused on solving. Big picture of business problems, insight that for which assisting technologies to even be interested in your product, right? Like it’s just not time, but you would expect like for a product like ours and, and early adopter of JavaScript frameworks or, or site generators to, to get interested in. And then ideally like there’s, there’s two is essentially two different paths to building. Product companies, right? Like one of them is product led growth and the other is sales or marketing led growth. And not, there’s not like one way is the right way for some products. If you have a product that requires in a whole organization to adopted horizontally before it really adds value. Right. Build a product lead motion around that. You have to go build a sales lit motion where you first go and talk to executives and companies and pick out the needs and then solve their needs with a product. But if you have a product that can both be really useful to an individual engineer, into a small teams with engineer to a larger team of engineers into a whole organization, then you have the opportunity of building like a product led growth moment. Motion. Where, the way you get into businesses is by individual users first adopting the product, and then, then it spreads from there. Right? And we saw the opportunity to build that kind of company. And when you built that, then it can’t be like the cost sale doesn’t depend that much. At first, unlike nailing there, the phrase on your marketing site or something like that, it comes on nailing the onboarding experience for how fast. Can you get someone to land on your website and then be inside the product, doing something where they having a hard moment of why? Like, why is this product going to be useful to us? And for us, there was really about like landing on netlify.com and then having a web property running on a custom domain in a shorter time as possible. Right? Like that was sort of the first iteration of, of, of that hard moment. And then knowing that maybe in, in, in 30 seconds, so minutes or something, right. You had gone from nothing to having a globally distributed website, running on a custom domain with a CSED pipeline plug directly into get right. If we could just make that motion, like something you could do in, in, in 30 seconds or minutes at something like. Then then we would drive that, that, that feeling of like, wow, this is, this is another generation of tooling. This, this is, this is just so different from how the world looked before and, and, and then build excitement with developers. But then in parallel with that, we will also positioning ourselves Hindu in, in the midst of like an architectural change of how are we going to build the web in the future. And at the time when we started, there was just a lot of difference. Technologies that was making that happen. There was, as I mentioned, static site generators that were single page applications. There was a lot of talk of the API economy, some talk around like the programmable weapons, but there was no name for this architecture. And that was something that, that, that, that Chris Sue, my co-founder immediately saw from his background. Like we need, if this is going to have him, we need a name for this category and this architecture, because otherwise, again, all of this happens because humans adopt the technology and humans goes in the direction and, and. If you can’t give people the vocabulary to talk about what they’re doing, it becomes very hard for that idea to spread between groups and teams and people. Right? So that’s why we ended up coining the term game stack. And it happened sort of in a very collaborative process with different people in the, in the industry. And so on in an and the term started taking off because it was needed, right. Because it gave me. And nomenclature to start talking about things that before were seen as just separate movements, right? Like, okay. This, something happening about the architecture we use for cell phones, talking to API APIs, there’s something happening or how this whole world of web API is exploding. There’s something happening around single page applications and something else happening around CDNs and site generators and stuff. And suddenly we had a nomenclature to say, oh, it’s an architectural shift. It’s a shift to watch the games deck. And that, that was really important to, to, to build the other part of like on the one hand, the individual product story and the developer story of like finding this product and instantly getting into ha moment and then connect them. To a broader story around like a new architecture for the web emerging and, and the possibilities that that would entail and how not just individual developers, but large organizations could benefit from that change. So both sides are important, but in the end, if you’re building a product led growth company, you have to be really obsessed is obsessive about the product itself and how. That product that attracts Andy and convinces juices to, to, to work with it.

Michaela: [00:29:17] Yeah. The funny thing is that when you described the story off, you know, how a developer, you know, sees your side and tries it out. This is exactly how I felt when I tried it out. I was not an early adopter dough. Right. I try it out somewhere last year, but. It wasn’t exactly like this. I was like, oh, I have to reply this website. And I want to do it quick. And you know, like, let’s, let’s try that out. Right. Everybody is already on it. I’m like the late, late person too late for everything, but I went to it. Right. And obviously at that point it was fully baked fully in, but, you know, I was there and was like, wow. Well, it’s running, right? Like I was like, and as you said, right, this, like you push and then it’s there. I exactly felt what you were saying, but it was like last year. How was Natalie fly when you say, well, let’s go five years back. How was the experience? Was it similar? Like at that point, would you say.

Matt: [00:30:18] Yeah. So, so the expense involved in, and it will continue to evolve it as, as we also go for, broadening the experience and, and telling it different, like as a large and larger story through the product. Right. So the very first story you would see was, was, was in bit balloon the predecessor to Netlify. Land on a website that just immediately on the front page, head like a drop soon in saying drag your web folder here. And there would also be a little download link where if you didn’t have a website handy, you could download one and drop it there. Right. And then you could just drop aside onto bit ballooned at com without even signing up or anything. And it, you didn’t need to sip the files first, anything you just drag the actual folder onto a bit, little.com and boom. Now you would be live. We still have that done. If you go to app.netlify.com/drop, you’ll get the same kind of experience that mimics, like what, what the very first version was like, of course, in the signed by me and not by actual designers. Like it looks like today. So that was like the first simplest motion we could do right in. And then the next step was really to, to start, like after we had, after I had built out that initial version of just getting a site live and, and, and getting a custom domain connected to it, getting SSL set up and so on, then, then it was really the question of okay. This is fine. If you’re really just one developer by yourself, manually deploying, and we added a CLI where you could do the same from like writing it at for spit and native later, just Netlify deploy and immediately from the command line, deploy fault. That’s fine. If you’re really just one individual working, as soon as you’re at team of people, that’s not very useful. Like you, you can’t just random. You have people deployed manually at different time without structure and people get their structure from, from GitHub or GitLab or bit bucket. That’s where developers collaborate on opening new pull requests and building new features. So. The next iteration of that on Netlify was really saying, instead of focusing on you deploying manually from a folder that solves the whole problem of you working in a good provider and getting that live. So the next moment really became that flow of like calming. Tell us you’ll get repository and we’ll try to even guess what tool you have a framework you’re using. And just say, okay, and now you’re done, right? Like now you have something you live in. And, and now of course, with, without acquisition of a feature peak and that whole journey, we are going even deeper into that space of like, this is not just for single developer building. On their own, like real projects, always built by teams with lots of different stakeholders and with several developers and one part of the processes it’s writing the code. But another part of that whole process is that for every release, you have some feedback cycle where you have back and forth with product managers or designers or other developers or other stakeholders. Before you take something live and now we’re really sort of expanding that whole experience to drink fluid, that process and to sure how, how frictionless we can, we can make. The process of a team actually building releases together and taking them to the world.

Michaela: [00:34:21] So with, with this acquisition, somehow you have like this deploy previews feature. Yeah. You know, my, my favorite thing are code reviews. Is that something that you think is part of the programming part or is it part of deploy? Is it, is it part of something that should be, should code reviews be somewhere in that picture or how do you see it?

