Season 1, Episode 8 | February 28, 2021
In this episode, Dan and Bekah talk to Kirk Shillingford, a software developer (and Community Maintainer at Virtual Coffee), about the importance of making mistakes and the growth that comes with it.
In this episode, Dan and Bekah talk to Kirk Shillingford, a software developer (and Community Maintainer at Virtual Coffee), who has been "haphazardly writing code for about seven years," about the importance of making mistakes and the growth that comes with it. We also talk about empathy being a key indicator of a senior developer and the importance of having a supportive community.
Hello, and welcome to season one, episode eight of the Virtual Coffee podcast. I'm Bekah, and this is a podcast that features members of the Virtual Coffee community. Virtual Coffee is an intimate group of developers at all stages of their coding journey. And they're here on this podcast sharing their stories and what they've learned. And we're here to share it with you. Here with me today is my co host, Dan.
Thanks, Bekah. Today, we are joined by none other than Kirk Shillingford, a software developer from Dominica, who in his words has been haphazardly writing code for about seven years. Kirk is also one of Virtual Coffee's Community Maintainers and a good friend to us both. We talk about making mistakes, empathy and developer teams and the importance of having a supportive community.
We start every episode of the podcast like we start every Virtual Coffee: we introduce ourselves with our name, where we're from what we do and a random check in question. Today's question is, what is your favorite geometric shape? And why? We hope you enjoy this episode.
I'm Bekah, I am a front end developer from a small town in Ohio. And my favorite geometric shape is it's either a triangle or a Pentagon, and probably because they are single digit odd numbers. And that makes me feel happy inside.
Hi, I'm Dan. I'm a front end developer from Cleveland. And my favorite geometric shape. I don't know I don't think I have one. I i've been I like a hexagon. Because it sounds cool. And octagon because I my my favorite transformer was Optimus Prime when I was a kid. And I mean still obviously. But I named my hamster after him. But was Didn't you know actually know what his name was? So I call them "octomus", you know? And then we just call the hamster on octo all the time. So right. Cuz I am awesome.
Hi, my name is Kirk. I'm a full stack developer from the small island of Dominica. And my favorite geometric shape is the dodecahedron. And obviously, that needs no explanation.
So that's a 20 sided right.
It's the 12 sides, sir,
well, what's the 20 sided one?
Oh, icosagon. How could you confuse those two?
I think you two are making these things up.
If we want to make this entire podcast about geometry, I can totally do that.
I like math, but geometry is my least favorite. So we're gonna pass.
You're probably like one of those people.
Spatial spatial things are not they don't work in my brain. Okay, Kirk, we are super happy to have you actually back on the podcast because you co hosted one of our episodes, the one with Marie earlier in the season. So it is good to have you here with us today. And first, we'll start off with your origin story. For those who don't know. So tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are as a developer and how you came to Virtual Coffee.
I thought this was a whiteboard interview. That changes everything about
About geometric shapes? That's why you knew that, you were prepared.
People take the strangest Google questions, you know. Yeah. Okay, let's let's talk about how this all started. picture it. Dominica 2014-15. I was in fourth form. You guys, you know, fourth form?
Okay. sophomores, sophomore, junior high school.
And back then my school had there was information technology and there were contracts, information technology, technical and information technology in general. These names are relevant because they are not they have absolutely nothing to do with anything. The technical was like all Microsoft, it was like, Word, Excel access. That whole thing, publisher, all that stuff. And general was the one that had like actual programs. And I had no idea what that was even about. So I'm like, okay, I should do this one. That train of thought would like, be the next 10 years of my life. So yeah, we got into it, and it was purple pascall which for some reason, the Caribbean examinations Council was like, this is a relevant language that people should learn. And I heard that they still use the real basketball, like, you can still submit projects into a basketball, which is terrifying. But yeah, so we were in this class, and it was like, 10 of us. And the teacher was like, I've never done this before. So you know, go for it. And that was like the most, it was like one of my most fun classes is because like, we were just learning and like, I think the internet like we get like search stuff. But obviously, it wasn't like now. So you're just like finding like weird stuff in forums. And we were just like, messing with the code. And like, nothing, nothing was like clever back then. So you could not enter for loops and just like, eat up all the ram on the machine, and just crash computer, which we thought was hilarious. And then somebody figured out how to get the code to, like, produce sounds. So you could like, do the Star Wars Darth Vader theme, just using like computer beeps. And that was like, really fun. And I remember my final project was BMI calculator thing, like the project didn't have to be complicated. And, you know, I don't stand by that code. Nor do I stand by BMI. But it was like my first time actually doing that. And that was pretty cool. And then I didn't touch code for like, three or four years. Because in my head like I would, that was not my thing. My thing was maths. So I take our math, and that that became engineering. And still, it was very much like, there's no concept like I liked it, but it wasn't like, Okay, this is not, there was no point where like, this is a career until two years into my environmental engineering degree. I just was at a conference, and I saw like a bunch of people in T shirts, whereas everyone, every other person in this conference is wearing a suit. And they're just some company wearing like blue t shirts. And I'm like, Okay, let's find out what these folks are about. And of course, they were software consultancy, and they're like, Hey, you want to take our tests, and they gave me like this logic test. This is pretty neat. And then they put me through way too many interviews. And then I got an internship with it. That was kind of like my segue back into programming. Like, oh, this is pretty fun. And it was like, helping me with, like, traditional engineering stuff. And then that just became like, okay, just want to do more of this and less of the other stuff. And then that just became, oh, I guess I do this now. So now I am here at this podcast.
