Charles: Hey welcome everybody and welcome to episode 286 of the Ruby Rogues podcasts. This week on our panel we have Jason Swett.
Charles: Jerome Hardaway.
Jerome: Hey, hey, hey.
Charles: I’m Charles Max Wood from Devchat.tv. Just a quick shout out, I have next year’s conferences up. You can go check them out at Devchat.tv/conferences. Calls for proposals are up on our [0:00:26.6] too. We have a special guest this week and that is Sam Joseph.
Sam: Hey guys, how is it going?
Charles: It’s going well. Do you want us to give some brief introduction to who you are?
Sam: Sure. I guess I’ll say I talk too much so don’t forget to cut me off as soon as I’m not being brief. Who am I? I guess my background comes from my education, and academia. I have been very vogue in the other development using Ruby on Rails MOOC or Massive Open Online Course for the last 4-5 years with Armando Fox and Dave Patterson from UC Berkeley, that’s available through edX platform and I’m sort of a current instructor with them. I have an honorary position at the Hawaii Pacific University, I taught Computer Science online for them for a long time. I’ve also been managed the bootcamp in London and right now I’m spending all my time on this Agile Ventures Charity which is all about cradling a business projects that will work with charity customers and clients and to get people together like get away from artificial learning and really learn things in context. My background is about I have a PhD in Cognitive Science and interested in AI all these thing, I’m just interested in learning and programming and encoding I’ve been doing well since 2006, was it? Yeah. It’s all going to come to ahead here in this can we do completely in the mix real learning with real charities online and with people around the world.
Charles: Nice. That’s what Agile Ventures is, right? It’s working with charities doing open source work. Do you want to explain how that all operates?
Sam: Sure. Two key technologies that we use are a Slack and hangouts. It all came about all the back of this Massive Open Online Course other development using Ruby on Rails or Engine Software as a service as walls. I take a big inspiration from the professors there at UC Berkeley in their live face to face classes, they were doing this sort of charity projects thing.
They’re teaching about the agile process of agile project developments in that class and to have students to put into practice, they would get them together, 50 different project groups, 50 different charities and build real stuff for real people. It was really impressive. And I was like, “Wow! The MOOC comes online, how are they able to do that with people all around the world.” And then they will come like, “Whoa this is logistically a bit of a challenge.” The MOOC became just the academic components of the class and the assignment and so on. I was like, “This must exist, we should have something whereby people around the world, wherever they are can get together and form a [0:03:21.6] team and work together in a project for a charity.”
Originally we’re using Skype and Skype chat a lot, we kind of make credit through different technologies over the years, but basically the people come to our websites they could read about the different projects they get an invite through our Slack instance now. We welcome them and say, what are yours in letting what text Slack [0:03:42.1] in learning, come and join in. I serve a little bit as a gate keyboard institutes as suggested and say, oh you’re interested in Node, well come and work for this part or you’re interested in Rails or pure Ruby come work on this part of clients, introduce people to the new projects, turn the Slacker on in.
The other key component is we have this regularly running scrum Hangouts that are advertised on our website and basically we’re trying to expose the Agile Process whereby everybody comes together in the scrum, we do that fairly stand up kind of thing when you go around and say, what’re you all doing and we do it all in public and we stream it live to YouTube so the people can look at it and people would just come and observe and say, “Oh yeah, that sounds interesting.” And people get a crypt together and form in the project teams and stuck it done sometimes. Does that make sense?
Charles: Yeah. It does. I’m kind of curious though, you just bring people in who volunteer or you bringing them off of the MOOC? Do you have to take the MOOC which is a massively open online courses or something like that? I forgot exactly what is this for.
Sam: You don’t have to take the MOOC. We are heavily influenced because a lot of early people who came in were form the MOOC but we now have a very diverse community of people doing the course, doing the other ventures. The people who are putting the time in are volunteers, we do occasionally have pay products, occasionally charities will have money and they need something done by a certain deadline and so we do occasionally have pay products but basically the idea is that people are putting in their volunteer time where programming and also doing things like URL design and project management and so on.
In order to try and contribute to where the courses around the world we have this group in Detroit that’s trying to help people find jobs there, we’ve got a group working with Syrian orphans, we’ve got some Swedish charities, some guys here in London. From the very beginning when we were looking at this, somebody was saying, “Oh we should pay products for anyone and I guess when you’ve got like a crowd of people all putting in that volunteer time here and there, if it’s a paid project it raises all sorts of questions like shouldn’t this person get paid or how much do you get paid and then you start potentially get into arguments about how much each person contributed and how much each thing was worth. If you say, look, we’re here for learning, we’re here for trying to make the world a better place and help people around the world. It takes that out of discussion and then you can get done on focus on the learning and the actual process and having fun with the technology.
Jerome: Nice. I have a question. I read something on the website which I thought was interesting. It’s an Agile Venture is a project incubator that stimulates and support the development on social innovations, open source and free software. And I guess you explained a lot of that just now but I wonder if maybe you could explain those things. What’s a social innovation exactly, I guess I know what open source and free software are, but maybe if you could describe the social innovation part. I’m curious about that.
Sam: I think the social innovation part is about wanting to build software that helps make a charity or nonprofit more effective. I think it’s very easy to get an [0:07:07.8] to a project that they do in there, their part time staff for learning and so on.
I think that the most interesting part of software is where you can be doing something that actually solves somebody’s problem and that requires a way from almost like how do you put code together to the user experience. I’ve been very inspired by courses of people like Scott Klemmer who does an amazing course, people like Ruskin.
