33. Role Models

October 31, 2017

Today on the show we will be talking about tech role models. Inside this episode we are going to be discussing people who we want to be when we grow up, who we strive to be, and who we want to work with. We have curated a list and we are going to get down to it. Join in as we dive deeper into what we look for in a role model within the tech industry, the important characteristics that makes a great role model, and how to mirror the teaching styles of your favorite role models to help teach others.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • What to look for in a role model in the tech industry.
  • How great role model build community and make learning accessible.
  • Why you should learn a new program every year.
  • The reason why the best inventions come out of great teams.
  • Busting the myth of the loan genius.
  • How communities and support equip leaders to grow faster.
  • Using a mirroring approach to teaching newly gained knowledge.
  • The role of obstacles in shaping and defining “heroes”.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 33. Role Models

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in Fabulous Chelsey in Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Today we have.

[0:00:09.5] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:11.6] EG: Emmanuel Genard.

[0:00:13.1] MN: And a new Stride hire.

[0:00:14.5] ME: Meredith Edwards.

[0:00:16.3] MN: Today we’ll be talking about tech role models. We’ll be discussing people who we want to be when we grow up and become even more awesomer developers and consultants and who we strive to be and who we want to work — Also, who we want to work with, right? I imagine these are people you may potentially want to be pairing with. It’s probably like the most amazing thing. We have a list we curated and we’re going to get down to it.

[0:00:41.2] DA: Yeah, definitely. Some pretty inspirational people here.

[0:00:45.0] EG: I’m excited.

[0:00:45.8] MN: Yeah. Well, I guess I’ll ask, what do you guys look for in a role model in the tech space, in the tech world?

[0:00:55.9] DA: I really love it when someone is committed to like building community and like, you know, they have knowledge, they have an experience that they want to share and they’re just really good at giving back and the only thing open and you know, just being generally all-star humans. You know, the Twitter.

[0:01:16.3] MN: That would be a Twitter?

[0:01:17.1] DA: Yeah, just Twitter.

[0:01:18.7] EG: Yeah, you know, I want to jump off what Dave said because the people who I really admiring, they have been teachers in a way, right? Not in necessarily like a school teacher per se but they’ve been people who sought to help other people be better at what they do and to really like maybe push — one special person like Alan Kay really want to push like humanity forward. That’s his aim and so…

[0:01:44.0] DA: Yeah, who is Xerox Parc, right? Research.

[0:01:48.1] EG: Research, invented small talk, not invented small talk, was part of the team that invented small talk and which is probably what we would call the first object oriented language which is like all the other ideas that we find object-oriented language started there.

[0:02:02.6] DA: This is some deep thoughts.

[0:02:04.3] EG: Yeah, also, but wanted to make — in his mind, the computer revolution was when everybody from like first grade on learn how to program and also and then just learn how to use the computer but had learned how to make the computer tool that helped them think and augment human intellect would be the phrase that we would bandied about.

[0:02:25.3] DA: I love hearing those white papers from the 60’s like people imagining what the future’s going to be like and how this device is going to be integrated into your life. It’s going to be like a filing cabinet for everything. Amazing.

[0:02:39.5] MN: Just the filing cabinet.

[0:02:41.3] DA: Just the filing cabinet. Like a rolodex.

[0:02:43.4] MN: There you go. Meredith, do you have anyone in mind you want to open up the space with?

[0:02:48.0] ME: Oh yeah, I would love to open up the space with Sandi Metz and Katrina Owen.

[0:02:58.6] MN: That like it. Sandi Metz is awesome though.

[0:03:00.8] ME: Yes, I mentioned both of them as a pair because I’m a Bootcamp grad, I graduated from Flatiron School and I heard about Sandi Metz a lot and I bought a copy of the book.

[0:03:12.1] DA: Which book? Yes. Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby.

[0:03:17.3] ME: Yes.

[0:03:18.5] DA: And design?

[0:03:19.4] EG: Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby.

[0:03:21.1] ME: Yes.

[0:03:22.3] MN: Wait, Dave, you don’t have that tattooed on your back?