That's pretty crazy. That's awesome. That it was like, sort of a random happening that you you know, you ran into those people at that at that conference, you know, do you think you would have not like, not found your way to or back to, you know, developing, if that hadn't happened?
Um, I'm pretty sure. I mean, and it's a weird thing now. Like, I still don't feel like there's a difference between the stuff that I like, and the things that I think that I'm actually good at, like math, and I guess programming or things that I like to do, I don't necessarily feel a particular aptitude for them, like, ah, like, this is what my brain is supposed to be doing. But in a weird way, it's been more things like writing and just just like a different style of a different style of communication. But when I found them, it was just like, an interesting alternative. Because I spent two years in this world of these, like very, very serious engineering people, you know, like, they wear ties to work, and they build like structures and like, everything is super critical. Like if you don't do this, you will poison the town's water supply, you know. And then I meet these, like, sort of strange people who are like, Oh, yeah, we don't like we do work. But like, all the sort of like trappings and structure that I associated with, like professional environments, which is different. And I found that really appealing, like, okay, these people just like, they just want me to do the work. They don't have to, like, put myself in this cookie cutter sort of template to do it. And yeah, so I don't know if I hadn't meant that. I might still be just a traditional engineer, I guess. And to be fair, like, I didn't changed my major, like, once I met them, who's like, okay, I realize like, oh, software is more than just this fun thing that I did in high school. It's actually this pretty useful and important tool. And I'm not terrible at doing it. So that was fun.
That's really cool.
I think it was cool. Also, they paid me way too much money. Like as an intern, they never had interns before. So they just like gave us like regular dev salaries. And I'm like, Okay, this can work too that was also quite nice.
Okay, so I also want to talk a little bit about how you came to Virtual Coffee. And you've been hugely involved in what we're doing, and helping support the community for a while. And we'll get to that a little bit later on. But just how did you discover Virtual Coffee? And do you remember the first time you came
This is my favorite story because I want to make this clear. I knew Bekah first, I knew Bekah before she grew up. All right, way back, was still underground. Okay, at some point, I want to say, like very, very early on, we you were still in flat iron. He started tweeting about coding. And I have started following you. Because I remember I was on this like, very determined thing to not follow people who had like 10s of 1000s of you know, like these sort of like big tech things like these people not relevant to my life. And you just posted a tweet saying like, Hey, I'm trying this thing, and I don't know if it's going to work out. That's how I feel. And, you know, then you do that thing where like your Twitter friends or someone like you see them post and you just like, hey, support, encouragement, and kind of did that for a while. And then I remember you started posting about PC. And I was like, that's during work time. I can't do that. So I think I missed maybe like the first month or two. But eventually, you know, just like, this sounds like a lot of fun. Like work stopping right now. So I think, When was the first time it came, I want to say it's May or June. Okay. Yeah. And I definitely, I came once and I didn't come again for like a couple months, but I joined the slack. And like the slack was a big thing. Because even like when I was working, like I could still like hang out in slack kind of see what was going on. But I would also see people like Ah, the meeting was so great. And that's that's kind of just how it happened. Yes, I want to make it absolutely fundamentally clear. I knew Bekah first.
I want to say it took me a long time to realize who you were because your Twitter picture was not a picture of you. It was his it wasn't green. Okay. It was something so that it's always funny to see people who their Twitter picture either doesn't look like them or something totally different. And then it takes me like a really long time for that to click and like, Oh, that's that person I've been talking to for all of that time. So that was also you I did not recognize you because you are not a Pokemon in fact.
That should have been our question if you could be a Pokemon which one would you be and why?
Oh, my answers. I just gotta check my Twitter. But yeah, I mean, I remember like, we had the whole like, gay Kirk kerfuffle. Like when this it all just started right is like online I've always used like the same like TK shoe type handle. Yeah. And then when I met you guys, I'm like, Okay, well, this I guess this is this is still online. And then it just like, in the nature of friendship, you know, like you kept interacting with like, more and more of my life and it's like, Hey, why are you TK here in Kirk here and like, Are you blind to us? So you know, eventually we just had to
That's right, when Kirk finally accepted us. He allowed us not to call him TK which we had been calling him and said we're all friends now. And so now you can call me Kirk but it took a while for him to warm up to us.
Just like how the French have like Jew and you know said same.
I do not speak French. The number of times. French in front of me. I don't understand it.
All people from Ohio speak French. Is that true? Dan?
Do you speak French?
No, I took three years of German in high school. I think I can count to 10 in German stuff. But that's about it.
Do a for loop in German.
That class was a mess.