The other UI folks Donald Norman about, I guess I’m going to go on and Segway here, Donald Norman, and his book The Psychology of Everyday Things or the Design of Everyday Things. He talks about how people tend to beat themselves up about not being able to use something, whether it’s a software system or telephone system or just trying to get in and out through a door. If they can’t use it effectively to achieve what they want to achieve, they might kind of just, oh no, you know I’m stupid, I can’t deal with it. Donald Norman turns it on his head and say, “Actually look, you know that’s the responsibility of the designer, the designer made the thing, [0:08:18.4] with the best of intentions, but then actually didn’t work very well in the context in which it was placed.”
I think we talk about social innovation it’s about sitting down with the charity and rather than necessarily with giving them exactly what they want, it’s about being there as an ear to really listen on the sense. Even just to watch and observe and go through this process where you really start to understand what that problem is and I see this is a core part of the Agile Process whereby you say, “Okay well maybe this change might help you.” And you give them some sort of slice or something and you make a suggestion and then you’re going to adopt that and you see how it does lead to change or it doesn’t and then you iterate through that again and again and hopefully what you have after a year, two years, three years, is this process whereby everybody has learned about each other from these persons and also the charities and the nonprofits are actually having a more serious positive social impact as a result. Does that make sense?
Jerome: Yeah, it does. Are they any commonalities that run through the projects that you do for these organizations, I actually have gone to a couple of these coding marathon type of things where we take off Friday weekend and there’s always non-profit and we build something for that. It seems like a challenge they have a lot is like they have these two group of people, they have always volunteers and then they have these people who they match the volunteers up with but they don’t have a good way to manage all these stuff and so we see that kind of thing over and over again. Is there anything like that on your case, wherein you see a pattern?
Sam: You mean a pattern that is a way of doing that match up? Or just a sort of any general patterns of commonality?
Jerome: This common needs that you see with these organizations.
Sam: I think the common needs with the organization is that they tend to be struggling with administrative thing so the often have a lot paper based procedures and probably the ongoing digital revolution we have where they’re attracted by the promise of a digital solution resolving the paper work where they got everything Google Spreadsheets or what have you. And I think that commonality that I see is that, if you go in there with saying, “Oh yeah, [0:10:47.8] it’s just going to do this for you.” Then you going to end up not really helping them that much that you just have to go in and really do a lot of listening.
I’m not just really, really hard because I think particularly in educational context, people learn technologies rather than learning sort of techniques of problem solving. Which I think is a big problem with all education in every bricks and mortar in the bootcamps and the other. They are just that big conflict there, people are trying to solve the problems with these technologies when it’s this you’ve got to listening to that human angle.
The time scales, you’ve got to be able to work with that organization, they put all sorts of adopt this idea of the Agile Approach, although we got to try this little change and then we go to reflect two weeks later and then do the measuring the time worker if it did have an impact and then it can be difficult to pin people down on that and you’ve got to be careful because the charities are busy people and you can’t put too much pressure on them maybe to get the data that you want. It’s an ongoing juggling balancing act.
Jerome: How do you deal, for the lack of a better word, staffing for this projects? Because it sounds like there’s people work in a volunteer basis.
Jerome: So you can’t necessarily force them to be available during any certain period of time.
Jerome: And any organization is going to have turnover challenges and stuff like that. How do you get people together to make sure that a project gets completed?
Sam: The key thing is having a committed project manager and that’s what’s always on the look-out for people who can project manage. I think when the projects that really don’t get anywhere are the ones where someone says, “Oh I have this idea.” Maybe they are the ones some other people that are interested but if you lack a person it’s going to be the focal point then it quickly freaks us away. Even faster than [0:12:56.6] it might be taken up by someone else.
There are some people who are not involved with us, who are not coders, they have particularly keen to practice that project manager skills, there are people who they naturally lean towards that side of things. Keeping them involved is that sort of incredible.
I think also the other thing that we do is, I’ve started to coin this term which I call open development as kind of a level beyond open source we say not just the code but everything we do into that where we record the pairing sessions, we record the meetings with the client, we record the strums and the stand ups and it’s all streamed on the YouTube and all of the notes and we try and make everything available to cope with this turnover because people form one week the next we might have different volunteers coming in and they need to be able to see the client meeting or the client was explaining why they needed that particular feature and they can’t necessarily alarm a person who was there hearing about it to talk about it.
Jerome: They have access to everything that’s ever happened.
Jerome: That’s pretty interesting.
Sam: Yeah. We’re not doing it as well as we could do. I think the problem causes, we then have like huge digital archive that needs organization and managing. I think the way that it moves tends to be just like people, they just checking back on what happened in the last week or a couple of weeks before. I think we have certainly not mastered how to do this but it’s really exciting working in that completely open environment and trying to educate the new people that are coming in about how we do that and how we’re trying to make the best of it. That’s what I love about it is that applying the Agile Process to the infrastructure that supports all of the other Agile projects. At some point maybe we will get to that critical humming moment where the infrastructure supports really goes to the next level and suddenly these projects can be 10 times more effective than they would be without that support. We do our best, it’s an ongoing process.
Jerome: How did this all get started? You might not touch time but I’m curious how did you go from what you’re doing before to doing this. And how did you get other people interested and grow it to what it is now?
Sam: That’s a good question. The key thing that started was, there was this period where the MOOC there was only the first half of the Berkeley course had been released and it was actually in this window where stand out of the time they would done these three really popular MOOCs. It was a point where the educational was holding its breath and was like 80,000 people have signed out for each of these like AITP and email courses back. I think it was 2011 and then there was this stand out held this breath and I think the administration was actually, “Do we want to give the stuff away for free or not?” I’m not sure that we do. And there was this brief window where there was a one course from Berkeley was available and that was the first five weeks thing.
