Mentoring as an engineering manager

In this episode, I talk to Jess Rose, who specializes in community building, outreach, and developing better processes for talent in technology.

We also talk about:
  • her process of mentoring other developers – from junior to senior – via online 1 on 1
  • how managers can and cannot advocate for their team
  • how mobile devices are omnipresent as development devices, yet they come with a lot of challenges,
  • and code reviews and the importance of a shared language.
Picture of Jess Rose
About Jess Rose
Jess Rose, specializes in community building, outreach, and developing better processes for talent in technology.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Mergify the faster and safer way to merge your code.

Read the whole episode "Mentoring as an engineering manager" (Transcript)

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

[00:00:00] Dr. McKayla Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I'm your host, Dr. McKayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Jess Rose. Jess is a technology professional and keynote speaker specializing in community building outreach and developing better processes for talented technology. She is passionate about fostering more equal access to technical education, and digital spaces.

But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today's episode Mergify. You know, I'm all about code reviews and pull requests. Having your teammates review your code can be super beneficial, but it also can create a bottleneck and slow down your software development. With Mergify, your team can be way more productive with GitHub. Mergify automates all about merging pull requests, you can specify the merge conditions, and Mergify will take care of the rest. Do you want a specific order for merging the pull requests? Should one PR be prioritized? Or do you need a copy of the PR and another branch for bug fixing? No problem. Mergify can take care of all those situations. By saving time, you and your team can focus on projects that matter. Mergify integrates completely with GitHub and your CI pipeline. They have a startup program that could give your company a 12-month credit up to $21,000 of value. Start saving time, visit Mergify.com to sign up for a demo and get started or just click the link in the show notes.

I'm super, super thrilled to have Jess here with me. Jess, welcome to the show.

[00:01:38] Jess Rose Oh, gosh. And I'm absolutely delighted to be here when you said hey, do you want to come and talk about teaching and learning? Oh, I'm just going to be insufferable. Thank you so much.

[00:01:48] Dr. McKayla I'm really excited because I'm following you on Twitter. And I see that you're creating spaces for people to learn to get better to grow. Right. So there are a couple of things that I want to touch base on today with you. One is the 1-1s that you're offering. So maybe, maybe let's get started with that. Because I see you from time to time you say, you know, I have some time available, why not hop over on a call, and I can help you with some career advice? How's it going? What do you do with people? What kind of people are you know picking up on that?

[00:02:27] Jess Rose So I've been doing this for about, I looked the other day because I do, I do keep records and privacy-preserving records just like, oh, what kinds of things am I talking to people about? And I've been doing this for about eight years now. So just broke 1700 folks I've talked to over the years.

[00:02:40] Dr. McKayla Wow.

[00:02:40] Jess Rose And you would think oh, it's going to be mostly juniors or mostly people trying to break into tech. But just the absolute vastness of experience is so dazzling and exciting and strange to me. I don't see myself as especially well suited to give great advice. But on these calls, people are almost never asking for actual advice. So a lot, most of it's just, I'd like to be heard and I'd like someone to confirm that my experience is unusual or isn't unusual. Or getting sort of a level check for a different area saying, Hey, I'm based in this region, and I'm looking for work in your region. What's that like? What's the experience like? What's the process like? I actually documented the whole process out because I want, I definitely want other people to be doing this if you feel like it. No pressure. And it's on my GitHub. So GitHub.com/JessicaRose. And it should be right on there as 1-1s.

[00:03:37] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I saw that. I saw that on your Twitter feed. So it tells us how to do those 1-1s and how to, what questions to ask, and so on?

[00:03:46] Jess Rose Yeah. And mostly just about the tooling. So how to get it scheduled, how to get that sorted? And then because I'm a weirdo, how to get the records of who chatted to you deleted if you want to, like, yeah, I wouldn't keep notes on somebody who doesn't want me to keep notes.

[00:04:00] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And I think it's good for privacy as well, right?. If people I don't know which topics, they are coming to you, but I mean, some of them might be private, and you know, especially if you're having maybe, like, I think if you need advice, you're very often not such a good place, right? Probably more than being in a great place where you think, well, everything figured out, you know, things are going smooth than you're seldomly reaching out to other people. It would be like I'm bragging now to you. You're more probably reaching out if you have some problems with your team maybe or getting a job or something like this. Is that what people talk to you about in the sessions?