Okay, speaking of No, that's terrible segue not gonna do it. Normally, when we have people on the podcast, we have some idea of what we're going to talk about with them. And I had lots of different ideas about what we should talk about with Kirk. But I said, you know, what are you interested in talking about and Kirk said, making mistakes, and I just thought, like, That's such a fantastic topic. Um, but I just want to get a little bit of insight into one you answered pretty quickly, I feel like and to why was this a topic that appealed to
the topic appeal to me, because honestly, when I think of my journey, and tech, and I guess just my professional life in general, eat for better or worse, I see is like a series of like mistakes, good moments, but but ultimately mistakes. And, you know, there's been all these conversations, you know, with our members, especially like, what is a junior engineer? What is a senior engineer? You know, what am I supposed to be? I'm just, like, I'm here. I've been writing code professionally. For five years, if you count, like for my internships, maybe like, seven years. I don't feel particularly like, I don't feel particularly senior, I don't feel particularly Junior. And I have been, I don't really know how to, like, quantify the things that I've done, except that, like, I know, like, the lessons I've learned from like, all the places that I went. And I feel like every time I have gotten better at being a developer, it was like, immediately following a mistake or something wrong. And at the time, you know, like, I felt terrible, like, Oh, I'm not good at this, this is the worst. And now, I'm just like, well, it's probably it would have been worse, if like, everything had gone like great and perfect, you know. And then just like working in anxiety, and like mental health struggles, and like, the path to where I am now feels. I don't know, if you're just looking at me now. You're like, Okay, he's got it. Like, he's, he's got this figured out, he knows what he's doing. Like, he's in a career. He's got it all together. Like that was not the case at all, you know, which is another reason why the whole like, I, my degree is completely different than what I'm doing now. And even the specific role that I'm in right now, the type of software I'm working, it wasn't something that I planned at all. It's just like how things happen to go. So I felt like it would be relevant for people to talk about, you know, not, not the Twitter experience of I lost 100 websites in 100 days, and I made $100 million. Let me tell you, like, No, you know,
are you calling out my Twitter account?
Have you launched 100 websites?
All the time, that's what I do every week for fun.
You know, and, and I mean, even Virtual Coffee, like, I feel like the big appeal of Virtual Coffee is that like I get to interact with developers being normal. You know, as opposed to LinkedIn and Twitter, like every other place, like you're, like, we like to, you're not really allowed to be normal, right? Like, and even when we choose to be vulnerable, like, it's a very specific choice. And you can do it in very specific ways. But, you know, if I go there to VC chat, right, now, I can go to random and be like, I just ate a bag of Cheetos and bitched out for like, two hours. And then it sounds like, Yeah, man, I love Cheetos, you know. And that's like, a normal thing, because we are normal people. I get very frustrated with the conversations around developers sometimes because I feel that we're always trying to other ourselves. And if unintentionally, ostracizes parts of the community. You know, people are always very quick to identify other developer brands like this developer mind is like this. I'm like, I don't we're not different than other people, right? Like we, we have a job we do. And we're good at it because we do it. You know, if I didn't do any coding, I wouldn't be good at coding. Like I don't get to like there's no special part of my brain. It's like, oh, C sharp, just because I did cheaper. Yes. So, yeah, sorry,
I was just gonna say I really like that idea of the vulnerability that we see online is still a choice of when people are vulnerable, right. So that's a point where somebody, there may have been 10 other points that they haven't shared, right? And, and when you have a close community like Virtual Coffee, or you know, whether it's in a Tuesday, Thursday coffee, or it's in Slack, this is a close group of people. And so vulnerability is definitely more natural for our group of people, which also allows us to grow, I think, in ways that if we didn't have that closeness, that intimacy, we wouldn't be able to.
Yeah. There's something about like, the stakes of like interaction, and how much energy it takes to have interactions with people. And maybe it's different for other people, but I found like, most social media interactions be very high stakes, in terms of step it up better be a good thing. And even if no one else cares, like, I'm sort of coming in as a, but I don't, that's fine. But you can't sort of do that all the time. And it's good to have spaces where you can just, you know, be okay. And trust other people to just like, let you be okay, or not. Okay, you know, yeah, totally.
One of the Colleen, on last episode was was talking about a similar idea, you know, she was part of other communities, and, and Twitter and stuff. And she found that same thing where you, it's harder to share any sort of struggles or anything like that, and in certain situations, but I feel, I feel like in Virtual Coffee, because partly, at least this is my, is my thing, but like, because people know, me, or I know other people, you know, I have to worry less about being misinterpreted, or, you know, I don't know judged or, or, you know, things like that. And with Twitter, it's like it's going out into the world to who knows, is ever gonna see it, and, you know, so then I sweat over every single word, you know, in a tweet. And therefore, well, for me a tweet, like once every three months, or sometimes
I think my kind of playing off that to the community has made me feel like I can be more vulnerable in other spaces. Because there's this group of people that I have that I know, support me. And so that's allowed me to be freer, and what I say on Twitter or whatever, so, you know, like, Oh, I cried at one division last week, and the week before that, like, I don't know, just stuff about frustrations and growing pains and that kind of thing. When you know that there's a group of people behind you, it's just easier to do in life in general, I think.