In 2012 they released the second half of that course I think the fall of 2012 and I think myself and several others be like, “Yeah. yeah, they’re doing this projects thing.” And they didn’t have it and so I created a sort of shared Skype chat room for the students in that course and we just go and talking about it and we did letter writing campaign, that’s not really quite the right word but at the time it was like, hey let’s contact as many charities and non-profit as we can and see who’s interested of having stuff built for them, and we kind of had a shared spreadsheet and I created a template for letter to send that the charities to explain who we were.
Jerome: How many did you contact? Do you know?
Sam: I think it was about 20 or 25 at the time. And I think not many other people besides myself had very much luck but I went into, there’s a local volunteering center, happens to be just at my road and that has 8 or 9 or 10 local charities right there. And then I started talking to one group and another group has heard.
And I found a group that was like, “Yeah, yeah that sounds great.” They have their own Twitter feed and they were like quite such done technologically and I’ve been working with them ever since and having basically weekly meetings now that’s like coming out for four years with them. It’s sort of spread over the place and the original meeting was just audio recordings. It wasn’t really a concept of being Agile Ventures, it was just that one project. I started pairing using Google Hangouts with the few other people on this local support project and we started building generally to the Rails scaffold.
At that time, I was full time teaching for HPU and I was recording based in London. I was recording some kind of courses of me doing stuff and I was then having my students in Hawaii watch that later on. And I started helping out in the MOOC by recording intros to the assignments. What’s the natural extension is say, well this stuff of me running Rails generate the first version done, I can record all of that and then I can share that with everybody in the Skype group and they can see how this will get done. And that was basically the colonel of this. And once have that one project going and run the people from around the world, and every content start pairing and building pieces of it and that came up and it was like everybody, oh we can build other projects and actually my co-founder Thomas Ochman who now runs the Craft Academy bootcamp in Sweden. I created a Google site that was called Agile Ventures as the domain name and he said we should have a big site that sort of supported many, many projects and I was like, yeah that would be awesome. He was the first project manager on the main WebsiteOne which is our codename for the website. I was doing it part time for a long time and but then gradually more, more projects accumulated and then you’re good.
Jerome: Awesome. You mentioned WebsiteOne which I had seen earlier. Is the idea behind that that the website for Agile Ventures is actually like open source and anybody can theoretically contribute to it?
Jerome: How does that work? It seems like one challenge with all these stuff is you might have people contributing and making contributions that are either not very good or their productivity is actually negative. How do you prevent that kind of stuff?
Sam: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think in the early days the way that the WebsiteOne was being run and I was playing the role of a non-technical customer and we have a lot of people involved in that and it was a big learning project for many people. But it also got right big very quickly and we were incurring technical debts and they’re sort of just maintenance burden there.
One of the things that I’ve done recently and it has now become my full time concern is I’ve started the [0:20:17.8] project which WebsiteOne is the example as a priority project and we now, as a UK charity we have people who can donate to us, they can take up subscriptions and one of the basic things that you get if you start supporting us as a charity is that then you become eligible to work on the priority project. What I tend to do now and I’ve taken over the project manager role on WebsiteOne. In principle I’m very happy for anybody to come and work at WebsiteOne but I do need it to be focused so it supports in the core center of things. It’s funny because when somebody comes in with an idea and they want to do something, you want to harness that and you don’t want to say, “No sir you can’t do that because it’s not going to fit into our bigger plan.”
At the same time there’s a danger in going eight different directions at once and they’re not being common vision on the system there. I kind of, now coming into a full time role in Agile Ventures is I’m trying to reduce what WebsiteOne does try and get a core vision there and trying to coordinate with few developers who are working on it so that we’re all pushing in the same direction because I think we do have a big responsibility to support all the other projects. If you want to go and do crazy and go in this direction, that direction there’s a lot of projects that get involved in it. I hope that’s a reasonable compromise but in the other sense, we are always trying things out and then we’re reflecting on it and in a month or two months maybe that’s not going to be the right thing and we’ll go in a different direction again.
Jason: What are the other things that you want to accomplish with Agile Ventures, let’s say in the next few months and then maybe the next few years and if you have a vision for it for the next few decades even whatever time scale you want to talk about but where do you see it going in the future?
Sam: I think what I would love to see over the next few months, more projects starting. It’s actually getting quite active recently. We got a couple of really interesting new projects started. I’d love to see those grow into really healthy stable projects. It’s a bit like gardening you’ve got some sort of weed and tend and so on. I think what I would really love to see over the course the next year, is that we can get more sponsors, we can get more premium member signed up and then we can actually start to afford to employ more people to basically be there on point to make sure that everybody’s getting what they need in terms of support for their individual projects.
We introduced this premium level of support, there’s a basic criteria and the you can pay for additional help and support with your educational process within Agile Ventures and there are a few sponsors. I’m still spinning plates and it sort of going in the right direction. If that trend continues, in year we could be in a stable place.
What I would like to see really five years, 10 years down the line is I would like to see things like Agile Ventures, it doesn’t necessarily just have to be just us, filling that gap between education and the job. I think there is something that you get from working in a project with a real customer who has real needs. You try all the heuristics that you learned in the bootcamp, the solid principles and all of the Agile Process and so on. Actually try to use those when someone saying, “Look we have to get this working by next Thursday and you’re doing it in a group, I think that’s the real [0:24:05.0] for learning. If we could somehow get that all the process streamline so that anybody coming out of the university of bootcamp or whatever could come in and have that thing for all the junior developers, mid-level developers who want to level up so they could be doing this in their bedtime contributing to the greater good around the world in the process and having great time and that would be the long term vision, I guess.