[0:03:25.6] DA: Yeah.

[0:03:26.9] MN: Did you miss that one?

[0:03:28.8] DA: No, but I have read, I got some good shape from that book.

[0:03:31.4] ME: Yeah. Yes, that is just Sandi’s book but last year maybe, recently though, she, Sandi Metz and Katrina Owen authored a book together called 99 Bottles of Object Oriented Programming.

[0:03:45.5] EG: I just finished that book Monday.

[0:03:47.0] ME: Yes. It’s incredible and what I love about this book is this is the first programming book that I ever read that you don’t begin by reading, you begin by completing a coding exercise and the entire book after that is talking about different solutions to the coding exercise. So when I think about heroes, I think about people who, like Emmanuel and like Dave, care about teaching and community but also make learning accessible.

So, that to me was like, it was like, they didn’t care so much about showing how brilliant and smart they are. They cared about the reader leaving brilliant and smart.

[0:04:33.5] DA: Yeah.

[0:04:34.3] ME: I like that, yeah.

[0:04:36.4] EG: It was amazing.

[0:04:38.0] DA: They’re really great communicators. I love Sandi’s talks too. Like, All the Little Things. Is that what it’s called?

[0:04:43.3] EG: Yes.

[0:04:45.5] ME: Yes.

[0:04:46.2] DA: I never said it out loud and I’m like, “Wait, that’s like a Blink 182 song. That is Blink 182 song.”

[0:04:51.2] ME: Yeah.

[0:04:51.9] DA: Yeah, that’s just such a great talk, it had me like riveted. I’m like, “Why am I riveted about refactoring? Thank you Sandi.”

[0:04:59.5] EG: It’s so amazing until I get all the – When I was going to App Academy, because I went through a bootcamp like Meredith, and I used to just watch Sandi Metz’s talks over and over. I would scour YouTube looking for anything that was recorded by Sandi Metz. Yeah, it was great.

[0:05:22.8] MN: Cool. Yeah, I mean, Sandi Metz is definitely on everyone’s top person to be when they grow up.

[0:05:28.7] DA: Yeah, people who listen to the podcast, regulars would not be strangers to us talking about Sandi.

[0:05:33.4] EG: Talking about Sandi, yeah.

[0:05:35.7] MN: I think when I first started programming in Rubi as a Java developer, the name of the book escapes me, but the first Ruby book I’ve ever read was Ruby book written by David Black.

[0:05:48.7] EG: Well-Grounded

[0:05:48.8] MN: Yeah, Well-Grounded Rubyist by David. I feel so bad not remembering it on the spot. If we had our editors, we’ll add that — no, you don’t have to. Yeah, Well-Grounded Rubyist was an amazing book to learn Ruby. Especially after coming from a Java background and like since then I’ve always been very interested in like the thoughts that David Black has on the Ruby community who is another individual who like really cares about growing the community to learn better Ruby practices to become better developers overall.

[0:06:21.4] DA: Yeah. Be more fully aware of the implications of commas.

[0:06:26.3] EG: I have something in the teach and learn section today actually.

[0:06:30.1] DA: Yeah, let’s do it.

[0:06:31.8] MN: Awesome. But David Black is the ruby person I had in mind weren’t thinking about this stuff.

[0:06:37.8] DA: Yeah. Another big one is Martin Fowler. We’ve talked a lot about him and his numerous and lengthy blog posts on testing and other topics of agile importance.

[0:06:49.7] MN: I actually seen him give a talk live at one of the clients that I was working on, it was just amazing to hear like him answering questions about being a consultant, being a programmer. I think I mentioned it before in a previous episode, but something that struck to me in that talk is the idea that everyone should learn a new programming language once a year, just to keep your mind in that learning phase, just to better understand how to solve problems in different languages.

Since then, I think I wrote a blogpost about it after hearing it, it’s just been like a great thought to have because you can program I ruby for three years but then if you actually learn how to solve similar problem in Ruby and then like an Elixir and then Small Talk like you have a different way of thinking how to solve a similar problem, functionally and object oriented, and what not. It was really a good like piece of advice to have as a programmer.