Yeah. I remember, one of the big things for me, I think, was, well, at the time, I think we call it the ADD/ADHD channel. And then it became like a neurodiverse channel. Mental health as if it was one of those things, it's just still in a space, it's very difficult to talk about in general, but also in like, professional settings, and no one wants to admit it, or be honest about it. But like, I can't think about my coding journey without thinking about, there was a time for about nine months where I just, I really could not do anything. I was just kind of like completely immobilized by anxiety and all this other stuff. And I just had no idea if I would ever work again. And in that time, this was a little bit before BC, but one of the things that did help me like was online communities, like I couldn't really go anywhere. So like, finding nice spaces online, like kind spaces online was like my way of like, solace and recovery. And I remember there be days of like, okay, you can't do anything else today, but you can, like, be nice to somebody. And, if you see has like a lot of that energy, you know, where it's like, okay, you know, like, my day has been going really crappy, like work has not been working out or family trip or whatever it is, like I can, I can go on like Virtual Coffee and like, be nice to someone, you know, like, support them. Or I just, I feel like the community is just like, doing that constantly. Like we're all just helping each other because like, it makes us feel good. It feels good to make other people feel good. Yeah. And that like that's like forever energy, right? Like, you can do that forever. And you know, we can talk about how like it's almost it's almost a little You also have to be a little careful. Otherwise, you will keep doing that and not do like anything else. Because like, it's very validating. But I do think that's like a very good thing. So a lot of times you'll hear people talk about even the online space. Now the pandemic, a lot of people have had to move to these spaces like us at the same. I miss real life like this is all fake. And I'm like, it is different. And obviously, I do wish, like things were, how they used to be. And we could travel again, and we could have those like real contacts. But there's, I think it's fair to say like, there's the online space is not it's not real space, it's just a different space. Right? Like it's lost, like, physical connections, but like all the other connections are still there. And I've met some of my most important, most trusted, most valued most loved people online. So yeah, it's all real, which is why you shouldn't be mean on Twitter.
I want to jump back a second to the idea of mistakes. Because I think that, like there's a couple of different things. I think, sometimes one people mistake, mistake mistakes for failure. But also, I think that there's an idea that imperfect, imperfect things are mistakes, right. And I don't really think that's true. But I think it took me a little bit to get there. And so I just want to talk a little bit about your approach to doing something that's imperfect or putting something imperfect out into the world.
How dare you put me on the spot like this? Do you think this is a podcast? No, no, I'm, I have a complicated relationship with stuff like mistakes, because I even though for a long time, I didn't admit it. I do have a type of personality who wants to do something right the first time, which means I will spend either way too much time planning, or way too much time like micro tweaking. And you know, if I definitely like, have a my flaw, I think it's definitely just finish a thing. And then you can come back later, is not my natural like instinct. And it was really funny. I'm gonna say something very nerdy. Now, as if the last 100 sentences haven't been very nerdy. But there is this role playing game called Neverwinter Nights. It's like a dungeon dragons game. And I love this game. I've spent hours playing this game. I've never beat this game, not what's, what I will do is I will spend like, days thinking of the character, I'm going to make, like, ah, they're going to do this. And then they're going to do this at this level. And I will do all that. And then like, I would not actually do it. I didn't know why for a long time. And through just like introspection, and, you know, talking of like, therapists and stuff, if that's okay, I definitely am terrified of failure, especially like catastrophic failure. And I think like, Okay, I'm going to do this. If you want to know what's going to hate me, like, it's all just kind of going to go wrong. And then you just don't want to do anything, right. Because like, if I don't do anything, then I can't mess up anything. But that's like a really, really difficult way to live life. Like it's very safe, but it's not very fulfilling, ends up being very frustrating. So I think when I when I think of mistakes I've made, I don't think of those moments where I've done something wrong. I think of those moments where like, I failed to do something, even though I could be wrong. Even though I could go wrong. And kind of like that paralysis is is a thing that that's my personal thing, that thing that sort of holds me back a lot. So like I want to tell people like all like when I say yeah, I've been doing development for seven years, a lot of that has been not doing development or being scared to do development being scared to take certain positions, because I was worried that I just wouldn't be able to handle it. Or I started something and then like the pressure of not doing like a perfect job caused it to go wrong in the first place. And that's like a real thing I think happens to a lot of people. So yeah, just to say, it definitely also happens to me.
I love that it's like and it's an interesting thing that I don't know, there's obvious When you're in the middle of it, you know, if you haven't, if you haven't framed it that way to yourself, that sort of, you know, hey, I'm sure people, I mean, I know that I have at least I'm just gonna suffer from personal experience, you know, have have run into that, you know, avoiding jumping into something or committing to something because of because of fear, you know, because of fear of failure, or, for me, it's the things that come along with failure. So, so for me, it's not so much being afraid to, you know, afraid that I won't, like won't change, trying to think of a good example, I can't think of one but like, not that I won't be able to complete the task, right, but that not completing the task, or completing it in some way. That is not, you know, amazing and perfect, will cause me, you know, embarrassment, or let people down other things like that, right, in the complicated motions that can come with that. And I just love that you, Kirk that I mean, I've learned from you like just talking about this sort of thing out loud, you know, I don't know, it is, it's both, like, sharing makes other people feel more comfortable sharing, you know, but also the way to frame stuff stuff like this, sometimes, people don't connect the dots in their own life, you know, until until they maybe hear, hear what other people are going through. And, you know, something rings a bell, right? Which has happened a lot to me in Virtual Coffee, just, you know, talking to people, especially, you know, kirkin and Bekah just kind of over and over again, you know, so I don't really have a point other than, you know, thank you, Kirk for, for like sharing all that stuff.