Jason: Sam, it sounds like there are different ways people could get involved and contribute depending on what your background is and where you are in your career and what kind of skills that you have to offer and stuff like that?
Jason: I’m wondering if somebody is listening to this right now and they think hey this sounds cool. I’m interested in maybe getting involved but I’m not sure how would be appropriate for me to get involved or it will be appropriate for me to get involved? Are there ways for say a junior developer to get involved or a senior developer to get involved, maybe you can tell me about that a little bit.
Sam: Sure. I say this a lot and I think that there are certainly people at every level to get involved. Even if you’re not technical, there’s project management, there’s user interface, there’s working with the client, there are all sorts of things which really, really valuable parts of making a project work.
As a junior developer, I think your input is just as valuable even if you might not have some of the advanced technical skills. Your fresh eyes are on this and your enthusiasm can make a world of difference to other people who come like, “This is a really tough one. We’re not sure how to solve. We don’t know how to get forward.”
I think if you’re a senior developer and you are slipping into that mentoring world we have a now a sort of selection of people who have been involved with Agile Ventures for a long time. We have an Agile Ventures mentors list. If you’re a senior developer interested in this stuff, I would love to speak to you and get onto that mentors list so that we can take advantage of our little world with just us.
The big thing is I’ve been doing this for personal gain per se, this is trying to make education real. Trying to help all of the deserving courses around the world and sort of harness your skills and experience to help maybe not even coding, you’re just advising or sitting in some pairing sessions for some junior developers that are a little bit unsure. There’s somebody that needs your help and it’s all done remote and online and that’s the big thing. Through Slack, through Hangouts, we have these three times a day there are strums that are online and it’s all streamed in YouTube, come in and get involved. Email me.
Jason: Yeah, I was going to ask if somebody’s interested in getting involved, how do they get the ball rolling with that?
Sam: Yeah. They can always email me at email@example.com. If they sign up to the website they just create an account on agileventures.org, they would sure get an automatic invite to the Slack instant and they can just start chatting, I’m a bit of a Slack addict, I maybe got a little bit of a problem there.
Jason: How many Slacks are you part of?
Sam: Like 12 now. I can’t really keep up with them. I have it on my phone and I had an operation recently and then I was kind of bored at the hospital and I was like, “I’m out.” We’ll have to [0:27:21.2]. I’m in 30 shows right now.
Charles: Oh wow.
Jerome: Impressive, impressive.
Jason: You’re the winner Jerome or the loser possibly.
Jerome: I have a few questions with regards to Agile. One of the things I want to know was, Jason, he actually touched on having a turnover of team members. I want to know when it comes to the MOOC training system, how do you handle trying [0:29:06.6] who are motivated for any particular project. I know a lot of that has to do it like that the project manager trying to see all the best of skills but who is motivated. Shall we just allow a person who is a paying customer to be on WebsiteOne or do you gauge their activity or productivity on other projects or on the Cyber and Slack Channel. How do you guys make that gauge the effectiveness? Because I’m interested in MOOC as well because I teach people how to use Ruby on Rails the veterans [0:29:46.0] all of that stuff.
Sam: [0:29:49.0] by the way. I’m really, really impressed.
Jerome: Thank you. But one of the things that we looked at certain avenues like MOOCs or other cyber curriculum outside of [0:30:01.2] just having that out there for people to be self-paced.
Jerome: And really helping them staying motivated, how are you guys working on it? You’re saying each of that level having people get jobs that are becoming better developers and we got some like junior, mid or even complete newbie. How do you guys put those newbies so they don’t get discouraged? Because one minute they jump to a project and like, “Holy crap, I have no idea what this is.” Like you said you don’t want to think they’re a complete loser and going to get motivated from that. That was all of the things I was interested about. I didn’t really hear how do you handle that people aspect or some folks are bringing on somebody who literally just handles people. There’s someone who manages just people and personalities.
Jerome: Then you have everybody else and does other stuff. I just want to know what was your ideas on that solving that problem.
Sam: That’s a fantastic question. I’ll just start with the MOOC and I think that the MOOCs, they put all of these out there and really the MOOCs are probably most valuable for people who are already extremely motivated. There’s kind of smooth sort of a method that have conferences [0:31:34.0] to feeds and people going to where they want to be.
I think MOOCs have fantastic results. I think the things that made the difference with the new range of MOOCs compared to 10 years ago, we have loads of open courses. I think motivation comes a lot from feedback, there’s a new round of automated feedback that came with some other recent MOOCs and that made them more exciting and engaging but still nothing compared to a bootcamp where you have a group of people who are like, “Yeah, we’re going to help you.” University bricks and mortars to lesser extent it’s having that per other human being is really engaged in your learning process that actually helps people who are not so motivated.
We have though a fundamental problem with Agile Ventures, one of problems that we’re trying to solve is that I think particularly with people who are not necessarily so confident or so motivated is that they will generally be intimidated by the idea of having a client or a real project, they will probably [0:32:39.0]
Jerome: From other communities like especially a thing about minority, these are one end. Even when the technology we’ve been focusing in bringing those under represent minorities and take on the RS included in technology into the field. Those are problems that we face as well, trying to make them feel like this is okay and this is the same space and deal with it in the field. And you know that. I want to pick a brainer we’re kind of in the same field but everybody and I just don’t want one piece of the puzzle. Sure. I was really intrigued by that.