[0:07:45.7] DA: Keeps you in a growth mindset.

[0:07:49.3] EG: One of the other – we’ve talked about people who have built community and because of that but one of the person who has really inspired me has been Bret Victor because of his vision of what programming could be. One of his famous, it’s not really a blog post, like an article in his website called Learnable Programming.

What he goes through is explaining how like the people in the 60’s and 70’s really thought program would be further along than it is now. They really believed it would be way further along, it would be like simpler, we wouldn’t be writing text anymore, more or less, right?

[0:08:24.1] DA: Oh no, we’ve let them down.

[0:08:27.7] EG: He kind of reignited that vision and through several like talks and articles and we’re in about like the possibilities of programming, it really kind of lit like a fire inside of my brain of like, “Oh, this could be so much more than it is right now.” There’s different ways of doing this, people in the 60’s and 70’s really had, really innovative and like unique things that kind of just kind of fell by the wayside because they weren’t like going to be better spreadsheets or like sales of other things. They were really powerful ideas that I think he’s working on now because he is in a human something research group funded by Y Combinator that’s doing really interesting things.

[0:09:16.5] DA: Oh so he’s still very active in the community? That’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, I guess, like one of the things I was pretty cool in the 60’s is that everything was kind of unbounded with imagination, like maybe like less practical. I feel like in some ways, we’ve kind of like explored this phase of like relational databases like spreadsheets and whatever.

It’s very real, even the internet feels very real. But the one field that I think is like, kind of growing and so very exciting and especially in learning and there’s this company called data kind that one of the founders is Jake Portway. He’s kind of an inspiration to me because like, you know, he’s taking this really exciting technology, exciting and scary maybe in some ways. Then like, taking that and getting people to focus that towards good causes, helping government run more efficiently and also like, you know, applying it to helping those who are disadvantaged.

[0:10:15.3] ME: Yeah. You saying that, Dave, makes me want to ask a question, which is, do you guys feel like you’re more attracted to people in this industry or are you drawn to models based off of really cool products that they build? Or redefining the way that software teams might work together to build something not so exciting.

[0:10:41.1] MN: That’s an interesting question. I mean, I think I have like, I think I mentioned David Black who is someone who will probably like one, it’s a build, you know, an extensive community and to grow a big one I guess.

But I guess the other person that I have in mind is probably like, Kent Beck who is a written XP Explained.

[0:11:00.2] EG: And he had a bunch of other books.

[0:11:01.4] MN: I know that, a lot of them but I know that’s the one that I like look at where it’s like, “Okay, this is not really about programming but it’s about like a thought process that you can use to then excel whatever team that you're on.”

Even if it is like a boring product, I guess, if you want to call it that, you could do it in an XP fashion that will then teach the team on how to be more extreme programmer-like. I think Kent Beck is probably like the other person that answers that question.

[0:11:31.0] DA: It’s like I guess like, the Darth Vader of Kent Beck, it might be like Steve Jobs where it’s like, all products, just all the time.

[0:11:38.4] MN: All the time.

[0:11:39.3] DA: Turtle necks.

[0:11:40.9] MN: There you go.

[0:11:41.1] ME: Yeah.

[0:11:42.6] DA: Just pure personality where it’s like, I think we’ve been talking a lot about people are like focused on community rather than like building a specific thing.

[0:11:49.8] ME: Yeah.

[0:11:51.3] EG: I wonder if it necessarily needs to be mutually exclusive because it seems to me like the really best things, like best inventions come out of great teams. You know with Apple things, like Steve Jobs was front and center a lot of times but reading about the company, they have amazing teams that worked together in that company, right?

[0:12:16.6] DA: Yeah, in their donut-shaped office.

[0:12:17.2] EG: Yeah, and their donut-shaped office. Yeah, they have all these amazing teams like for instance.

[0:12:21.8] ME: Octagon.