I always like to say, Kirk is the heart of Virtual Coffee, right? He allows us the safe space to be vulnerable, when you need somebody to talk to even if you think I don't want anybody to hear what I'm feeling or these words to come out of my mouth. Like, I always know that, okay, I can talk to Kirk about this. And there's something about that, you know, you just you just have this. give off this, this vibe word you allow people to, to come to you in that way. But also, because of the way that you share that definitely creates a space where I'm like, Okay, well, he shared about that. Now I can. And I think that, you know, that's so important to what we're talking about, too. Like I know, for me, I also have these fears that have prevented me from doing things. And, you know, one of them was I was just not going to apply for developer jobs. After I graduated from Flatiron School. I was like, I can't do this. So I will just not do anything. And my husband's a developer too. And he was like, nope, nobody ever feels ready. So you just have to do it. Okay, well, well, then I'll put out this tweet or whatever. But you know what I'm like finding now I was terrified of that. And in all the times that I've had to apply for jobs, but now those fears I can kind of like, are tied to this feeling of maybe I won't be dependable, right, I get really stuck on this idea of like, you have to be perfect to be dependable. But just to be able to hear people talk through their own experiences and say like, Oh, I didn't know what I was doing at this point, to talk to new devs now and say like, okay, like, I felt this exact fear, or I understand where you're coming from. And here are some things that you could think of, but sometimes the most important thing is just like surrounding yourself with, you know, good people, a community of people like, like, you guys.
Yeah, and I want to say too, I think that those moments where we allow ourselves to talk through things, or we're been vulnerable with other people, that allows us to grow in ways that we can't otherwise, right, like, I am very much. I don't know what the word is right now, I process things out loud, rather than thinking them through my head, right. And so I will go on tangents that might not make sense to many of the people who are next to me, but it's just because I'm thinking through these things. And a lot of times just having someone there that can kind of figure out what's going on in direct my thoughts that are going all over the place is enough to get me to where I need to go to move forward and to grow a little bit more. And so for a lot of years, I never did that I was just very, very much internal. And just over the last couple of years, I've started to become aware of how important it is to make connections and how that allows us to grow in different ways. And I think that, you know, no matter what you do, the best version of yourself includes connecting with other people in real and meaningful ways. And that will inform everything else that you do in life.
Yeah, I think it reminds me of a conversation we had Emerald at this compensation. beckon you and I were talking about how you like the role of trauma in our lives. Okay, this was a thing that happened, that was like a bad thing to happen. But sort of the person that emerged from it is probably the kind of person maybe, then we might have otherwise have been. And I think that's, that's kind of something I worry about, or try and pay attention to sometimes. So, you know, and I think the industry is like moving in a better direction. But sometimes I think about like, when they asked you Hey, well, there's this like, eight month period where you didn't work like what happened then, you know, and I'm not sure what answer you're supposed to give, but I I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to say well, you know, like my depression got really bad. And I just didn't do anything trade, right? Like no one of all the lip service companies paid like, like no actually really wants to hear that. It's it's the Twitter thing all over again. But that is, I don't know, just that's real people, right? Like, we do not have this like happy go lucky path of work to work to work to cool things cool thing to cool thing or you know, maybe we shouldn't ask people like why there's a big dip in there like GitHub points things like maybe, you know, maybe that doesn't matter, right? Like maybe you should be judging me on like, what I've done not like, the spaces between the things that you think are relevant, you know, I don't know. And, I mean, the big thing for me was always, I've always worked with small companies, I work with a research department at school. And now I work for like a very, very small software development company. So you know, there's a long time where I did not do any programming. When I left work, like I came to work to my job. When I came home, I did not do anything. I just didn't have any motivation for it. Like, it just didn't make me happy. And Virtual Coffee happened at Hacktoberfest happened and all of a sudden, like, oh, okay, I'm not just doing this by myself, like, I'm doing this with other people. And I get to show other people things I've learned, and they're showing me things that they've learned, and everybody's super appreciative. And honestly, that was the first time like, I'd done any side projects and months.
Let's, um, can we just pause for a second and talk about hack tober Fest, because I think like that was a really pivotal moment for me, especially and learning from other people and growing. And actually, in the trailer for the podcast, there's a quote from you about community and hack tober fest. And so you did a ton of work to make sure that the community was supported through documentation, and through your presence and things like that. And so you really played a major role in that. Can you just like, talk a little bit about your process? And going through that, because you played a lot of different roles?