Sam: I think it’s one of the fascinating problems. I can’t claim that we’ve solved it. The advantage that any bootcamp with a sort of more structured curriculum will feel safer and we have this more organic sort of turning over each other which is by its very nature slightly more intimidating but think I where we can make a connection with the individual that’s where we can make a difference.
I think it comes down to creating the safe space. I say one of this what we do in Agile Ventures is, you might be hearing with people that you should submit to open source, you should contribute open source, pool request that would be a good thing. What we try and say with Agile Ventures is like you submitting a pool request in Agile one of the Agile and its projects, it’s a safe space. You’re going to get a positive reaction and you going to get people who are not only interested in the quality of the code coming in and how that’s going to fit in with the bigger project but also interested in your learning. It takes a lot of humility and I’ve failed at this in the past that’s kind of an academic. We came from the academic world, where it’s a lot of like a right or wrong and it’s this or that other and I think might in the past I tend to be, “Oh you shouldn’t do this or you should do this.” Or what have you.
It’s easy to say then, things that I’ve done wrong in the past more than the things to do to right maybe is I’ve tried to always be pushing people to sort of discuss things in open channels and in front of the group. I’m kind of like an extrovert, I tend to this whole streaming online was my idea. I’m kind of like strangely happy with everybody seeing what was everything I do. Most of my entire life is televised these days.
What I’ve realized is I think particularly for people who are not so motivated, not so confident what they want is to be able to connect in private. I think the direct message on Slack, what I particularly do with all of our premium members is I’m reaching out to them individually on a regular basis, we assign mentors to them and I think it’s touching back on the Donald Norman thing, we often find that for example, independently whether they are in an upper represented group or whether they have additional challenges but just everybody they going to get stuck on Git or the persons of like getting their thing in the poor quest and that’s incredibly disempowering for people. And they think, “I’m not smart enough to use get over get this done.” And the thing that I was giving them is actually is this crazy pothole and everybody gets stuck on it.
And actually don’t beat yourself about it, at some level poor design of the tool and part of what we’re all in this together is to try all of these things in open source they’re also sort of thrown out there and people are building on it and your experience of having trouble with it is actually really valuable if we can promise that and build on that we can actually make it easier for the next person, I think there’s no substitutes for trying to make that human connection with the person who’s struggling with that thing. I think that the big thing about creating that safe space and whether that safe space is you having a private one to one hang out with them or an individual one to one chats, that’s that key from my point of view. I’m not saying we do it fantastically well but I think to where I am now, I have identified that that’s the direction we need to go in to support people effectively.
Jason: Roger that. We do a similar case. It’s really funny where you mentioned the GitHub issue because new developers start to realize just how normal that problem is. Developers across the board the first places they hung up on. How to use [0:37:24.0] online. Those are best normal. You’re not supposed to be always on term on day one. You are good with, like we tell our guys, like if you’re going on day one, you won’t be here. Alright. You’ve mentioned the direct messaging an actual original, are you afraid that the direct messaging is going to get clause or we’ll start a more clickish.
Jason: We initially talked about that, then we turned away from that because we did not want to risk teams and co-workers not communicating with each other so we try to focus on leadership team and staff. It’s not like a team operations and we’re trying to keep everything open as possible. Somebody else might have same question that you have or you’re not answering that question or ask that question out openly, I might have asked that, I asked that question like a 100 times. People just don’t know that it’s okay to ask questions and so that’s one of the things that we’re trying to… I’m telling them, we’re all idiots together. I’m always asking questions, I’m not afraid to ask the question at all. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not 100% sure, just ask question. I just want to know what’s your idea, do you think that I may eventually become problematic with the idea of direct messaging.
Sam: Yeah. I kind of built the direct messaging back in after a long period of pushing away people away from that. I think you’re right. I think it becomes all isolated communication between individuals, that gets into a big problem and sort of not sustainable in terms of huge load on lots of individuals. It’s all about that timing and the situation in which you’re pushing the person out of their safe space into that group space. I spend a lot of time in my university career in bootcamp trying to encourage students to post on Stack Overflow and then I tend to give them my guide, and the standard over the guarantee protection. Someone gives you a hard one on stack over, I will go and slap them around and I will plus one you and star you and make sure that you get help forming the question in the right way.
I’ve been amazed personally because I have this blasé attitude over asking things in almost any context that I’ve been amazed over the years to discover that actually that something that people are so afraid. The number one fear ahead of time is talking in public and I love talking in public so much that I’m like, “What?” But through repeating countless for that thing actually probably the majority of the population it’s actually really painful for them to ask a question. I know this relates to some sort of human psychology or the education system that do we have around the world or what it is. But getting people out that natural, okay I’m just going to ask this, I’m not going to ask it, woah. One, I’m going to suffer in silence for 4-5, 20 hours before bashing my head in the keyboard and then give up. Okay, maybe we can get them away from that and then maybe I’ll ask quietly just one person.
You know, I think what I recognized is if you try and push people away from that comfort zone of the one to one question or the focus, they get very, very uncomfortable quickly and it’s about that timing. It’s about offering them that line of support when they’re originally reaching out as exactly as you’re saying, connecting it like this is a problem that everyone has. But then connecting it in a little bit of the time with the philosophy in open source on how the process of asking your question can actually be very powerful and very enabling and help the entire world to build about a future I know I’m talking in silly rhymes. You know what in mean, right?
Jerome: Yeah. It makes perfect sense.