Matt: [00:34:45] I mean, code code reviews are really important, but then there’s also the, the step ahead that’s like viewing their outcome of, of, of your current code. Right? Like being able to just open a pull request and having that pull request running in the full production environment. Exactly. As it would look like if you were. That’s that’s really like, it doesn’t replace the code review. Right? Like the developers should still work on the code review tools to make sure that the quality of the code behind that it’s up to scratch and so on. Right. But it does make the, the review, especially from. It QA testers, product managers to designers and marketeers to content editors or anyone else that’s involved that will want to review what the output looks like. Hmm. It makes that process in much simpler. Right. And what we were seeing, like w w like we launched deploy previews in 2016, a long time ago, and we’ve of course been very big consumers of that whole workflow internally, ever since then. netlify.com runs. And Netlify Natalie find that conference and identify all of our web properties up easily run on Netlify. And in that process of deployment, Completely essential to how our web teams work. We’re constantly sharing URLs and so on. But the one thing we saw also when talking to clients and so on, was that when you share that URL, then. The feedback cycle spec to the developers that happens all over the place. Some of it happens you’re shared in slack and there’s feedback in slack and more people open issues and get up or in JIRA, or they will piece two screenshots into documents and sent them back and forward for, at the mess attachments. And, and for developers like the, the process. The process of, of that is as fragmented as the process of code reviews was before tools like get help and get lab integrated into the workflow. Right? Like before that happened, like there was no. You, you would sometimes have specific tools for code review, but mostly it would be processes of sending back and forth emails around the code, or simply just having to sit down at a laptop together or at, at this top bank at the time, and look at the code and talk through it. Right. And get up with the pull request. Functionality really gave her home. For court reviews, right? Like in the game of place where, where now you no longer have to wonder, like where is it happening? And people commenting in all kinds of places and so on. Right. So what we’re trying to do with collaborative deploy previews is in a similar way to give it a form for the, feedback, not on the, on the input, which is the code, but on the output, which is the reason. And make sure also that since every deployed review, it’s a different URL. We don’t, we didn’t want to have a system where every deploy preview now has its own. Like you have to know it exists and go there and look at the feedback in order to take part in that process. Because like we had some initial prototypes integrating with tools like that, and it just attracted from the process because now. Apart from checking the pull request to end a slack messages and the emails also I had to continuously try to figure out is people, are people now also commenting on the deployed from you? Yeah. So it’s really important to make each deploy from URL. Okay. At checkpoint that that makes information flow into the original places. So feedback that stakeholders make on the deployment of the will, will flow back into the poll requests. They’ll take part in the comments there, or they can open tickets in whatever project tracking software you’re using related to get Harper linear clubhouse for the like, and now it’s really important for us. Right. But again, it was this sense of like, Now when a developer, she is that deployed preview URL, the Isles are sharing how to give feedback and how that whole process operates. And we hope that can really, as I said, do do for this process, what, what pull requests themselves fit for them? For the code review process

Michaela: [00:39:23] feature peak, which basically is part of what you’re just describing right. Of the functionality that you’re describing. As I understand it. Is it a company that you acquired? So I would like to understand the process around that a little bit. So you have this vision, obviously you seem very vision driven, right? So you have this vision and then you see that there is no place for that. But how does that work? Like, and then you find a company or, you know, like it, because you’re, you’re obviously. Yeah. Having your eyes out on the space and under companies, and then you see a company that works in that space and you think, oh, they’re going to the right direction. And then you contact them. Or how does that, like how, how can it be such a good match and why not do that? In-house and you know, like how does this whole process wig? And what’s your, what’s your mental model behind it?

Matt: [00:40:12] Yeah, let me, let me tell them, so let me take a step first bank and just to the listeners shit like yesterday, we announced a big feature for us called collaborative deploy previews that allow other stakeholders to give feedback in the process of, of, of reusing and going from pull requests to release. And behind that feature launch was an acquisition of. Affair venture funded company called feature peak that was backed by Y Combinator and matrix venture in that joint Netlify and integrated that product into the core of our product. And the whole, the whole process started in a way back into, in our all hands meeting at the very start of 2020, where in memory. So was a UX researcher on, on, on our team. Yeah. Brought up the, it like brought up the initial idea that take it. It would really add so much value to the other stakeholders. If there was a way of bringing feedback and commenting to to deploy previews. And based on that, we started at first in prototyping with a couple of different tools that already existed in the space for. Full commenting and annotating on websites. So we integrated one of those tools through it, built, pluck in and started testing it out internally. And we learned there that if the commenting was something external to the current process, our developers cut more frustrated than helped by it. Like they quickly felt like, okay, now, now I’m just getting. At pod from all the meals and slack messages in this year’s I get, I’m also now getting comments in a different place. Right. So after testing that for a while, we found out that, okay, that’s that’s not going to be the right approach. It’s the right idea. It’s the right problem with tackling, but it’s not the right solution in. So we think it, that, that we would have to do something that tied into the process that developers will already working in. And that tied into the pull request process. And we did start in building our own. We built first, a quick prototype that I went to celebrate experienced team built in. To be able to take that to our user researcher and then put it in front of a bunch of our clients talk through like, what would this do for their workflow? What are they currently doing for their workflow? And started all to really understanding like the set of tools that, that our customers were working with and how they were already solving this problem. Because obviously like, It’s not like this is something that everybody already doing in some way. No, no one are building software just by having developers write the code and then launch it. Right? Like there’s always a process of write the code, show the output, talk through it, do testing, validate the result, give feedback, iterate on it. And then you launch it. Right. But often that process is just a lot of screenshots and PowerPoints and emails and slack messages and stuff. And we could see that, that, that if we could make that flow back into the poll requests, that would help. But it wouldn’t be enough. Like when we tried just that with our first prototype, we saw like just full requests, comments. It’s not enough. Like people are also using is your track or some project management software. And we had to figure out how can we integrate into those pieces as well? So this was a long process and we built several internal prototypes and did some. Kicked off some real development. And in the process we kept looking at, in any, any company, they was trying to take a listen to the market. The end, the one of them that started to really stand out was, was west feature peak. So we reached out to them and, and asked to meet. And they came to us and, and had at the time actually started working on it on a nearly fight integration through our built plugins layer and. Yeah. I was in Nicole together with a, with, Jessica, one of product managers with the two founders of feature peak. They gave us a demo of, of what they had been working on in the integration. And as the demo progressed, I would say like our jobs got closer and closer to the, to the flow of because yeah, it, was really far ahead of anything else within this space. And more than that, It, it was as if they had been reading all of our use of research, like building exactly the kind of product that, that I wanted to build in that we were dreaming about. Right. So we very quickly figured out that, that, between us and, and the, and the Fiji peak founders, we really shed a vision of like, what can you do in this space? And what can you build in? They had already built a product that, gets a lot of things. But we could also like, just, just talking through food, future potential. We could see that we were so aligned in like, what could this turn into? And as we started to talk more, it was also pretty obvious that they could build a great integration on top of Netlify and here’s how our integration layer for that. But it would still just be an add-on. It would still just feel. Like something you could add and that would be bolted on, right. It would have its own like separate sort of dashboard and lock in. And the integrations would be only on there and not on our end and so on. That would not really be a good way to integrate the whole feedback cycle as a first-class citizen throughout our whole product journey. It would be feeling like it just, to pluck in just an add on, right. And we felt. Between all of us that if we really wanted to do this, integration had to be much deeper. It heads to be much tighter. And we would only really be able to do that if we were one company. So then we started talking about what if we joined forces? What if we, what if we built something together, then build something in, in two different silos ended and ended up agreeing that, that that was the right way to go.

Michaela: [00:46:35] And so now, You acquired them this week. And are you going to develop something now or is it already developed or, you know, like how does that person?

Matt: [00:46:46] So, , we did the acquisition in about three months echo and behind the scenes that their whole team and our team have been. Working really hard on, on, on integrating their technology really deeply into Netlify. So Netflix too. So yesterday we didn’t just announce the acquisition. We also announced the full product launch with with all of these collaborative features now available to all Netlify users from Friday.

Michaela: [00:47:19] Yeah, very cool. So you took the D the code base that they had, and then it w it’s not a complete rewrite, it’s just that you blacked in what they had, you know, got rid of some, you know, functionality because it was a plugin first and now it’s, you know, it’s part of Natalie fly. So you, part of the code base and integrate the data. How does

Matt: [00:47:40] that. The team that has like they both whom re rewrote parts of their code base to integrate it into our code base directly for, for the whole coy API functionality. I think our team together with their team built the. Three new microservices to power, like identity for cross integrations, for uploads and so on in. And and they updated the whole UI to be in line with how we built Netlify UI and to feel integrated into, into that process. Eh, But if, but I have to say an incredible job from, the whole team, executing that in just three months in and taking it to them.

Michaela: [00:48:29] Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it did. So I have 1000 more questions, but we are on time. So I will just, I would just say thank you so much for sharing everything with me and Medalla, you know, with the listeners and with, with, with us, it’s like, yeah. As I said, I just have so many more questions. I could talk for hours, but you maybe I’m inviting you again. Maybe you have time to spend a little bit more talking with me about all of those things. Yeah. Can you have more questions, but yeah, it’s, it’s, I’m really impressed. It’s a, it sounds really fascinating and really cool. Is there something from your side that you want to share, like with my listeners that you want to give them on the way I will obviously link everything in the show notes, but is there something that you want, especially for people that are, you know, like love technology, software engineering, and also maybe want to become founders or, you know, do their own thing.