Yeah, I can get on my soapbox for this, because this is super important. So like, I think the big thing we learned from Hacktoberfest was, we were all asking this question of, well, why aren't more newer developers getting involved in open source? You know, there seem to be all this hype about open source. But when you spoke to people they like, actually, it still feels very intimidating. I still don't know what to do. Like, I don't think I can do this. And I mean, I, and there's a, there's a big discussion there. But to me, the short answer was, Oh, well, we say that this is open, inviting for new people, but it's actually not. And it's like, well, why it's like, well, because like, not enough has been done to make it welcoming, right. And I'm not saying that to chastise the people who haven't done all the work, it's just to say that like, it is actually a lot of work, it is like, you have to be intentional about these things, if you actually want people to work with you, especially newer people. And we realize, Oh, it's actually very difficult if you don't know what to do to like, clone a repo or get a project started or do a PR, and you are super terrified that you're gonna mess up someone else's work, and you are completely unsure that what you're doing is a meaningful contribution. So you have to come at it from so many different angles. And then, you know, I started writing all that documentation, because like, I kept finding, like, more and more like, Okay, this actually isn't very well explained to my business and will explain or there's docs for this, but not that piece. But there's like a full cycle of what it takes to like make a meaningful contribution. And remember, we had like this big discussion of, Okay, well, do we find projects online and redirect them to people or, and we ultimately decided, like, it has to be people from the community, mainly because like, it's the only way like, we can be sure that the maintainers have healthy interactions with the people who want to help, which is like the most critical thing. And then that became a Wait, what about the maintainers? Like, they also need to be supported to and that be so you know, and I love that that project was a lot of work, but like, the big takeaway for me was like, Okay, these things are possible, but it is a lot of work. And I think like the danger is always that people want to do a good job, but they are unaware of the amount of work it's going to take. And then like they get burnt out and then the people they're trying to help get frustrated. And it reminds me of one time I attended this training, it was some group and they like, Oh, we want to get back, we want to help out in the community, we want to like bring tech. communities and cultures don't typically have access to it. And they made this whole program and they got a bunch of people. And then on the day of it, I remember, the presenter was using a Mac, being all this stuff set up and ready to go. And then one lady was like, I don't have a Mac, like, how do I install this on Windows? And he's like, Oh, I don't really know, I didn't really think about that. And I'm like, What do you mean anything about that? Like, I mean, I get it, but 90% of the earth uses windows. And I don't know about anybody else. But like, when I abandon a project, it's not like I'm midway through the project. I'm like, Oh, this isn't for me. It's like, I couldn't install this, you know, I couldn't get this file to work. There's an error. And I don't know what to do. That's, that's why people stop things, right? It's always the config. So it's like, Okay, well, if you're going to teach anyone, anything, you need to dedicate time to helping them get the project set up. And you have to anticipate at least like the major base that people will come up with, you have to meet people where they are like, no one's going to get a Mac use, like, Oh, you can get this to replicate like, No, no, sir. No one's I don't know,
I think kind of tie some of these ideas together. Like you said, it takes a lot of time, right. And sometimes you're just not aware of the needs or the problems that are gonna show up. And, you know, that's part of the learning process. And that's part of the growing process and thinking through things deliberately is super important. And is also very, very challenging. We've got Dan, I know that you set up the issue for all of our contributors for the Virtual Coffee pr for hack tober Fest, and thinking through all these things, is pretty challenging, right?
Yeah. Yeah. And it's, I mean, Kirk what you said about, you know, people started an open source project, but didn't think through all the writing of the documentation you have to do, and it is hard, it's, I mean, it, I don't think you're gonna find anybody that's, that will argue with that. It's, it's a hard thing with, with anything, I mean, and it's a completely different mindset than encoding. And, and that's, I mean, just just, like another reason why we we wanted to, we decided to work with just a few, you know, maintainers, that we that we knew, because we were going to require them to put a bunch of work in ahead of time to get their, you know, repositories ready. And yeah, so I mean, I made that one of the repositories was our Virtual Coffee site, and I had an idea to kick our event off with, you know, just a very simple, like, pull request thing to, you know, without a lot of coding, but that everybody could do, you know, serve together an event, and it seemed easy in my head, you know, and there's just so many things, you have to get down on paper, to make sure that everybody is sort of covered, like he said, it's like the, the windows thing, I mean, like, you know, different operating systems, it's, you just have to do tests, almost like, I mean, you know, automated tests for like, browser tests, or something, you know, like, in front end, right. So I put out some code and then, after work on it for a while, I have to go and check that it works in Safari in works in Firefox and Chrome, you know, it's it, but when you're writing documentation, that sort of thing is harder to just like, check, right? And so, you front load a bunch of work, and then hope that it's good enough, and then hope that you're, you know, contributors, let you know, when it's not good enough, either just by asking questions, or, or submitting pull requests, you know, with documentation fixes, things like that. Which, I mean, I mean, Kirk, I don't know how many hours he spent in the September, you know, preparing for Hacktoberfest just writing open source docs, both for us to use as like templates, and, you know, specific projects, and also, you were maintainer for your own project that was, you know, heavily involved with Hacktoberfest, but like, how much how much time do you think he spent in September writing docs for? Like for Hacktoberfest?