[00:04:41] Jess Rose So anything from, Hey, am I getting paid right? To, Oh, I'm getting screamed at a lot at work. Is this normal? So a lot of them are sort of, oh, gosh, but a lot of times folks just want to explore what's going on next. I've managed people a lot in my career. And one of the things that I always, I always have a difficult time with, and I hope other managers do, too, is how do you deal with the conflict? And there's always going to be conflict between what's best to the individual person you're managing, and what's best for the company because those are those, And one of the big things I push when I do manage people is, hey, do you have someone external to the company to give you good advice when I can't? Or I shouldn't give you the advice that's best for you?

[00:05:31] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, it's a conflict, right? Because obviously, you don't want to lose that person. But you see that they're outgrowing, you know, maybe the position?

[00:05:42] Jess Rose Oh, I really just want to chase this up a minute. I'm always like, you don't want to lose somebody, like, you don't want somebody to move on for your team because they were unhappy or mistreated. This is definitely from me being a teacher for too long. I'm always pretty excited when somebody graduates up out of a team I run. Like, of course, you want to make sure that people have space to grow, of course, you want to be actively making sure there's career progression and more things to learn. But and especially in a job market, like right now, sometimes people like oh, cool, I could make a bigger salary jump, or I could make a bigger title jump by leaving. And I'm always pretty chill with that.

[00:06:24] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah. Me too. And my husband is also managing a bunch of people. And but I see tension there, right? So I think he's always really behind the people. But then upper management would be, yeah, but you know.

[00:06:38] Jess Rose The business case for retention.

[00:06:40] Dr. McKayla Yeah, exactly. Right. And the same for, for example, giving your raise, right. And I think, especially maybe the managers, you know, that are really like first line, they are more for the people because they have like some personal relationship, and then one level up, it's already like, yeah, but you know, we don't have the budget or we don't want or we believe we can still keep that person, you know, for this for this cheaper?

[00:06:38] Jess Rose Oh, well, you know, let's give it another quarter or two and wait and see.

[00:07:08] Dr. McKayla Yeah, exactly, right?

[00:07:10] Jess Rose Baffling.

[00:07:11] Dr. McKayla How do you do that as a manager? How do you speak up for your, for your people, or for your team? And how do you deal with that conflict as well?

[00:07:22] Jess Rose So I think that's a really challenging one because I think that the conflict there is still the same. What do you do as an individual manager when the yeah, when your contractual, your fiduciary duties to your company, run counter to your individual ethical responsibilities to the people you manage? And or what happens when there's a conflict between the needs of an individual and the needs of a team? And it's not a good answer. And it's not a reassuring answer. But it depends. If somebody is facing treatment that feels unfair, or targeted, or they're in a position that I, generally, if somebody is in a position I'm not okay with being much more lovingly strident around, hey, this is a topic I would really bring to your external mentor as well, and then setting really clear limits internally about what, even as a manager, you are and aren't willing to do. So somebody saying, Oh, you get the idea that, Oh, maybe we want to manage so and so out, go ahead and write them up for stuff that the rest of the team routinely does. You still have consent as a manager. So you could say, like, yeah, no, I won't work in a space that involves maybe this kind of behavior.

[00:08:45] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, I think this is really important that we are standing up for our own ethics and for our own beliefs and value and, you know, also behind our, you know, our people that we, you know, I think we have a responsibility as well for and yeah, so I yeah, I can totally see that.

[00:09:05] Jess Rose It's easy to say in this kind of job market in the West as well. I think, are you based perhaps in Europe as well?

[00:09:12] Dr. McKayla Yes. Yeah.

[00:09:13] Jess Rose Because, like, these days for many European job markets in tech, finding a new job feels to many people who are established for juniors or people getting your first job, it is hard. But for folks who've been in for a little while, and folks in different in high demand areas, getting a new job as a junior as a middleweight, or a senior, is not as difficult as it could be these days. Whereas if you're having to engage in management behavior that you're just not comfortable with, yeah, sometimes changing jobs is easier than making peace with uneasy ethical decisions. Yeah, sometimes that's not true for everybody. And it's a very, very privileged take for those of us who have a little bit of wiggle room.