[0:12:22.6] EG: There’s this famous thing about the original Map draw where it was just six engineers who came up with this drawing thing for like 1981 or 1982 or something. That was so influential like for like 20 years afterwards and that was a part of the team and it’s still like — I mean, I don’t believe in the myth of the lone genius.

[0:12:46.4] ME: I totally agree with you, yeah.

[0:12:49.0] EG: I really don’t.

[0:12:49.6] ME: Yeah, I agree 100%.

[0:12:51.0] MN: The lone genius being the person who is the only one, the smartest person in the room at all times or?

[0:12:56.2] EG: Yeah, you know that idea of like the person who is going to sit in their — in front of the computer late into the night by themselves and have this brilliant idea that no one else would have thought of ever. Even if you look at the history of scientific improvement, it’s usually a couple of people come for the same idea in different places at the same time.

[0:13:14.9] MN: Right.

[0:13:15.8] EG: It’s usually because — and the people who come up with the idea are in the community of other scientists around this, talking about the same thing and so the ideas aren’t like born out of nothing, they grow out of the soil of the other people they’re around of the ideas that are being shared there.

[0:13:32.3] DA: Have you read The Innovators?

[0:13:34.4] EG: No, that’s like a book on the history of computers and their development and it goes through all these different branching paths of like possibilities that happened and I mean, there are numerous people that we could talk about in this book who could be role models like Alan Kay is in that book, you have Charles Babidge and like Grace Hopper and all those people. But like, one of the things about Charles Babidge and some of the people who had kind of failed branches of the computing hierarch is that they were like lone geniuses. They’re like, “I got this, don’t worry about it.” Just going into your basement and really communicating whereas other people were like more collaborative and open and working on a team.

[0:14:14.6] ME: Yeah, I forget who said this but it reminds me of the saying, “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.

[0:14:25.0] EG: Yeah.

[0:14:27.4] DA: I’ve definitely seen that on like a motivational poster or something like that.

[0:14:32.4] MN: This I like survival tips for the zombie apocalypse.

[0:14:34.1] DA: Like there’s a whole bunch of puppies on it or something strange.

[0:14:36.9] MN: Or the running cat in the grass, that’s usually a good one too.

[0:14:40.4] ME: Yeah.

[0:14:40.6] DA: That’s wonderful. Yeah, I guess like even, maybe it was unfair to call Steve Jobs Darth Vader or think of him as a lone genius. Although, there’s like a certain cool personality like, he was a big believer in the structuring the workplace and the teams so that good things could happen.

[0:14:59.6] EG: I guess we’re all really like enamored people who build community and who actually – because I feel like out of a good community like individuals can shine brighter. I know it sounds cheesy like a motivational poster but with that support, it is easier for that person. For some of the people that we’ve listed so far to have popped out of that, you know, they grew. I said that’s the best, they grew out of that.

[0:15:29.6] ME: Yeah.

[0:15:32.2] EG: So we’ve been talking about all these people that we admire and how they’ve built community or have worked to build community. For instance like what about say Sandi Metz, which everyone is a fan here that we try like you would take into your work day to day like we go to clients, is there anything that we – any practices, anything she does that we try to do it ourselves?

[0:15:57.0] DA: I mean I think for Sandi there’s kind of this empathy and wanting kindness and curiosity to whatever she’s doing. It’s always very approachable and human even though we are talking about computers all the time. So I think that is something that I would aspire to.

[0:16:17.6] MN: Yeah I just find myself getting all of the knowledge on refactoring and like the information that I got from POODR and see how I can use it. Because right now I’m not doing any Ruby work but even the ideas of like knowing like coat smells and winter effect and stuff like that are things that I would more than happy to help the client through a refactor and ask to why it’s important and like where did I get it from if I happen to remember particular chapter or whatever in POODR I would direct a client developer on that. But I do think just like the teaching style and how I was able to gain that knowledge, I try to use that very same method to teach someone else as well.

[0:16:59.9] DA: Yeah kind of mirroring it.

[0:17:01.3] MN: Yeah.

[0:17:02.0] DA: For the technical knowhow.