Sam: Your insight that you thought that you being stupid, that’s actually the thing that going to help a person improve their software. That’s the incremental beautiful evolutionary way that all of this have been on software that we use in the great things gets built. It’s very difficult for the learner to believe that the first time around, they’ve got to hear that again and again and you can’t push it on them too hard or they’re just going like, “Who is this crazy British guy who’s trying to talk to me all times?” You know what I’m saying.
Jerome: I’ve been there. And just to take you back on one thing you say is that it’s kind of crazy that the number one problem in all like education are base industry so when it comes to technology education, technology companies or nonprofits seems to be students wanting to reach out on Stack Overflow. Like they are from profit goal school to the universities to the even non-profit such as yours, what I think is that the number one problem is new people reach out Stack Overflow and that fear of having Stack Overflow troll comment somebody deemed that question not smart enough. Do you have any type of prior is what we have like mentors that they can ask before they go Stack Overflow? They are asking us, we got that first line of offense with your mentors and these people answer questions that help you up your programming, things that nature before you go into the abyss of Stack Overflow. I don’t totally understand having your newbies going to Stack Overflow that totally start to be afraid that some might be a jerk to them. And once you had started solving that problem and that method as well.
Sam: One of the key things that our premium get is they get access to a separate private channel with the mentors there. I think what we see from that is that by creating that sort of semi-private space that actually helps people along the path. This was a difficult step for me because it was sort of antithetical to a whole open development thing that I was like, “I believe that this all needs to be open.” But I think it’s bearing fruits is by creating a stage series of different levels of privacy, you can actually help scuffle people to pull that part where they will get the confidence to ask anybody anything. Great question.
Jason: Are really people afraid to ask stuff on Stack Overflow?
Jerome: Yes. New developers are terrified of Stack Overflow. Several types of interviews of…
Charles: Jerome can you say that again? Just the last couple of seconds.
Jerome: My experiences with new troops are, I can’t say troops but new like developers for profit schools even when I talk to veterans to compare our program they are trying to go to beyond a path or going to a free program thing like that nature. There are so many horror stories about Stack Overflow developers attacking people who are not who aren’t well verse in this craft. It actually stopped a lot of people from joining the community. I’ve heard it from several women, several other representative minority groups where one of the things that turned them off has not been how hard our craft is but just interaction in my open spaces such as Stack Overflow being.
Jason: Let me offer the quick word of encouragement in case we have anybody listening who shares that same fear of posting stuff on Stack Overflow. Think of what kind of person is going to just go around squashing people’s questions and stuff on Stack Overflow. Like what kind of person who doesn’t have anything better to do than just post negative comments on people’s Stack Overflow questions, because I definitely have that same thing happened to me and I’ll be honest that it bothered me a little bit when I saw all these comments that people are saying that my question was dumb or whatever. They might not come out and say something quite like that but they’ll definitely be very tactless with some of their comments, but you need to grow a little bit of a thick skin, that’s just a general skill to have in general that will benefit you in your life. Don’t be afraid to do that thing that you need to do to get your job done to post a question on Stack Overflow just because you’re afraid somebody will say something mean about you and then consider the fact that these people posting these comments, they’re losers, for just posting these mean things about you. And also some of the things they say although they may not say it in a very nice way, it might be legitimate feedback, when you post a question, read your question before you post it and think like, “Okay am I describing the things that I’ve already tried? Am I including the full story of what it is that I’m trying to accomplish?” Not just really fine grain but what’s the overall thing that I’m trying to accomplish because having the skill of asking a good question is also really useful skill you have to.
Jerome: That’s one of the things we actually we’re having a lot of our troops write a blog post on it, we were out there and we did it and it worked really well and I was like, “I think that’s something that if you know how to ask question on Stack Overflow.” That Stack Overflow that keep you from attracting jerks. I’ve been there. I have to deal with these people who are being mean to newbies. I’ve seen it first hand when I was in New York and doing regional assembly I was like, “Wow, people really do this to people.” I’ve just seen a woman, she posted on Stack Overflow and just a swarm of negative comments. I was just like, “Wow, that was crazy.” You should go back to that first rule, rule of do no evil. Maybe that’s one thing that help us grow as well.
Jason: By the way there’s this quote every day like, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” If you’re afraid of putting yourself out there for fear of criticism, you’re going to get criticized just by being alive. Don’t be afraid on it.
Charles: One of the thing that I would like to just add to this is that a lot of times they are worried, “Is this a really stupid question to ask?” And the really stupid question to ask is the one you waited two hours to ask. In other words, just get it in and ask it. I don’t think there is a stupid question. Somebody might get in and say, “Hey the answer is on this other question on Stack Overflow.” Maybe you could’ve spent a couple of minutes looking for other answer.
But other than that, more than likely if you’re getting feedback that means anything, it’s we need to know this information too or we need you to go through this couple of troubleshooting steps or something like that. But even then, you’re learning every time you do it and so if you’re killing time and wasting a bunch of effort trying to figure something out that somebody can say, “Hey, here’s how to solve it in five minutes.” To me the stupid question is, it was stupid not to ask it.
Jerome: There is such thing as stupid question, for sure. I’ve see a lot of really dumb question on Stack Overflow but if you’re afraid that you’re asking a dumb question like invest some time into how not to ask a dumb question. There’s definitely approaches you can take and it’s a learnable skill to ask a good question.
Sam: I think it’s really a key. I’m not just going to connect there with drawn eye through the different university, the bootcamp loops and so on. There are definitely people who are really afraid of this, I think everything you’re saying there Jason is correct. To be alive is to be subject to criticism.