Matt: [00:49:28] In. Yeah. I mean the first thing I would say, if you think all of this sound sounds, sound interesting and, and you would like to read the part of it. We are very actively hiring. So check out our careers page and if you don’t find anyone, anything there. Think you could be a great part, then we always have at your dream job position that you can write in for in. So that would be the first part. And do the other part, I would say is that it S this whole sheet. From big monolithic applications having to to, to modern architecture with it, decoupled front end and all these different APIs and services. There’s also a lot of opportunity for founders to, to build new, interesting, newer, interesting pieces that, that fits into that developer workflow. And I’m always happy to. To, to, to spend time with founders in that space that are building something new or interesting. So it feel free to reach out or Twitter or email or the like,

Michaela: [00:50:36] wow. That sounds really nice. Cool. Thank you so much, Matt. For, for being on my show. It was really a pleasure.

Matt: [00:50:43] Thank you for having me. Bye.

 

 

Responsibilities of a Chief Data Officer

In this episode, I talk to Patrick Wagstrom. Patrick is the Chief Data Officer at Brightcove. Before that Patrick was the director of emerging technology at Verizon, meaning that he leveraged AI/ML, augmented reality, blockchain, IoT, quantum computing, and even 5G.  Before that, he was a senior director of data science at Capital One. Even before that, he was a “research nerd”(his own term) at IBM working on the Watson project.

We talk about:

  • his role and responsibilities as a chief data officer,
  • the difference between building systems that support machine learning and systems that don’t,
  • distributed software engineering,
  • data governance and GDPR,
  • and how to make sure your AI model is unbiased.

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Links:

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

Transcript:

 Coming soon…

Using Entrepreneurship 101 to Build a New Profitable Business

In this episode, I talk to Karls Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year. His start-up draft.dev creates content that reaches software engineers – which means he combined his two passions, development and content creation.

We talk about:

  • his transition from developer to CTO, and then to the business owner,
  • value-based pricing and how to focus on the customer segment that gets the most value out of your product,
  • how to scale as a bootstrapped business,
  •  why blogging is such a career changer for developers.

Book your awesomecodereview.com workshop!

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

Transcript: How to build a profitable content business as a developer

[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 Karl Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year, his startup draft up that creates content that reaches software engineers, which means that he combined his two passions development and content creation.

Today, I will ask him all about his new business and what he ambitions and what he wants to reach. So like,

[00:00:31] Karl: Thanks for having me Mikayla.

[00:00:33] Michaela: So maybe I introduced you a lot with this new startup, but actually what I want to start off with is the startup or the side project that I know you from, and that is CFP land call for paper land.

Right? How do you pronounce it thing? You see a few?

[00:00:48] Karl: Yeah, we, I, I say, I say CFP land for short, but CFP stands for call for papers or call for proposals depending on who you ask.

[00:00:56] Michaela: Exactly. So it’s, it’s a sideways. I find all the relevant tech conferences. Right. And then know where to submit it, how to submit.

And so I think from that, I know actually your activities a little bit. And so, so how is that going? Like it had had to been really hard for the pandemic and everything. No, no, no conference.

[00:01:17] Karl: Yeah, it’s been a weird year and a half for CFP land. So I started the kind of backstory on that. I started speaking at conferences a few years ago and just for fun and to kind of get out there and meet more people and learn things.

And so it was great. I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people, but one of the challenges, a lot of the speakers. And we would always talk about it. It’s like, where do we find all the CFPs that are available when they close? Like where do we apply? What kind of speakers they looking for? Things like that. And so I started off CFE land.

It’s just a simple newsletter, just running it. You know, it was very much a side project and eventually I got. It grew. And it’s now a website with a newsletter it’s well, over 2000 people subscribed to it. So it’s a pretty popular, I mean, this is a small world [00:02:00] of tech conference speakers, but it’s pretty popular within that small world.

So a lot of people do hear my name from it, but it’s always been just a thing to do on the side. I actually, the year, the beginning of last year, when right before the pandemic happened, I was thinking about, as I was thinking about starting with. Maybe I would make CFE land or something like it, a full-time thing, which was fortunately, I didn’t go all in on that site because it was really, I mean, it went from, you know, we were getting consistently growing traffic to all of a sudden, just almost to zero overnight and yeah, I mean, I’m glad it was just a hobby project.

It’s starting to come back. Now. Things are starting to, you know, conferences are starting to like look at coming in person. And also just the virtual events are starting to get more predictable. People are figuring out how to work them. So all of it I think, is going to come back and it’s going to be, you know, I’ll put more effort into it this year, but yeah, it’s been a tough year for, for the project and for anybody who’s into event marketing and.

Yeah, I can

[00:02:56] Michaela: imagine. I mean, I started off with on-site trainings and it wasn’t like good starting March, like grew up. So. And how, why do you change from like you were employed before, right? You were a software engineer, you were a manager. So how did you change from that to become your own boss? So why, why during the pandemic, was that something that you did deliberately or something that, you know, just the events happened and this is how it go.

[00:03:30] Karl: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, I’ve been with the startup. Uh, I I’ve always worked in startups, tech startups, like small companies, less than a hundred people. And so I started off just as a software engineer and was then most recently like leading a team of engineers. And I really enjoyed it. I actually liked my company a lot, but unfortunately the business was pretty strongly affected negatively by the pandemic.

And so myself and the rest engineers went down to half-time to kind of conserve money and make sure the company. Get through it and figure out what we’re going to do next. [00:04:00] And so in that half-time I started to explore, well, what do I want to do? Maybe, you know, maybe I’ll do something different next.

Maybe I’ll try a career shift. So I started writing for fun on the side, just, just kind of called up some people I knew and started writing technical blog posts for them. And then I found some lists of places you could write technical blog posts. And I realized there’s a lot of people who want engineers who were willing to write some blog posts on this.

I figured it was a good mix of my skills and it also was not negatively affected by the pandemic, like speaking was and things like that. So I started doing it and I realized quickly that there was a lot of companies that wanted this kind of content and that I could work with other engineers to sort of increase my output.

Knit draft out dev was kind of born out of just seeing so many people ask me, Hey, could you write for us? And I just realized I only had so many hours, so I better start bringing some other people in on this. So yeah, that it was really. I needed something to do on the side. And then eventually it became a full-time thing within three or four months.

I think I had transitioned out of my old job and was doing draft out dev full-time with a very small team at first. Yeah.

[00:05:01] Michaela: And so right now, are you still writing content? Are you mainly managing people that write for you?

[00:05:07] Karl: Yeah, mostly managing now. So it grew pretty quickly this year. I think it’s about quadrupled in size from what it was in January, which is, feels surreal.

So I’m almost exclusively managing hiring and kind of helping other people get unstuck. I still do a lot of sales calls as well, but the, yeah, the bulk of our work is done by software engineers. Blog posts around the world. And so for them, it’s a nice little nice and weekends thing they can do. They make some extra money and they get to learn new technology and write about it.

Show what they know for our clients. They’re getting experts who are interested in their tools and their tech tech that they write.

[00:05:45] Michaela: Yeah. Cool. That’s really cool. So how do you make the match between the people that you know, right. And the people that want things written?

[00:05:55] Karl: Yeah. We’ve got kind of a word it’s still an evolving process for sure.

[00:06:00] We do some recruits. Of writers that are in specific skillsets when need be. And then we put all of our writers into a list, and if you’re on our writer list, you get an email every couple of weeks. That’s kind of like, here’s all the open opportunities for writing. And we have people sort of like give us, just basically apply to, to write for each of them.

And we ended up trying to match up the best writers with the topics because, you know, we tell a client might. An article done in PHP and JavaScript and Ruby and you know, something else instead of like, we’ve got to find like a mix of writers to cover all those, which is, can be really tricky. But our, our pool of writers now is I think 50 or 60 active writers.

And so it makes it easier once you’ve got a pretty good volume of writers. Pick up the assignments.

[00:06:45] Michaela: Okay. And do you vet them somehow? Do you look at the can right or that, I mean, there’s also like a reason out there. Right? So people just call from the side.

[00:06:57] Karl: It’s a huge, that’s a huge undertaking. I mean, this is why this is why clients like working with us because it is a lot of work to try to find and vet good engineers who are also good writers.