[0:17:03.3] ME: Yeah. One thing I really admire about Sandi is that she is completely herself and in POODR, I saw this in the examples she used. She talks a lot about bikes. She’s an avid cyclist and I feel like both of the books she has written, POODR and 99 Bottles of OOP are pretty much completely different from any other programming books I have read and I like that the sense that I get from her is that she’s not afraid to make something simple.

And it’s so hard to take something that can get really complicated and messy like object oriented programming and put it in a book that makes sense to somebody, I don’t know like a mid-junior level all the way up to something valuable for a senior engineer. Yeah, I like that fearless approach of "I’m going to deliver value to my reader and that’s my number one priority”.

[0:18:09.1] EG: That is brilliant, yeah. It really is.

[0:18:14.1] MN: Yeah, I guess I have to read 99 Bottles out there.

[0:18:17.4] ME: Oh yeah.

[0:18:18.1] MN: Because right now it’s like okay Sandi Metz is a bike enthusiast and alcoholic, that’s what I’m getting. I’m sure she’s not. She’s a lovely individual with reasoning’s as to why 99 Bottles. Maybe it’s water, which is — I’ll just us water for now.

[0:18:36.3] EG: It could be water.

[0:18:37.0] ME: Yeah.

[0:18:37.3] MN: I’ll have to pick up that book for sure.

[0:18:39.0] DA: Mescal maybe.

[0:18:40.3] MN: Yeah, bottles of Mescal yeah. I mean I’m sure after the third 97 bottles of beer on the wall — yeah, that will definitely change your way of programming in OOP.

[0:18:51.2] ME: She might, I don’t know if Sandi is still doing this but I got my copy of 99 Bottles of OOP by writing a postcard and delivering it to whatever address she put on her site. Did you know about that Emmanuel?

[0:19:05.8] EG: I didn’t, I just bought it.

[0:19:07.1] ME: Yeah. This was when I was still – she hadn’t even released the last chapter yet and she was looking for beta users I think.

[0:19:15.3] MN: Oh nice, send a postcard. Well I don’t know if this is a good idea but send a postcard to your role model maybe you’ll get something out of it.

[0:19:24.7] ME: Yeah, that’s always a good idea.

[0:19:27.0] MN: Or not, I don’t know? But they are going to hate us, I’m sorry but thank you I guess, I don’t know.

[0:19:33.1] DA: Yep, everyone is getting postcards.

[0:19:36.7] EG: I think one of the things that makes people heroes honestly and also makes people heroes on my eyes are the obstacles that you might have had to have overcome to get to where they are. One of the people that they can’t probably have a lot of obstacles is Coraline Ada Ehmke. I’ve been following her from a podcast I believe Ruby Rogues for a while and then I read about what happened at GitHub, which she posted recently. So is there any role models that anyone can think of that have inspired them because they have kind of have things to overcome?

[0:20:10.6] ME: Oh yeah, the one thing that comes to mind first is a woman named Andrea Goulet and for her personally, I mean she came into the tech scene, software scene late and she had a long career in marketing. So it’s always, I mean, there are a fair amount of obstacles to overcome as a career changer. But in general, the business she runs is a consultancy called Corgibytes and they work exclusively on legacy code. So yeah, I mean their whole business model is about overcoming obstacles because of that. 

[0:20:50.2] DA: Their projects leaning into it.

[0:20:51.7] ME: Yeah and it’s incredible. So they have a podcast too, I can’t remember. I think it’s Legacy Code Rocks or something like that.

[0:20:59.7] DA: Oh my gosh, I got to check this out.

[0:21:01.4] ME: Oh yeah, you have to. But I feel like she runs the company with her husband but they’ve single-handedly transformed how I think about legacy code and I’m sure they’ve done way more for all of their clients.

[0:21:13.1] MN: I think I need to subscribe into some legacy codes stuff, because I’ve seen some really, really, really nice, "nice legacy" code and we’d like to see the spin that you mentioned before.

[0:21:26.6] EG: Code that does the needful, right?

[0:21:27.9] MN: Yeah, things that function names that save do the needful? Wow those always surprise me all the time.