I think one of the things here that is the middle ground which is also being touched on, which it’s about the way which you ask the question. I think sometimes, particularly for relatively inexperienced developers but also experienced developers. We’re so aware of our context of what we’re doing, so aware of how this was difficult, that was difficult. When we frame the question, we fail to do that work which is to provide the surrounds which maximizes the chance that the person can help us and absolutely you said, that is such a valuable skill to learn and I think I certainly seen some situations where the feedback that has been received is about, it’s maybe [0:51:36.2] but it’s about probing to try and get that extra information but the person is in that learning situation whose for other reasons outside of work feeling like not so good or whatever. They can take back.
It’s about the time in the wrong place to receive that and the big thing really is to work with people to show how they can ask this questions in the right way in order to get the right response. Then once you’ve done that, that’s a real enable that allows people to stop feeling uninspired of confidence going up instead of one going down.
Jerome: I haven’t done the question about the Agile Ventures. What is the adoption rate or the scaling? How many people expect monthly end up joining the projects things with NHR. You guys getting away with the 20 people, 200 people, 5,000 people by asking some [0:52:34.6] in some places.
Sam: I would say that there since the start we’ve gone from a few members to over the last year, I would say like a credible core of 20 members and we’re seeing like an increase. We now got six or seven active projects which of each got 5 plus members involved. We’re not at the scale of the people who really actively working. We’re not yet more than a hundred people being really active, we get about 1,500 people looking at the site every month. It’s at a fairly small scale at the moment. That would be the trick, really, going forward is taking what we do and scaling it up.
I think that’s the potential Jason was asking before about where do we see them five or 10 years. I would like to see hundreds or thousands of projects. We got a further collaboration with UC Berkeley to create an online project course which will try and take the scale up another level next year. I think in principle, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t ultimately scale up indefinitely, it’s just you’ve got to have some infrastructure and support in place.
I think I’m just going to take it in a direction for one of the key things I’ve learned over the last year or two is that I think far more important than any heuristics like the solid principles or the design patterns or BDD or TDD. We have suggestions for ways of doing things XP and everything coming out of our ears as developers. It’s very, very easy for people to take a position and say, “You didn’t use this process or this problem.” And so what you’re doing is not wonderfully good.
The key thing for the success of this projects is actually all about the human being forgiving of each other and allowing the project to take its own course. I think it’s a bit like what they talk about the principle of two feet in the conference. It’s like if you’re really not enjoying the session that you’re in, right? Then go and stop another session.
Over the years we’ve seen some of this strong personality of clashed in different projects and so on. There’s no magic solution to that other than to allow people to drift towards the groups that they’re interested in and try to instill if you can across the whole panoply of projects, this idea that there is no one perfect right way to do thing. Every team should be able choose their own tools to try things out.
The one thing that we would be really worried if you didn’t have with this Agile Process of Reflection. If you’re not making a few changes and the looking about how that has affect positively or negatively to what you’re doing and then you’re starting to run into trouble. In the prospect we talk about, “Okay, we’re going to scale it. We impose this. This is the way to make this happen.”
I like to imagine this utopia of general support framework for all of these different projects going on that they’re all evolving the way they do things themselves and then having a chance to share with each other and learn from each other as it goes forth. Whether we let the scale that on a larger is an open question but it’s a fun problem to work on for the time being.
Jerome: I know we’re probably closed to start and have to do our picks something by nature. We’re kind of in the same field as well as Jason. He has an online education course from [0:56:28.0] JS framework with Rails. This is the future of education. I personally feel like it is people. Technology is changing and how people are interacting and education is that last frontier and I believe your organization is a remote first organization. Do you think that’s why the path that people are start going? “We don’t want to go to the process of having this physical infrastructure. We can go online and feel the infrastructure and community straight from the excel.” First question is about education. Second one was about do you think this is going to be the future about things going online first [0:57:16.0] education as well as the infrastructures for companies, organizations online in real life.
Sam: Great questions again. On the education side, I think personally for me because I would love to see it going that way because I’ve always struggled with an education system that tries to tell you things and then you memorize it and then you go to take it for an exam and this is so destroying. Does anybody like going to that process? There’s an aspect to which university of [0:57:52.0] giving you taste test of how different things to do. I’m the person who toss switches within a project. Rather than having three months of lectures where I do two hours of one thing here and two hours of other thing there, I would like to focus on one thing for a period.
Jason: There just checking bits of thin chance in this.
Sam: There’s no reason and principle why universities can’t do that. I also work with a group of instructors who use the MOOC materials around the world. A lot of college they adopted a bootcamp style they do that compressed course in three months. Whether the revolution they may come from the universities, I certainly love to see the education going that way to second part of your question which I think also is really interesting. I think that there’s actually an extraordinary possibility per revolution where we just deeper play the cities. People can become these digital nomads rather than having to do this horrible commutes in the center. Who wants to do that? It is incredibly empowering. As people get more and more familiar with the remotes on online technologies that’s a more possible designs to bear and if we’re lucky it’ll lead to a happier healthy workforce with people actually able to do things they find more meaningful. Fingers crossed.
Jerome: Every time I have to go into the city, a little piece of me dies.
Sam: I hear you. I hear you.
Jerome: When I’m going into Nashville it’s the saddest experience of my life. You guys don’t understand how depressed I am in the car. Five minutes away from my computer doing nothing productive, then moving from one spot to next for like 10, 15-minute meeting and usually because somebody is not comfortable using the technology. I definitely understand that whole pain of commuting, it makes me, just thinking about it I mean to say. Yesterday I have to go 45 minutes for a 15-minute meeting.
Jason: How many people are listening to this on their commute.