So we do have a process. We start with a rubric, a skills rubric, but one thing that I learned as an engineering manager was it’s really helpful to hire people based on objective criteria, as much as possible. That’s not, you know, there’s always a little bit of fuzziness when you’re working with humans, but like we try to have like a pretty objective rubric that allows us to.

Great or rate each applicant based on specific criteria around like, how good did they do at writing? How good are they do explaining deep technical topics? How good were they at? Uh, things like communication and answering emails promptly, just, you know, being in touch. Uh, and then we evaluate each candidate and we’ll accept or accept or ask for more samples from each one.

So we do ask for existing published samples or sort of written sample of their work. You know, most of the engineers who were. Pretty experienced as far as writers and engineers, because we are a lot of the topics that we cover are kind of [00:08:00] hard to cover, uh, sort of things that most junior developers would have a hard time maybe picking up on the first try.

[00:08:06] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe one thing that comes to my mind. I’m also like a intrepreneur and I’m doing mostly workshops and cultural workshops. I’m also doing consultancy right now. I’m doing quite a bit of research again. And so that’s, that’s exciting, but on the other hand, but I’m always feeling like I always have this urge I have to program again.

Right. So I’m not constantly programming because while that’s not my job right now, but if I like, if I’m in one source, Six big of a dollar 3d programming, something. I feel like, oh my God, I’m losing cash. And I really want to go back into it and I’m coding something on the side and I’m always like, I’m, I’m still struggling with how to, you know, make that a habit that it’s always constantly there because I feel it’s so, so important.

I mean, especially for me, but I think also if you are, you know, if you’re a Def shop for writers, I think it’s important. Stay at death somehow. I don’t know. How, how is that for you? I think it’s also the same for managing, right? If you’re in a managerial role and you’re managing people, how far can like a CTO or a engineering manager?

How far can they be away from actually doing the stuff? Right. I think it’s so. Um, I spent a lot of time, the last couple of weeks, really getting, knowing everything about the latest code review tools that are out there and, you know, all the studying and Ella analyzes again. And you have to do that, I think periodically because otherwise you really lose touch.

How do you think about that and how do you, you know, how do you combine that with what you do right.

[00:09:41] Karl: Yeah, I agree. I think that there’s a lot of value in staying in touch with the technical skills. Even if you like, I’ve always admitted to my employees and myself, I’m not the best engineer who’s ever written code.

Right. Like that’s okay with me. It’s okay. Really love working with people who are good because they are way better because [00:10:00] then you get to see sort of like, oh man, humbling experiences. Right. And reminds you. But I do think it’s important for engineering managers, CTOs, who are at least at smaller companies, CTOs to stay at least somewhat connected to what’s going on on the ground.

So the way I do that, A couple of things. First I do occasionally for fun, write my own technical articles. So I do it for say like guest posting on, uh, on different blogs or maybe on my own personal site or other sites around that people ask me to write for. So I do that some just to keep up with what’s going on.

I think I did pick up like a client article a couple of weeks ago because I thought it was an interesting topic and I wanted to get my feet wet in it. And then the other thing. Is I, well, what I find is that it is easier to pick up new tech when you’ve already picked up several things along your career.

So unlike when you’re first learning to code, you know, a lot of junior engineers always ask like, well, how do you, how do you just pick up a new language so quickly? I’m like, well, when you’ve learned four or five, the sixth is not that much harder because a lot of the same paradigms, the same concepts apply.

The same is true. If they. When you’ve used six different web hosts in your career, likely the seventh one is not that much different so that you probably don’t have to learn everything from scratch. Same like any CIS CD tools, testing tools, whatever, like, yes, there is some difference and yes, there’s subtle things that are important to know the differences between, but like, you don’t have to always be the, you know, you don’t have to know everything from the root level.

You just kind of have to get a good high-level sense of how is this different from the other things I’ve done in the past that are similar.

[00:11:31] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, as I said, I was looking at study analysis tools recently and obviously it’s different. Right. It’s different because it’s more integrated in.

In dev ops, for example, in CII CD. Right. It’s a little bit more automated, but in the end it was the same, like the same as 10 years ago. Right. So, yeah. Yeah, I totally, and, and the same, like for languages, [00:12:00] I feel that picking up, and this is something that I really, I mean, I love to talk about it because I feel like you can pick it up.

Fast, but then really getting really good at it. It’s even, I think sometimes a little bit harder if you have a lot of baggage, right? So like coming from the object oriented Java and C-sharp world. And I recently it’s not recent anymore, but like two and a half years ago, I started with. And I mean, obviously I could program and I could, could really productively do stuff within really short amount of time.

I mean, it was days that I, you know, and, but then I feel like stuck and I feel like, oh, it really took me quite some time to understand, you know, and feel comfortable really that I know how to architecture and I’ve heightened. I could architecture, but it was like it was a job or a C sharp application heightened.

Which didn’t feel like it’s not by tonic and it’s not like how you would do it in that language and learning that and changing the mental models that you already have. I found that quite, quite interesting and tricky. How, how, how has that.

[00:13:06] Karl: I agree. I, that is tricky. I think one thing that I’ve thought about in this transition from being like engineering leader, who’s expected to still really know the tech to more of a business owner is that I, I don’t necessarily have to be the best at those lower level, that lower level of knowledge, right?

The specific implementation details. I may not always be the best, but at a high level, I shouldn’t have. How does Python work versus Java? Like I should know that it’s almost like knowing what you don’t know is good. So knowing that I’m not going to write Python at code, like you call it is maybe helpful more than just knowing like exactly the best way to write Python, because you can always, when you’re, again, kind of going back, putting my business owner hat, My goal is to make the company run well.

So that might mean hiring somebody who knows these things better than me. It might mean hiring technical reviewers in the future. As I get less connected to the day to day, it might mean hiring well, we already do this. We hire a lot of [00:14:00] writers who are experienced in languages and frameworks that I really haven’t used much if at all.

So yeah, it’s definitely important to like, know where your limits are and then be like, ask yourself the question of, you know, is this the best thing for me to learn myself? Or can I hire someone? To who knows it already and get even more, more bandwidth out of this.

[00:14:20] Michaela: Yeah, I like that mindset. I mean, in general, maybe that’s what I want to deep dive a little bit with you.

Is that mindset of, you know, the manager, a CTO or also a business owner? I think I’m, I’m, I’m still struggling with that. I like two years ago with this one. I totally didn’t feel like it. And so even though I started already my business, I would never say to myself, like, I’m the founder or, you know, business owners thing.

I always say like, I’m a software engineer. Right? Like, and, and it really took me one and a half years to say, okay, I feel a little bit comfortable. You know, I’m doing now my tags and all of that, but I still, I still struggle with, for example, sales. Right. It’s just something that. I dunno, like, and, but you were talking about Sage, like I’m doing sales calls and all of that.

So how do you get into that mindset of actually doing the stuff that a business owner does versus, you know, doing the stuff that an engineer does?

[00:15:17] Karl: Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing, so I’ll just like play the other side and say there’s nothing wrong with becoming a, a business owner consultant who stays. Very much a software engineer.

Let’s say, you know, I have several friends who are consultants or freelancers that essentially like they, they have a very flexible, interesting work where they can do, you know, work for several different clients, but they don’t really have a bunch of employees there. It’s kind of just them being a freelancer.

And that’s a great, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you sort of. If your goal is to build a company that runs either without you, or it runs with you being able to take a vacation, things like that, then you kind of have to step out and figure out what it means to be [00:16:00] a business owner and a team leader rather than a.

Team like a doer, you know, the person who’s touching every piece of content or whatever. So it just depends your goals, right? Like there’s nothing wrong with either path. My goal went in starting draft was, I mean, it was initially just like figure out if this was like something I wanted to do. And then I realized, yeah, it’s something I want to do.

There’s a lot of people who want it. So I kind of, my long-term dream has always kind of been to start my own company and run it. And so this has just been like a really good opportunity at the right time and place, but it is hard. And one other thing that’s really hard about it. Letting things go to other people when, you know, you could do it better yourself.

And I still struggle with that. I mean, like there’s some articles that come through and I, I read what the writer wrote and I’m like, yeah, it’s not bad, but you know, I know I would do this better this differently or whatever it is. It’s so hard to let that stuff go. And I, I don’t know what the answer is.