[00:09:58] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think so. And it really depends on where are you located? And what is your personal situation, right? Do you have dependents? Do you have like family or people that you have to take care of? And so on, which I think makes it much harder to say, you know, I'm going to not do that. But I think there, you know, there are boundaries, it's, it's one thing is playing along, and just, you know, or letting the other person also, you know, know, in the space that you have, right? You’re also like, as a manager, you also, you can't just go and, you know, give advice directly conflicting with the interests of your upper management because that, you know, is a problem, but you can, you know, talk a little bit about, as you said, maybe asking you an external person, or also I think very well, you can say I'm disagreeing with this decision, right? And I advocated for you, unfortunately, you know, these were my boundaries here, for example, and let them know, I think that's, that's perfectly fine. Yeah. And I think that the problem is that if more of those things come together, people start thinking about leaving, right?

[00:11:06] Jess Rose And that’s not always a bad thing. As a manager, if you're not able to offer someone, a place that is safe, and productive, and non-traumatic to work, yeah, it's okay, that your people move on, and actually kind of preferable?

[00:11:22] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, I think so, too. So another topic that I wanted to talk with you about, and it's a little bit related to management, but it's more related to teaching. So I don't think you have to be a manager to teach, right? You can be, you can be, you know, Junior Dev, Mid Dev, senior Dev, right, so we can all learn from each other. But I really see you as a teaching, you know, expert here. Yeah. Because you're, you're bringing topics around programming, but also, you know, advice for hiring or you know, how to get hired. And to so many people, right, you're, you're also making these really mass, mass online learning events, right, occur online boot camps. So how is that going? Why did you start that and is that only for really junior people?

[00:12:12] Jess Rose So the first thing I want to do is like, I would absolutely love if there was an excuse for me, Oh, yes, I'll just take all the credit. But the free online boot camps that I've started are absolutely not just me. So they started as 12-week boot camps, and they've been collapsed into a reasonably intense but still part-time, six-week boot camp. And this is built off of the freeCodeCamp curriculum. So they're a registered nonprofit. They're amazing. We could not do this without them and without their permission. But also the good people, I’m pointing behind me like they're back there. The good people Class Central built a whole platform that lets us teach on so like, just really, and Ramon is my, my co-teacher. And he's he's just, it’s almost disgusting how lovely he is. Like, the learners love him and deservedly so.

[00:13:03] Dr. McKayla Cool. Yeah. So what do you teach there? Is it like really the 101 of programming? Or is it more advanced concepts? Who is your target audience here?

[00:13:14] Jess Rose So this last cohort, which just ended about two weeks ago, I should get back to work on those. We had 15,000 unique learners across two tracks learning either web development, which is HTML, CSS, accessibility, really, really intro level of like first steps of programming, or across JavaScript. And again, that sort of first steps with JavaScript, getting started. So really sort of introductory level. But we added some additional forums for peer support. We've got a very noisy Discord. And then some live stream lessons and question-answer to get people unstuck. We've had such a, so I would have expected oh, these will be beginners. We have back-end devs who wanted to try out web development. We've got folks who don't want to go into tech, but they do want to build a website for their business. And the thing I was, I used to be a teacher and I used to be a linguist. And very selfishly, the thing I was, one of the things I was most excited about was the absolute range of the learners. We've got folks across every regularly inhabited continent. And folks joining us in this massive exciting range of first languages. I was just so, so people who are learning from their phones, people who are learning from the library computers, and I just really really loved this loud, chaotic, and so lovely and so supportive group of learners all helping each other out.

[00:14:49] Dr. McKayla Yeah, that's, that's really exciting. So I actually was thinking a little bit about learning on devices that are not high-end, right. And when I, when I started university, I couldn't afford a really high-end computer not even a normal computer, right? So I was on this, I got, I got one of those really cheap computers from somebody that you know, gave it to me for free. And it was a nightmare. It was a nightmare to work on that. And nowadays, it's obviously not the case anymore. And I'm really happy about that. But I was wondering what about, you know, people that don't want to work on the phone or work to, you know, on a tablet, and I'm pregnant right now.

[00:15:32] Jess Rose Oh, congratulations. How exciting, how scary.

[00:15:36] Dr. McKayla Yeah. But it's also a really cool experience because I'm thinking, like, this is my third child. So I know a little bit.

[00:15:45] Jess Rose Oh, you're just fine. You're like, duh, this happens.