[0:21:37.2] ME: What? I’ve worked on one of those code bases. Oh yeah.

[0:21:38.7] MN: Yeah, we all have.

[0:21:42.6] DA: I mean code tells a story. People were trying to get things done at the time and they had to – they did what they could with the tools that they had at the time.

[0:21:52.4] EG: They did the needful then.

[0:21:54.0] DA: The needful, right.

[0:21:54.7] MN: Exactly that’s a good way to look at it. It looks like someone has been listening to that Legacy Rocks, I just live this life so.

[0:22:04.5] ME: Yeah, no I completely agree with you Dave about people doing the best they could at the time with what they had and this – oh you were talking about, I forget what you said but I was reminded of when I heard Andrea on a podcast and she was talking about how she really believes in this thing called Conway’s Law and basically, from what I understand Conway’s Law says that a companies code base mirrors how well their communication is. So yeah.

[0:22:39.4] DA: Yeah, mirrors like their organizational structure.

[0:22:41.8] ME: Yes, you probably know it better than I do.

[0:22:44.4] DA: I don’t know with that, but I have definitely seen it in action. I mean, if you have two different teams working on a code base then you are going to have two different fault lines. Or like have a fault line between the two, or if you have separate operations team from your actual day to day, getting things done team then that will cause fault lines too. Or growth teams versus like features teams. Yeah, Conway. He’s a smart man. I guess he should have been on this list too.

[0:23:17.7] MN: Cool. So we just went through a lengthy list of tech role models. I imagine that our listeners will also have a list of them. I would love to hear what other people had in mind and please don’t kill us if we forgot your favorite. I’m sure we’re trying to finish it, trying to get this list in, in less than 30 minutes, which is probably…

[0:23:40.8] DA: Yeah I was going to say, although it’s lengthy, I’m thinking of more like minute by minute as we speak so I’m sure everyone else has a bunch.

[0:23:46.5] MN: Don’t feel bad if you weren’t mentioned, we probably still love – we still love you, not probably, we still love you. Please keep contributing to the community and being awesome. We need more software developers in the world and for the cause and for the good of the people, of humankind.

[0:24:03.6] EG: I would love to have more role models.

[0:24:05.5] MN: Yeah, that’s always good and you may be one, you just don’t know about it. Just continue to be awesome and follow those role models so that you too can become role model yourself.

Do we have any Teach & Learn we want to talk about?

[0:24:18.7] EG: Yes, I have an interesting puzzle for anyone who writes Ruby. Open up IRBR Pry, assign a variable. Say, num = 1, put a comma, hit enter put num two = equals two and before you hit enter, again, guess what num it will be and guess what num two will be. Hit us up @radiofreerabbit.

[0:24:39.5] MN: Awesome. I’ll take some time to do that myself and hopefully we get some responses as to what actually happens when you throw commas into your variable names.

[0:24:49.9] EG: And when you’re signing a variable, playing around with comas.

[0:24:52.9] MN: Oh gosh. Yeah, cool. I’d like to thank my cohost, Dave, thanks for stopping on down. Our regular guest, Emmanuel, always good having you around.

[0:25:02.5] EG: Yup, thank you.

[0:25:04.1] MN: And our new guest, Meredith, thank you for stopping on down. Great to have you.

[0:25:08.3] ME: Thank you guys so much.

[0:25:09.9] MN: Please hit us up with the answer to the questions Emmanuel have mentioned before and if you just want to reach us on Twitter.com/radiofreerabbit. I’m Michael Nunez and this is The Rabbit Hole, we’ll see you next time.

Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Sandi Metz

Sandi’s book, Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby

Katrina Owen

99 Bottles of Object Oriented Programming

All the Little Things Talk

App Academy

Well-Grounded Rubyist

Martin Fowler

Bret Victor

Learnable Programming

Y Combinator


Jake Portway

Kent Beck, Extreme Programming Explained

The Innovators

Coraline Ada Ehmke

Ruby Rogues

Andrea Goulet


Legacy Code Rocks Podcast