If you get yourself booked so solid that you can’t possibly do it all yourself, that will force you to get good at delegating or you’ll just fail. So that’s one way you can do it too.

[00:17:06] Michaela: Yeah. True. True. Yeah. I think I’m like right now, I’m also in a place in my business that I’m thinking. What are my next steps, right.

So I grew to a capacity level where I just can’t, like, I’m saying no to a lot of things, but I’m not set up in a way that I can take that on and delegate. Right. And, and I, and I know maybe it’s also mindset again, it’s not only mindset. It’s also like, if you’re already at capacity, how do you get a person?

And how do you know, you know, like how do you get them to the point that they could actually take off and do stuff. Right. So even for the podcast, I actually have like, And little advertisement out there that, you know, I want somebody that helps me with the podcast. I haven’t found anybody yet, so yeah, I’m really admiring that you say, well, you have like a couple of full-time engineers, right.

That are writing for you. And then like these large network of people that [00:18:00] are working with you a little bit more in a loosely coupled way and was just in a couple of months. Right. So how did you get the first.

[00:18:08] Karl: Yeah. So this is my process for this. I I’m a huge nerd for process. So like it it’s, it’s excessive at times, but I’ll just like, be bare it all out here.

What I do is I track my time. So I’m pretty diligent about that. And that tells me like, am I spending say eight hours or 20 hours a week writing articles. So at some point I reached a critical mass where I was writing. 20 or 30 hours a week. And I realized, okay, if I want to spend 10 to 20 hours a week on sales and marketing, I cannot keep writing.

I have to stop and pull this out. So I started to look for other writers. And so that was my first step. What I first did to, to hire the very first one was looked into my network and people I trusted already. So I was like to think of the first hire for any position is kind of your trailblazer is how I call what I call them.

And that means. You’re going to give them very imperfect information, but you need them to be smart enough or have worked with you enough to have a high level of trust with you. Like, you know, this kind of goes back to your point about the podcast person. You do want to be picky in that very first hire because they’re going to help you set forth a process, then you’ll be able to imprint onto other people in the future.

So that very first, right? Yeah. Was a friend of mine who I knew could write, well, he had a similar background in writing engineering and he was, we were in the same city. So we could talk if we need to did a great job, he helped me figure out what things are clear and not clear when I pass work over to a writer from a client.

So that was my first step. And then the next thing is to build like a template for what this work looks like in the future. And me and him just kind of like trial and error basically figured out what, what worked and what, didn’t, what I needed to give him, to make him. All the information you needed to write articles.

And then we start, I started to test it out with other people. So I found people outside of my network, who slightly, I didn’t know, quite as well or didn’t trust quite as much, or didn’t have as much experience. I just started to try them out and see what happened. And then [00:20:00] that helped me refine the process even further.

And so by December of last year, I was starting to ramp down on my writing and ramp up with these other writers. I found a new bottleneck and that new bottleneck was, I was spending a lot of time editing and editing was also very tedious detail oriented work that I tend not to be the best at or the, like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t get me excited.

It just drains me. And so I started looking for an editor and I kind of did the same thing. I started with someone, I knew someone I trusted and. Pay them really well. And I was like, look, I don’t know how to edit, but you’ve done it professionally for years. Could you edit this article? And like, help me come up with a process and style guide.

And she’s now our managing editor and she’s full-time and she has a couple other editors she works with now or under her. So I kind of followed this exact same process every time I want to make a hire, just do that account manager. I’d done like a marketing person. And it is hard. It is definitely something that you’re going to like, you have to be okay with that person, screwing some things up.

You can’t expect them to pull everything out of your head, but if they free you up to say, spend more time on the growth side of the business, the sales, marketing, the stuff that generates new business and keeps clients really happy. And coming back then it’s worth those slight hiccups that are going to happen because that’s the only way you kind of get a bigger company.

[00:21:14] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. But you know, the funny thing is that, you know what I did, I started to automate.

[00:21:22] Karl: Well, that’s a bad, yeah. I think that’s a really viable option if you, I mean, this honestly, like hiring people should be like your second resort. Like the first resort should be automating everything as much as possible.

Yeah.

[00:21:34] Michaela: That’s what I tried to do. I honestly, when I looked into that, I thought that couple of things you can really automate very well and they’re nice tools around and a couple of things were still really imperfect, right? So like the editing for the podcast. For example, even though I upgraded my tools and my process.

I actually have is a step-by-step guide, how to do that. Right. But the automation is not completely, like, you cannot really [00:22:00] automate that too much. There’s so much manual, still manual thing. But for example, the whole booking guests and things like this, there is a lot of potential for automation that you can actually do before hiring somebody.

Maybe another topic that I want to pick your brain on is, well, when you hire, right. Do you have also to think about how much of the money that you get from. Business. Right. Are you investing in the higher again? Right? Which for me is also a little bit tricky to do. I mean, especially podcasts, it’s not really making money.

Right. So it’s also harder than to say, well, you know, like you’re hiring people, but how has that for you? Like. Would you say that at that point it’s okay. If the company’s had a loss or does it have to be, you know, positive or neutral or, you know, what is your thinking about how much do you spend for hiring and growth and how much does the business have to, you know, sustain itself as a, as a bootstrap business?

Right. So funded business. Yeah,

[00:22:57] Karl: it definitely, this definitely depends on the kind of company you have and the way that cashflow works and the way that if you’ve raised money, it’s a different thing than if you’re bootstrapping or self-funding. And so I’ve seen it done both ways. Like when I’ve worked at funded startups, the way they did it is, you know, we raise a big chunk of money and that sits in the bank essentially.

And then we start to hire a head of where. It’s like basically you hire for what you want to be at in a year. So we bring on five or 10 people all really quickly. And then we try to like get to the point where we can actually support them. So that’s risky obviously. And if you’re you’re bootstrapping, that’s not really an option.

I didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank to just work from. Right. So, so the way that I did it was sort of when I started draft, I started to think about. Okay. I don’t have a lot of money. How could I build a business? Basically, clients helped me pay for these things. So what we do is we, we get, we get clients pay upfront and that helps us know we’ve got the cash in hand to pay the writers, editors, and anyone else supporting staff that we need.

The. Three or six months of execution. So it’s like, we kind of [00:24:00] make the plan with the client up front and then they pay us and then we actually get into production and then we start paying people, but the client’s already paid us a large portion upfront, or they’ve been on a payment plan or whatever. So that helps a ton with being able to know that what we’re doing is profitable.

The other thing that I do is a forecasting. So basically looking. How much, it costs us to produce an article, how much we can have to charge for that. And then where’s the like margin, you know, the profit essentially, but in how much that margin goes to other things like support staff, other support staff that isn’t really counted there, or services or tools to your point about automation.

I’m big on that too. I spend a lot on. SAS tools that automate a lot of these little things behind the scenes. Yeah. So Zapier and even Calendly and having all that stuff, just kind of automatically do this little administrative work is really, really helpful. And I think it does allow you to run a lot leaner business.

Even if you pay all the subscription fees, it’s still cheaper than hiring people.

[00:24:59] Michaela: Yeah, exactly. That’s that’s also what I. Especially when you’re like, when I was completely bleeding footsteps and, you know, even a $10 subscription somehow really string because they add up, right? Like they add up and if you’re really making zero money, it’s like, oh my God, how I’m going to do that.

But then if you, if you’re a little bit profitable, I think automation is really a. You say, well, I’m paying like 10 bucks for Kalindi, for example. Right. And now it does all the magic and sends email reminders and whatnot. Right. And thinking about how much time I would have to spend here to do that. Yeah.

So in the end, you’re always, is it something like, would you say that you are getting a salary right now? Do you try to, to really you are sustain it as well? Or are you saying well I’m as a founder right now, I’m investing my time before.

[00:25:48] Karl: Yeah, I do take a salary, you know, since the, since it started one of my, I don’t know, one of my, my goals with it was like, I do want to pay myself something.

I, I definitely make less than I did as a CTO to start out. I’ll [00:26:00] say that, but you know, to your point, like I’m investing my time centrally into the business. So I’m working at a discount to pay for the company to grow, which is, you know, a fair deal for a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, with a service business like ours.