[00:15:46] Dr. McKayla I know what's going to happen, its going to happen that I can sit here and you know, work on my comfortable devices. And so I tried a little bit to work on my phone and work on the tablet and so on, I still think it's really difficult. What tools do your learners have?

[00:16:03] Jess Rose Did somebody, somebody did one of my friends talk to you about this? I'm deeply suspicious. So I'm going to try really carefully not to say too much. I’m working on a little side project around this problem. Because this is a problem I've been thinking about a lot. So right now, and if our dear listeners, our dear viewers are, oh, gosh, what's the noun? Our beloved audience, your beloved audience has a tool or has something in the space that I haven't seen yet, please come and yell at me. But right now, I'm not seeing really good tooling. I'm not seeing a good way to write to the web from mobile devices.

[00:16:46] Dr. McKayla Yeah, it's not there.

[00:16:47] Jess Rose And this is an ethical problem for me. Because right now we hear people talking about the next billion users, I love this. But in a lot of cases, we're seeing people who are accessing the web for the first time, and I love it, and I live for it. But they're accessing the web on a lot of constraints. So they're usually on phones, they're usually mobile-only is what we'll call those kinds of learners. They may be accessing it in their third or fourth language, because you're going to see global web primarily in English and French and Spanish. And they're often constrained to really, really challenging limits on their, like their actual access to broadband or to mobile signal. And that's something I've been thinking about a lot on the device level for this problem. If I went, I'm going to date myself terribly. But I got access to the internet, when I was maybe 13, or 14. And the device I use to access the web to read the web, I could also write to the web. And we're effectively giving people this write-only access to the web through smartphones. And that just, that doesn't seem like enough to me. So there's nothing great yet. And I don't think I've necessarily cracked it myself. But in the next couple of months, I would like to, I've got a little thing I'd like to launch to see whether or not that might be a good tool.

[00:18:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah. Cool. I would be super interested in that. And I also think like, nowadays, I'm actually, I should actually be the whole day on bed rest. But two weeks ago…

[00:18:20] Jess Rose What are you doing? You should be doing this lounging.

[00:18:23] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I should. Right, yeah. But so now I'm allowed to be up a couple of hours per day, which is, which is great, but because I'm on this bed rest, right, and I only can lie down, I'm not allowed to sit actually, I experienced all these accessibility problems that, you know, couple of, you know, disabled folks also are experiencing and I'm like, right now, I really understand how difficult it is if you can't, you know, type, write, if you have like these mobile devices. And I think there is really there isn't a lot of you know, there's so much space in there. And we should really be much more welcoming to people that can't, you know, sit on this nice computer have their three monitors, right, the keyboard and the mouse. And it's really I mean, it's really frustrating for me to write a blog post to make an update on Git, right, to make a PR.

[00:19:12] Jess Rose I'm not ignoring you. I'm just grabbing a book to see, so rude, isn't it? Turning away? Oh, heck, I must have hidden it somewhere. But there's a really fantastic book from the late 90s that Tim Berners Lee wrote about the process of inventing the web. But I've got sort of a tab in the book because he said, Oh, okay, we had to sit down we had to define the bare minimum. What is the minimum viable setup you need to access the web? He said, Oh, you need to, you need some kind of CPU, we need some kind of monitor some kind of display. And one of the things that they specified as necessary for the web was, you're going to need a keyboard. I think that's the point that sticks me again and again, where I think, but we've gotten past the need for keyboard in so many other spaces. Yeah, it seems a bit lazy to have not gotten past it in sort of the ability to do simple web development.

[00:20:12] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, it would be so great. Like, I would benefit so much from it.

[00:20:17] Jess Rose Oh, just the guilt I've got right now. I'm just like, yes, yes, I'll get back to work. But we do currently have learned, well, in the last cohort, we had a number of learners who were accessing the course, all via smartphones. So they would post and we'd love to see them post, screenshots of their code to see, hey, where's this gone wrong, but it's going to be folks screenshotting their phone screen, and just the implication of how challenging it would be to write, I've tried it to write a bunch of CSS on your phone, oh, the absolute, like the strength these people have in their hearts not to throw it across the room.