Way too much, but that's the thing, right? It's, it was definitely a lot of work. But at the time, it didn't feel like I didn't feel bad doing the work, right? Because it felt like okay, this is meaningful. And this is going to help people and was also helping me because it's things I want to learn about. And, I mean, one of the things I do like about Virtual Coffee is what you said, like, the stuff we're doing for the community. It's not strangers, you know, so totally, there's a little less pressure to, like, get it absolutely perfect the first time. And I have a little more trust that people will, like suggest things to help. like to say, there's a lot in my head, it's gone. Right? Yep. It's like all this stuff comes down to, whenever you try and do something like this, you are trying to empower people, right? You're trying to give people everything they need to, to do the thing that they want. But it's like, okay, you have to think of the people that you're serving. But you also have to think of yourself, like, it also has to be designed in a way that you can keep empowering them. Because otherwise, and not pointing fingers, and pointing fingers at all of us, you get into this space where you're doing this stuff, but it's also like taking a toll on you like it's just as a scribe it like you should also be empowering yourself. I remember another PC member, the very, very wonderful Nick Taylor. You know, we were just like pairing up working on something because Nick is amazing. And he was like, hey, do you want to, like, go live on this? Like, I mean, yeah, sure. And guess what, like he, he had a setup already, that made it very easy for him to like, quickly get up and running. Right, which took off the pressure for me, because I didn't have to do a bunch of prep, that also took off the pressure for him, because he didn't have to, like spend a bunch of cycles on setup. So it became easy for him to help people and like parent that way. And I was like, okay, that, that's neat. That's a good thing to do. And, you know, Virtual Coffee, like we've been trying to get into that direction, where it's like, it's easy when someone wants to do something that we can, like, help them in a way that's also sustainable for us. But again, like that means you have to you do have to Front Load a lot of trek to get to that space. And it isn't a bunch of things like we want to do and the people like oh, yeah, we, I mean, we want to do everything. But whatever we do in order to not be like other experiences that have been frustrating or disappointing. We have we take the time to think like, okay, either we can set this up in a way that like, people are empowered, and we're empowered. Or we might have to hold off on this until we can, you know,
yeah, and I think that idea of things that look easy, usually have a ton of time put in that you don't know. So if there's a developer and you're watching them code, and it looks so easy, right? It's because they've done it before, or, you know, it's trying to explain to my six year old who was watching a painting tutorial, and he just couldn't get it, like, the girl was painting the turkey in the video, right? Like, you know, she didn't, this is not the first time she's painted a turkey, right, she's probably practiced this a bunch of times before, and then recorded this video and maybe edited this video, you know, but if something goes smoothly, that's because there's been a lot of deliberate thought and effort put in to make sure that that happens. And so, you know, everybody starts from a very imperfect place. It's just the practice and the time put in that takes you to get to that place where it looks easy, but nothing, nothing is just easy, right?
Bringing it back to our theme of mistakes when you are working with someone, and, you know, you see them like solve a problem that you've been spending forever on. It's not because they're a genius. I mean, they might be genius. But that's not why we solve it like this, because like, they solve that problem before, right? Like, this has already happened to them, or something similar. And they're working off of that mistake, or that frustration that they had back then to kind of avoid it now. And like steer you away from that path, right. Now, and that's that's just like that to me, like, oh, what's a senior developer or someone who's I think someone said, Maybe this is from someone who's made a lot of mistakes already. You know, when you're new, you haven't made that many mistakes yet. But then this gets right back to providing opportunities. You need to provide opportunities for people to make mistakes. I don't think there's anyone who's been in code for more than five years at some point, like wasn't given the chance to do something that they were probably not qualified to do or not exactly ready to do like someone gave you a chance and you kind of have to pass that forward, you know, otherwise you're being I feel like a little disingenuous about how this process works.
Yeah. And you mentioned and it actually, you were talking about the senior developer distinction. Like a while, like, near the beginning of your talk, but you mentioned empathy, you know, as as, like, one of the indicators, right, but of a senior developer, and I think that's, I think it's really important to keep in mind, the, one of the things that I've learned over the last, like, however long with Virtual Coffee, specifically is, you know, like, leaning on the empathy to remember that something is easy for me, because I have done it a bunch of times, and, you know, when you practice anything, eventually becomes second nature. And then you kind of forget, can forget what it was, like, you know, to learn it in the first place. I think that's true with anything, really, but it's especially true with coding, because coding happens so fast. And lots of times, you know, people learn in all different ways, you know, across different ages and different, you know, time spans, I learned how to code over, I don't know, five or 10 years, you know, here and there, you know, it wasn't like, I wasn't trying to do it in six months, or whatever, you know, because I was trying to switch careers. I didn't even I even think I said the word career out loud. Until I was like, 30, you know, like, but just like circling back, I mean, I, you're the, you're framing around empathy as as a as a key indicator of, you know, being as a senior developer, I think is very good. And been, very important, and I appreciate you like talking about it. With us.