Uh, there’s different kinds of companies, right? Some companies like a software as a service kind of tool, you can probably take, you probably have to take no salary for longer because it takes a long time to ramp up to the amount of revenue that you can then pay yourself. But with a service business like ours, that’s pretty high dollar.

We, you know, we make a lot of cashflow into. We’ve got to like, essentially I wanted to build into our cost structure, a person like me to run things because it’s not like I, even if I didn’t work in the company, somebody would have to do what I’m doing. So I don’t think there’s a way that you can run this business as a real business without having somebody in that seat.

Even if I’m working at a discount. You know, keep things going a little longer. I still have to budget something for this in the future. So I think that’s important. I also think that it, again, like, kind of is like business fundamentals. You want to set your business up in a way that can, that it is realistic.

Like if, if you make a small business and it. Like pays you anything like you’ve just made yourself like into a, I mean, that’s, that’s really terrible, you know, that’s a lot of work to get nothing out of it. You may never get to a point where you can sell it or whatever you don’t know. So I think you at least have to cover your basics, but I do, you know, I think it’s also, I would prefer to invest more back into the business than to take more out at this point.

Now I don’t really need a ton of cash, I guess.

[00:27:30] Michaela: I personally always think that you have to love the way and the progress, right? Not only that, because otherwise you could really end up with a lot of regrets. So unless you sat, right, you probably don’t. I mean, it depends on how much you need right now from a supportive perspective on no, how much money cashflow do you need right now to feel that.

And then you can invest into your business and the growth and that’s the end goal. But I also think like if you’re starving on the way, it’s not that it’s not just the [00:28:00] right. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:28:01] Karl: I mean, it depends, you know, if you’ve got a bunch of money that you’ve saved up and that can be your bankroll for a while.

Sure. You might be able to do that. But yeah, everybody’s circumstances are different. Like I knew that I didn’t have that, so I couldn’t start a business that was going to take me two years to pay myself. It just, wasn’t an option. I’ve got a family to help support, you know, so for some people, I think.

Engineers who want to become entrepreneurs? They think like, oh, I’ll just build a software product. And that’s the, you know, I’ll, I’ll grow it. But like the time required to grow, that is huge. And the amount like you have to think and be realistic with yourself, about how much runway as we call it, do you have to make no money?

And if you don’t have a lot of runway to make no money, then maybe that’s not the right kind of business for you. Maybe you need to think about like, eh, is there another more service business where you can get some more cash in the door early? Or is there a. Info product or a course kind of business, you can start where you get more money in the door, early, things like that.

[00:28:55] Michaela: Yeah. I also think that, I mean, even if you do a software product, really trying to gab people paying for it as early as possible is super, super valuable because it keeps you honest. Right? Like having 200 people sign up for freestyle. You know, feels really good from, from an endorphin perspective or dopamine, but is it, is it, is it I actually underwrite way, right.

And you don’t want to feel like invest all the time three years and say, well, you know, I’m, I’m investing all of my time and you know, which is, I think a very noble goal to do, but. Three years you realize, actually not that I want to charge for it. You know, nobody’s really interesting. So actually starting with something and putting a price tag on it, I think is a really good.

Strategy also to know whether or not that is valuable, right. Or, or how to tweak it, that it becomes something that people want to also pay for. Or, and for engineers, it’s not that easy. I think engineers is a specialist species that are, I was actually talking with my [00:30:00] husband lately about what are we paying for?

Right. And there are a couple of. The IDs are all free. I mean, he’s actually paying for it for his

[00:30:09] Karl: ID. I pay for mine too,

[00:30:13] Michaela: but a lot of them are free and they’re really good. And then the other tools are all also free or either the organization pays for it. Yeah, I dunno. I think we are, we are too bunch.

[00:30:27] Karl: Yeah. I mean it is. But the other thing to think about one thing I’ve found that was surprising until I started the, this business was that your pricing will determine your. In a lot of ways. So for example, just in draft dot Deb’s case, if I charged half of what I do, I could probably open myself up to different kinds of customers that I don’t have today.

But the downside is, you know, we wouldn’t have the money to hire other people. So we wouldn’t be able to do things at the scale we’re doing. And so we’d have to scale way down. We’d have to be very limited in who we worked with and it would just be a different company and there’s nothing wrong with that.

There, it just is like different price points end up enabling you or pushing you into different market segments. And so when you go with the free market segment, like you said, that may not be the people who you actually need to pay you later. So companies that do freemium, a lot of times, what they’ll try to do is roll those free subscribers up into a company plan later.

But if you don’t have outside investment, that’s really hard. It takes a long time to get there. Yeah. Yeah. So it, again, it kind of goes to like, be realistic about if you’re bootstrapping and self-funding like, can you really afford to do that kind of freemium strategy? And like, usually the answer is probably not.

Yeah,

[00:31:42] Michaela: yeah, exactly. Yeah. You’re right. So. When I get from what you’re explaining here is that you also have a little bit like higher paying clients, a little bit companies that you have contracts with. So how do you get them? You were talking about sales. How do you do sales? And you [00:32:00] know, like how did you get that?

[00:32:02] Karl: So early on what I did was I said yes to anyone who wanted me to write an article for them. And so what I started to learn was which kinds of companies, what size of companies, what kinds of teams that are hiring me are the ones who are least price sensitive or most willing to pay the highest dollar amount, because they got the most value from the article.

So. You know, for example, I could write the same great article for a team, like an engineering team that wanted some content for their blog. As I could write for a marketing team that wanted content to put out to the public to make sure that engineers knew about their product. It could be the same article that was just as good.

But that marketing team would pay me two to three times as much as an engineering team would because that article leads directly to revenue for the company. So it’s a totally different business model and sit like you have to think about that. When you think about pricing services, there’s a guy out there named Jonathan Stark who talks a lot about value based pricing.

And while I don’t, I wouldn’t say we’re like a value based price service entirely. We think about that a lot, because what he’s saying in value based pricing is you should charge. The amount of value a client gets from your whatever work, your service. If an article is, let’s say for our case, like if a company can clearly make $2,000 of revenue from one article, we write over the course of a year or two, let’s say our articles are a great investment.

You know, that is a clear winner and they will pay us, you know, up to that, whatever, probably half of $2,000, a little more or whatever. So that’s that side one. If on the other hand, the company is not sure of their revenue per article like that. They don’t know how many visitors it’s going to attract.

They’re really nervous about that. Or maybe. They know that each article only gets $300. They’re never going to pay for our services. They’re not a good fit. And so that’s where, like, to me, the, the, the hard part of sales quote unquote, is figuring out who the ideal target market is that has the willingness to [00:34:00] pay and actually gets a good value out of our service.

Um, and so the clients that, you know, sure. I have people all the time and say like, yeah, you guys are too expensive. That’s totally fine. Like, Set up to do that kind of low cost work, but I have a lot of clients that think we’re a great value and they probably would pay more if we charge more. But like, you know, there’s a sort of a limit to where yeah.

The pricing pushes you into different markets. And so anyway, I think that the big part of sales is figuring out how to narrow down your market as much as possible. And so for us, it’s like started off as just like, we’ll write any technical content and then it got more narrow and it’s like, Technical content aimed at software engineers, but then we started to narrow down even further to like start ups who are trying to hit, trying to get in front of software engineers from their marketing teams.

And so now we’re like super narrowed down and it makes it really easy to have sales calls, like, because I basically know there’s only a few hundred companies in the world. Need to work with us anyway. So it’s a really small list. They all know each other’s, there’s lots of introductions and referrals. So you know what, we’re not going to be like the next Facebook size company ever.

That’s fine. We’re doing really well in the small thing that we’re good at.

[00:35:01] Michaela: Hmm. And so you’re also Dan, redirect, you going to a marketing head of marketing and pitching deeper, or how do you, and do you use like LinkedIn or sites like that to find those.

[00:35:16] Karl: I don’t do a lot of outbound like that. You know, there’s kind of two kinds of sales and marketing and it’s called outbound or inbound.

I am not much of an outbound outreach to people kind of sales person every now and then I we’ve tried it a couple of times. It’s just like, I don’t like it. It doesn’t seem to be that productive. We do mostly inbound and referrals, which means that people see the content we’re writing out there in the internet and they say, oh, that company did a good job.