Sam: I believe that podcast make the commute bearable. I’m relatively recently into podcast and I think they are amazingly beautiful thing.
Jerome: Podcast and games. What I heard are the top two things that people do while commuting. I was like people who are listening to us are either in the bathroom or going to point a to point b or working out.
Charles: Or doing the dishes.
Jason: Exercise or doing dishes. I didn’t see chores;]. I have to look at that list again. Someone’s either using bathroom or travelling.
Jerome: Maybe there’s a doctor somewhere performing appendectomy while listening to this episode.
Sam: I guess I hope not because I would love to think he was really focused on this one thing. We’re having an exciting discussion here. I don’t want to distract.
Jason: I want the doctor to be doing something just like having 200% focus on the person you cut open right now.
Jerome: For all the doctors out there if you’re doing an appendectomy, focus in the patient okay?
Charles: Speaking of the patient I think we have gotten ourselves distracted a little bit. Let’s go ahead and do picks. Jason, do you want to start us off with picks?
Jason: Sure. I got two picks. My first pick is a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I listened to the audio version which I thought was great. It’s narrated by the author. Just a quick snippet from the book, he talked about the difference. Flow is about getting into flow state where you lose track of time and you’re just really into what you’re doing and how to get into the flow state. One of the most interesting parts I found about that book was the difference between enjoyment and pleasure. Pleasure might be when you’re watching TV or something like that. Enjoyment is when you’re engaged in maybe in some kind of skill based activity and it’s a different kind of thing. That was just a really interesting book. I listened to the whole thing a lot of time just because I thought it was so great.
My other pick is me. I’m a consultant and I’m hirable to write code and I also do mentorship and training and stuff like that. And I have some availability coming up potentially in January 2017 to work with a client. If you’re interested in talking with me about that send me email at jason@benfranklinlabs and we could talk.
Charles: Awesome. Jerome, What are your picks?
Jerome: Alright. I was made sure I got all my picks playing out. My first pick I never talked about this before by reading it again. I’m absolutely loving this called Dataclysm. Based to the one of the founders of Okay Cupid and it talks about how a data is so important to our life, just like the idea like Francis looking at his app right now every year, 200 couples are married, they have met on OkCupid and those worked 50%, had kids. There’s a hundred kids out there that their parents met at OkCupid every year. It’s an amazing book, really just changing how you look at life.
Another pick is Remote a book by DHH. We recently have him as an AMA for our troops for talking about his book and just his process of how he gets so much crap done and we realized that a lot of that have to do with the fact that he does not leave his house. That is another pick but especially if you’re looking to go into a remote business that are going to returning your company into remote. Just so much information a lot of turn how to use the remote working environment to your advantage. Dataclysm and Remote would be my two picks.
Charles: Awesome. I’m going to go and jump in here with a couple of picks. The first one is an app the o found at Google Drive which I’d been using more and more. Google Drive and this app too. It’s called MindMup. It’s a mind mapping tool and it just sits right on top of Google Drive. It’s really cool. If you do mind mapping as part of your process for something, then go check it out. It’s mindmup.com. Really enjoying that.
And then the other thing that I’m going to pick is, I’ve mentioned a few times on the show that I set a goal to listen to everything on audible that was recorded by Zig Ziglar who is a motivational speaker, a success coach kind of guy. He passed away few years ago but they’ve got a hundred and something hours of content on there. And I basically bought everything that didn’t look like it was a duplicate. If there was courtship after marriage and the new courtship after marriage. I just got the new courtship after marriage but I’ve been listening lately to his Born to Win seminar and if you listen to a lot of his other stuff, you’re going to get a lot of repeated content but this is like 15 hours of just here’s how to be a successful person and it’s terrific. I’m going to pick Born to Win Seminar on audible by Zig Ziglar. Sam, what are your picks?
Sam: Okay, yeah thanks. I’m going to start off with the technical one this gem called Rail Rody. Which is, it basically works with Rails and it will draw a data model and controller map automatically from your existing models and controllers and I found that really useful in terms of that legacy projects. Looking in there. Even just stuff that I’ve been working on myself and it has got a little bit out of control. Rail Rody that’s the guy Preston on Github. I really recommend checking that out. That’s a good gem.
I’m cutting the science fiction things. I got anthology like the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft recently and I read through that and it was one sickly haven’t read before called The Shadow out of Time. I pick H.P. Lovecraft generally but particularly this Shadow out of Time is. One of the things I love about anthology is about his early work. I would say that this Shadow out of Time is his pinnacle. I will not say anything else, just read it. It’s just a short story. Fantastic.
And then the final, there is book that I’ve got and it is called Genestealer Cults by Peter Fehervari. I’m pronouncing his name incorrectly but there is a table talk, fantasy game [1:08:10.0] here in the UK from games workshop which I used to play when I was younger and I’m reliving some of that by reading these novels. Setting this universe. And I like the sub pick there. I’m going to pick the Tyranids who are this like… Just look them up at Wikipedia. They are like an insane race. I’m reliving some of my old those dragons, teens workshop days with all that.
Charles: Alright. Before we wrap up, Sam, if people want to follow you, find out what you’re doing, see what you’re tweeting about. Where do they go?
Sam: Yeah. agileventures.org is the site. My online name is Tansaku. Done that on Github. That with an extra ‘u’ on twitter. They do have my name stolen. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you sign up for membership at agileventures.org site, you can live by to our Slack and then just got to hit me up on Slack. Because I am, as I mentioned before, a bit of an addict.
Charles: Alright. We’ll go ahead and wrap up the show. Thank you for coming and we’ll catch everyone next week.
Sam: Thanks for having me.