Yeah. And I think I think everyone here, at least everyone that I know, in the coding space is pretty much in agreement, right? The 10 x engineers thought the person hate that phrase, but you know, it's not the person who can like, work 10 times faster than other people. It's the person who makes 10 other people around them, like better at the job, right? Like, what do you think of that's, you know, and then you realize that that role is a supporting role, right, it's a management role, it's a mentoring role, you know, find me that person, find me the person where I can put them on a team. And all of a sudden, everybody else on the team is like, feeling better, right, that person is doing way more for the organization than someone who's, I don't know, sitting at his desk or at their desk, you know, just not interacting with with others. And I mean, but that's not even something I talked too much about anymore. Because at least again, I don't think there's anybody in the spaces that I'm in, who still holds on to that idea of being a good developer means like, knowing lots of things or being able to type really, really fast or whatever. And it's been really heartening to see. Even the people in BC who've been like job hunting, looking for interviews, everyone has a pretty much at a certain point in everyone's career, like, you hear the same phrases being echoed, like I just want to work with my people, you know, I just want to do work that's meaningful. I want to have like a healthy balance of like, my family life and my professional responsibilities. I want to give back and mentor people who were in the space and I want to, like receive support from people who are more senior in this space, like everyone says the same thing, you know, so I, that just, it feels like a natural space to be and it feels like the space that we're going, and if I can contribute to that, that is awesome. There was a discussion, I think, yesterday, the day before about passion on Twitter. And that that was it was really interesting seeing everybody's responses, and some people like hate, you know, like, I'm here to I'm doing this as a family, you know, or, I'm doing this or something like I'm doing this because I really like it and like both, both of those things are valid. No. I'm not so concerned with your motivations for being in the space as much as your actions while you're here, you know? And if you're not being a jerk, and you know, I feel like
if you are being a jerk, then cool, like, we can't be friends. Because you're gonna be a jerk to my other friends.
Okay, I like it. No, yeah, no jerk friends.
No jerk friends,
I have to call some of my old friends let them know I can't be friends with them anymore.
And I say I I'm trying very hard to sort of be clear in all this that I am very much making lots mistakes. And in a lot of ways, I am a very big hypocrite about all these things. There's very much areas of code that like, I really want to be good at, like I, part of my motivations, like, I want to be good at this thing. I would like to be knowledgeable about this thing and smarter about this thing. I want to be like, you know, I don't know. And that's just like a personal goal. As you all know, and anyone who's spoken to me for more than five seconds is aware, I'm a big fan of like, certain styles of programming. And I try really hard to be good at those things. Last night, students work on the newsletter. And then I was just like, reading, like, functional TypeScript stuff. Because that's fun for me. And I like that. But you know, even that, I've read like the same articles, like eight or 10 times, just trying to grok some of these things. And like, it still hasn't worked yet. You know. And that's super frustrating. And it makes me very angry. And I feel like an idiot. But when I said earlier that, you know, I don't think I really have an aptitude for programming, someone who's like, I just don't mind doing it. Like, I just, I don't mind writing code, like, I can do it. And I don't mind being frustrated about it. And I'll keep coming back to it. And if you do that for long enough, I guess, you know, you get good at programming, you know, but I really want to dispel the notion that people think like, Okay, I need to, I need to get this. You know, I don't think that's how software works at all, like, you try and do it. And then you keep doing it. And then you start to get things. But if you feel like, Oh, this is just not intuitive for me, I don't think it's intuitive for anyone. And for the people it is intuitive for I don't care if not like a nice person, I'm still not gonna want to work with that, you know, give me somebody who finds this stuff is really hard, but like they're earnest, and they want to learn and they're a good teammate over a mobile like, you know?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think that is a great way to sum up everything that you've been talking about, right? It's about growing through our mistakes, and about being kind to the people around us. And that supportive environment is what allows everybody to grow. Right. So it's community growth. And I want to thank you for being here with us today. Kirk, this was such a fantastic interview, we heard so many good thoughts about programming and learning and growing, and I'm very, very excited to share this. where can our listeners find you?
You can find me at Virtual Coffee, you should should come hang out with us at Virtual Coffee. I'm also on Twitter at @KirkCodes, where sometimes I say smart things. And most of the time I just make memes. Where else? I guess those are, those are sort of the main spaces, I think VC, VC and Twitter. Oh, I mean, I guess my GitHub, in case show if you for anyone listening, if you ever want to talk about functional programming, or dive into languages like Elm or you just want to hear some strange man from the Caribbean talk too much about it. We can we can totally get into that. Yeah, thank you. Thank you for for having me. I will say in a very, very fundamental way, becoming best friends. Yeah. Best friends with Bekah and Dan has been one of the best parts of the last year for me.
I'm buying BFF necklaces
If you can get the full necklace bracelet, you can do the whole thing. Yeah. So you know, and I think that's that's ultimately it, right? Like, it's so much easier to work with people that you appreciate and appreciate you back. And if we could do more of that, then I think we have a good chance of doing some cool stuff.
All right. Well, I'll talk to you soon. Bye.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Virtual Coffee podcast. This episode was produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel, and edited by Dan Ott. If you have questions or comments, you can hit us up on Twitter at Virtual Coffee io, or you can email us at podcast at Virtual coffee.io. You can find the show notes plus you can sign up for our newsletter to find out what Virtual Coffee has been up to On our website at Virtual coffee.io
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The Virtual Coffee Podcast is produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel and edited by Dan Ott.