Let’s go talk to them. Or they see, they talk to a, another client of ours who gives them the recommendation or they see maybe my, I share a lot of things on LinkedIn and Twitter. And so they, they see that and they contact me directly through that. We’re also doing some like meetup groups and conferences, things like that too, to kind of get the word out a little more.

To be [00:36:00] honest, like at this point we’ve had enough business from this inbound stuff that we haven’t needed to do a lot of direct outreach. So I think that’s ideal if you can get that set up, but it does take, I mean, I spent a lot of time building a reputation and the connections and networks. So like, that’d be hard to replicate if you were somebody earlier on in your career.

[00:36:17] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I’m also completely a hundred percent invalid because there’s just like this. I don’t want to do it. Like I, you know, whenever I get an email from somebody, I don’t know, it feels like spam, but I don’t want them to be that person. Right. Like, I don’t know, like it’s also mindset obviously, right.

Because I know a couple of really, really wonderful, safe people that I also tried to learn a little bit about, and it never feels like they do it in a way. That it doesn’t feel like, you know, it’s this LinkedIn message that you get like that, you know, went out to 1000 people and drinks the same rate. So, but yeah, I’ve never, I’ve never tried it and I’m not really eager to try it anyways, but yeah.

So it’s, it’s inbound. Right. So do you write on your own blog as well? Do you write content for yourself or content

marketing?

[00:37:08] Karl: Yeah. Oh, quite a lot. I try to write at least an article or two a week, sometimes more. Yeah, I, so I write for my own personal blog and then the draft.dev company blog quite a fair bit, although I’ve been trying to get more writers for that as well.

And then guest blogs, whenever they come up, whenever people just happen to see something and want, want me to write about? Yeah. I think writing is a really powerful career booster. Even if you don’t become self-employed as an engineer, I was just talking to one of our writers the other day and they were telling me about how.

Writing this article on some new technology. I don’t even remember what it was, but they got to write this article on a cool new tech that they’d never used at their day job. And they now get to put in their resume, you know, Hey, I’ve worked with this and look, I can prove it. I’ve got an article out there that I wrote, and that’s really powerful because like at our day jobs, like as a software engineer, I would usually get to work in like one or [00:38:00] two languages, one or two frameworks at a single company.

Company doesn’t want to have 30 different tech tools they’re using. They don’t always want to experiment with the newest things. It’s not worth it. But with, uh, with written content, a blog posts, you can go explore and try the try five or six new things over the course of a year and get those published.

And now you’ve got proof that, Hey, I know all the cool new stuff that’s been happening. So I think even if you don’t go, the self-employed. There’s a lot of advantages to writing, but if you do go the, like become a freelancer or consultant or starting a business, having all this writing out there on the internet is extremely powerful.

I mean, there’s people who reach out to me because of articles I wrote three or four years ago. And so it’s just this like compounding interest effect of good content being out there. And so you just never know when that stuff’s going to really pay off.

[00:38:48] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I totally totally see that, but it also takes really long time.

Like if you want to run, you have no idea about that tech. It really takes time, right. Especially if you want to. I mean, probably an introductory to something is quite easy to ride, but when it gets a little bit more. Substantial that it’s definitely like, for example, I’m thinking about all studying analysis tools that I analyzed over the last weeks.

Right. So I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with it. And if I’m going to create a YouTube video out of it or blog posts, definitely. I mean, I don’t know how long are you people spending on a, on a Blackboard. Probably would spend from my own block bars. It would take me several days to do that. Right.

To have that blog posts that you want to bring out there. How is that for you? How long do you spend on a. Well, it

[00:39:39] Karl: does get passed. Yeah. There’s definitely different kinds of articles that require different levels of time, commitment and research and all that. But I think you do get, I’ve gotten faster at writing since I’ve been doing it more.

I’ll say that I, you know, before this year I probably wrote a blog post a week on average, you know, maybe. 2000 words or a little less [00:40:00] now I, you know, writing a couple of week and having written even more, some at some point throughout this year, I’ve really taken that average time way down. So I don’t really have a, I don’t know what, I don’t have an hour number or anything like that, but I do know it’s like usually with a good solid day, I can finish up a single blog post unless it’s something really, really specific.

And then maybe it’s a two day thing and you know, it. Uh, you know, whether you should invest the time to get faster and better at writing blog posts. I don’t know. That’s, uh, you know, depends on what your goals are and what you’re looking at do, but even just writing one a month, you know, you think about, again, like this compounds over years.

And so one blog post a month is only 12 a year, but then you do it for five years. And now you’re talking like 60 blog posts. That’s a lot, like a lot of people never write 60 blog posts in their life. So I think there’s some just, you have to think about doing things consistently over time and the value of.

[00:40:50] Michaela: Yeah, true. And do you, do you use any software for, you know, helping you with the writing process? For example, the Rome research would be one, or I’m using obsidian. It’s a, it’s an open source version, which is very similar to it, which I think is a good way to, it’s like a second brain and you can link your resources.

And I think it helps with writing. I recently started like half a year, but do you use something like that for your, for your process to, you know, keep track of what you read and what you want to write about your idea?

[00:41:20] Karl: So definitely I keep a journal call called like a swipe file or marketers called swipe file of ideas and things that I think about throughout the day or week or year, I do keep a swipe file.

And then I also, as I start to like refine a topic, I start to create an outline of like, what ideas do I need to include in this article and how do they link together? So it’s, it’s really hard to write. Just boom, like bam out of blog posts without doing some research and, and outlines for me first. And actually I think this is one of those, like, time-saving hacks that a lot of people don’t do, they just jumped straight into writing.

And so then they get this mess of like ideas and then trying to fix it all later. It’s really hard. If you spend more time researching and outlining organizing, [00:42:00] it usually comes out better. And then I, you know, on the back end of things, like I use Grammarly pretty heavily because I go into back to my, I’m not a detailed person.

Like I I’ve gotten better and faster at writing, but at the same time, I missed punctuation and like spelling and all the little stuff. Right. So Grammarly is kind of my savior there. I always highly recommend if you’re going to write consistently, I think it’s free. You usually, so there’s no reason not to use it.

And even if you pay a few bucks a month, that’s it very well.

[00:42:30] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I also use Grammarly and it helps quite a bit. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:42:35] Karl: It’s not perfect. And I mean, we have like re yeah. We have like real editors, human editors as well, because there’s definitely things that won’t catch, but it does, it can get some little things that are, yeah.

[00:42:46] Michaela: It’s really nice. Yeah. There are a couple of things that, because I’m not a native speaker, right. So sometimes it corrects me. I think you’re right, but I’m not right now. Like, and then sometimes I go with Grammarly and sometimes I just leave my stuff because I feel like it’s not always correct. Right. But, you know, yeah.

I really like it. I can recommend it as well. Yeah. It’s really cool. Cool. So maybe the last thing that I wanted to ask you is, so you transitioned from software engineer to CTO, right? So it means a lot of managing as well. People managing and. You know, doing your own thing. I guess this people managing already at the, at the startup already helped you to get a lot of those skills that you need now to delegate, to understand, to hire people and, you know, to have this, I mean, you have brilliant large company already within a couple of months, right?

So do you think that the CTO role and the managing role really prepared you and.

[00:43:47] Karl: Yeah, definitely. There’s a couple of key things that having some roles with startups helped me with. So first I came in as the first employee, basically at the last two startups I was with maybe first engineer, [00:44:00] but whatever is like within the first four people at the company.

So I got to see everything. I mean, you get to see the founders going through raising money and pitching the investors. I got to see how they hired people, how they dealt with. Cashflow and like deciding, you know, how who’s going to do their accounting. Like all these little nitty-gritty things that are not engineering, but at the same time, you just get exposed to, by being in a small business.

So getting to see that firsthand kind of gave me like, oh, okay, those are the things I would think about. If I started my own business, you know, that was part one part two was it gave me a huge. A lot of connections in software startups, which are now kind of my target market for the clients we have. So that has been really good from that standpoint as well as well.

And then the last thing was not being afraid to hire. People, have to fire people have to give them performance evaluations. Like all those management tasks you just said, it was super helpful to get the opportunity to do that in a protected environment. That wasn’t my own company where, you know, I think I tried really hard to be a good manager.

There’s a little less pressure when the company doesn’t depend on you being a perfect manager, you know, like there’s, there’s kind of a, I could have made a bad hire and that’s going to happen. It didn’t feel that high stakes. Now it feels a little more high stakes. Cause it’s my own business and this is kind of how, you know, make a living.

So I do think that that helped a lot. Now there’s plenty of people who do it without that experience. But I think for me that having that like level of experience and background. Did it give me a lot of confidence to make this easier than it would have been had. I just started this straight out of college or something.

[00:45:34] Michaela: And so what is it, what is the end goal for that company? How, how large do you want to grow it as large as possible? Or, you know, like, is there, is there some other areas where you think you could expand to something different, like other services or other products that you could.

[00:45:53] Karl: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know.

I, I’m not like a, this is funny because like most startups, like they go into it, like the funded [00:46:00] startups, they go into it with a very clear idea of like how big they want to go and where they want to be, what their target total addressable market is. Like, I don’t really know all that stuff. This is a, like, it’s a lifestyle business in that.

It’s fun to run. It’s really interesting and challenging, and it is paying me enough to get by. So like, I just kind of want to keep doing that. Now I do like the sort of growing, because it exposes me, it forces me to learn new things. That’s been really fun. So like growing up. Like account managers had never hired an account manager before.

So I got to learn what that’s like and how do I give them work? How do I keep up with them? How do we pass things? Right. Like all this really interesting, but yeah, I just want to keep doing it as long as it’s interesting and fun to, to run and figure out is and provides challenges. Yeah. And we’ll see, maybe in a year or two it’ll it’ll get, it’ll just keep getting bigger and I’ll be out of my control and I’ll have to like, let somebody who’s more experienced, run it or maybe in a year or two it’ll.

Like the same diseases today. It’ll be fun to run. It’d be interesting. I really don’t know. To be honest.

[00:46:59] Michaela: Yeah. I think it’s perfectly fine. Not to know. There are so many interesting paths that, you know, life can take. And so, yeah, I’m really, really excited to talk with you about all of that and to see how it grew out of.

Keep looking out for the business and probably checking in and ask you, like, how many people do you have now? And I think it’s, it’s good to be open and just explore and have fun on the way up, but there’s not one, one right. Way to do things. Right. So everybody’s,

[00:47:28] Karl: yeah. That’s what I say to engineers all the time who are like, aren’t you afraid you’re getting out of the tech or you’re getting out of engineering.

It’s such a good feeling. I, yeah. I mean, maybe at first I was a little nervous about that, but to be honest, like your career can take weird paths. Like a lot of people have like winding career paths that don’t necessarily just go linearly from engineer to senior engineer, to lead developer, to whatever.

Like, so sometimes taking in diversion and doing something different for a few years or months or something can like open up new [00:48:00] opportunities if you come back. So if I came back to software engineering, Jump into something a little different than I was doing before, or maybe I’d get into the technical documentation or some con you know, hybrid skillset.

Like, so anyway, point being that, like, just because you studied something once for a few years, doesn’t mean you have to do it the rest of your life, that, you know, you don’t have to commit forever. There’s a lot of tangential skills that are, it’s good to be, have some familiarity with software engineering, you know, in the background.

So.

[00:48:28] Michaela: Yeah. And I think, I mean, you’re bringing so many new skills, right? So in addition to the skills that you have, because to be really fair at one point, like if you’re like, let’s say you’re JavaScript engineer for five years, for 10 years, like we are both in this industry probably even longer. I’m definitely longer in this industry.

Right? So what’s like me writing Java script for. You know, 15 years or 12 years, what’s the difference here? Right? So where where’s the difference? Well, when you’re exploring something else, suddenly you have a complete different mental model. Again, you have seen so many other things and then you’re coming back, you’re bringing actually so much value to the business, right?

And I think you are probably even a better engineer than just spending your time just doing this engineering thing without trying to be. Focused on the one thing that you’re doing. So, yeah. And the other thing, maybe so we can wrap that up is that when I started, when I started my business, I was really like, oh, there’s a ride in the wrong way to do things right.

Or listen to podcasts and read books and picked how others are doing it. Right. And I mean, there are so many things you can be on Twitter, you can do condom marketing, you can do DSR. And so it all felt like, oh, if you don’t do this right, if you don’t have thousands of followers on whatever, right. Then you’re not going to make it.

And you know, this is all not true. You can do your own thing in so many ways. You can have a wonderful business without being really [00:50:00] online without having an online presence. You can have like a huge online presence and not as driving business. Right. So. I think it’s really important to understand what drives you on one thing that you said is like, what gives you energy and what drains you?

And I think this is more important, and obviously you will do things that drain you for a short time, but you should really try it. Get rid of them and get more energy flowing activities and maybe hire people or turn your business into something else when you’re, when you’re facing those draining moments.

I think.

[00:50:33] Karl: Yeah. Yeah. Those were, that was my exact struggle. When I first started was feeling the same way. It’s so funny you say that like, there is a quote unquote right way to run a business. I thought, you know, and I thought like, oh, well, if I don’t follow the template, whatever that template is, which you can’t find, you know, like I follow that.

Yeah. I’m going to screw the whole thing up, but like, yeah, you’re exactly right. Is everybody carves their own path. And one of the hardest parts to me about starting a business was not having a boss up the chain to just ask questions about like, I’ve always been a very independent employee, but at the same time, it’s nice to be like, So, what do you think we should do here?

You know, like, look up, look back and just ask your boss questions. There’s nobody to do that to anymore. So now, I mean, I bugged my wife a lot. I bugged my friends a lot, but like they don’t, they’re not going to know the same thing. They don’t have the same interests. So like, Hey, anyway. Yeah. Getting over that is tough.

And it is something you just have to overcome and just be like, you know, go all in on. Once you do accept it though, it’s really liberating. And yeah, to your point, you can run a business a lot of different ways and it’s fun if you pursue it that way.

[00:51:35] Michaela: The most important thing is there is no right way. And there are ways that worked for one person.

And it’s not only how did executed it or the ideas that it had, but also the circumstances that they have been in and so on. And, and I think it’s just being sensitive. I think that I’m sometimes a person that pushes really hard, which isn’t always a good thing. Right. So if it [00:52:00] takes so much. Maybe, you know, another pass would be better, right?

Like if it, if it takes so much effort, this is something that I try to, to realize early on that, you know, if this is now really hard, maybe it’s not the right thing. It’s not meant. Right. So try something else, go step back and try it in a different way. And then, you know, and then it will work out better, I think.

Yeah, yeah,

[00:52:24] Karl: yeah, yeah. Uh, that, that’s definitely true too. There’s a lot of people who start businesses and think that it must be a. You know, grinding uphill, battle, both ways. Like it’s gotta be so hard and they have to eat ramen for years. And like, I mean, I just don’t think that that’s a hundred percent necessary if you’re willing to be a little flexible in like what you do and who you serve and how you serve them, because there’s.

Ways out there to make a living, you know, with your own business. And they don’t, you know, you don’t have to just pick one and stick with it forever. You can kind of pivot around and move and figure out what works best. Find out places where you can actually make a living and not have to work 80 hours a week every week.

So yeah, definitely want to purse. Well, but again, that kind of comes back to your goals. Like, what do you, what are you thinking you want to do? Like, do you just have some idea you can’t let go or are you trying to just make a good living and have a lifestyle? Business. Like maybe I am. So, you know, everybody’s different.

Everybody’s got their, their grand vision, I guess. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:53:23] Michaela: That’s really true. So thank you so much. I think we are in the, at the end of this show today, is there something that you want to tell my listeners, something that you want to give them on on the way, if you haven’t

[00:53:35] Karl: talked about? Uh, no. I mean, yeah.

If anybody ever wants to. Chat more about this stuff. I’m on Twitter at Carlisle Hughes. And then, you know, I’m happy to talk to you about like, if you ever wanted to write some for draft, we always are looking for writers or just want to talk business stuff or whatever else, engineering stuff. I love helping people out.

[00:53:54] Michaela: Yeah. I will link everything in the show notes. So thank you so much for being on my show to. I have a good [00:54:00] day. Thanks. Bye. Bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks. Bye.