[00:21:01] Dr. McKayla Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So another question that came to my mind is now you have this experience of, you know, teaching really beginners, and also in a different space, it's a space of you are, you know, like this, this teacher now, and they're doing an online course. But I'm also very interested in how can we actually bring back or coming back to the managing position, right, how can we teach and mentor within a team, right? How can we do that for juniors? How can we do that for mid engineers? Who mentors and teachers, senior engineers? How is that all, you know, the dynamic in a team? And I was wondering if you have like some experience around that and some thoughts around that topic as well.

[00:21:47] Jess Rose So I was really lucky. I was on a team several years ago now out at FutureLearn with oh, gosh, Nikki, What's your surname? I'm so sorry. I swear I know it. I've just forgotten it, because I'm a bad person. And Belinda Sockington, who are both unreasonably brilliant and fantastic managers. And a lot of that work on that team was around, because I have FutureLearn was that it was a MOOC platform. How do we, how do we encourage learning? How do we incentivize it? How do we balance it? And really, what kind of landed for me is it's an ongoing conversation between the folks running these teams, the individual people. I think it may be one of those issues where there's just no one size fits all. It's a combination of saying, Hey, we have these options. Here are some off-the-shelf learning experiences, with starting a conversation and keeping up a conversation of what do you want to learn, what works for you? What's best for you? One thing that I've encountered a couple of times in my career, which I've had a really, really hard time with and my opinion on it has really radically changed, is every now and again, I'd meet somebody who's sort of mid-level or senior, so they've they've gotten themselves into a secure role. They're feeling okay with it. And they wouldn't be that excited about learning where they said, Yeah, I just want to do my job. But I want to go home. And I think the first couple of times, because nobody tells you, but you're not going to start managing people and get it right right away. I'm going to stay awake late tonight absolutely obsessing over the ways I'm still not doing it right. But back then I was thinking, Oh, how can I, how can I make this person care about their learning? And these days, I think with the, with the world having gotten much more stressful, and me having enough experience to see that I think now that I was wrong. These days, when I meet somebody who's like, well, I'd like to do my job. I'd like to do a good job at my job. And I'd like to go home, I don't really need to move up. I don't really want to stretch and learn more. I've gotten, yeah, like, that seems increasingly chill. I think it might be cultural as well, I think. I'm from the States originally. And I think there's quite a bit more fear around employment in the States. Almost everybody can be fired at any time and that makes everything very exciting. And generally your health care is associated with your employment. So I think I see when I was younger and based in the States, there was a lot more Of course, you have to keep learning, of course, you have to keep running, you have to progress. Otherwise, something bad could happen. And yeah, I think I've just gotten increasingly excited to see people set boundaries around where they put their learning and where they put their interests. Yeah. Yeah, that's a very strange take for a teacher.

[00:24:47] Dr. McKayla Yeah. So actually, I was talking to Cat Hicks, just a couple of weeks ago. Yeah. And so we were talking about learning debt. And this whole topic brought us to something where I think, you know, learning is often something very externalized, right, where you say, Oh, I'm learning, let's say I'm learning React, or now I'm learning Remix, right? So maybe the newest framework or, you know, a new a new approach for DevOps or whatnot, right? So it's something that's out of what you're doing right now. And it's a new technology, very technology-oriented as well, whereby I think at the company, there are so many, a little bit more how to call it but informal, or, you know, a little bit more tactic, learning experience that you actually have every day, right, which is, how do I communicate with this new person on the team, right? How do I, how do I understand parts of this codebase? Can we change the architecture for that without breaking something? And all of these are also learning experiences, which we are often not declaring as that right, so we are not saying, oh, you know, McKayla, today learned about new ways to do this architecture for us or to refactor that code, or, you know, she did, she learned about how this API works over there that she hasn't worked about, right? This is very often not, I don't think it's so visible in the learning experience than if I would say, Oh, McKayla sit down and learned React. Yeah, you know.

[00:26:25] Jess Rose And I think that's really valuable. Because even when you say something, somebody say, I think, oh, you know, I'm just going to chill and do a good job. And it's so easy to generalize about brains and learning to, say, Oh, we know what we know about learning. In so much as we've learned anything about learning like self-assessment’s messy, the study of, I'm not nearly clever enough to have a good handle on neuroscience and learning. But there's actually a fantastic researcher and author, Dr. Barbara Oakley, who does a lot of work on learning how to learn. And she's been doing some work with Zack Caceres who's a programmer, and I’m not going to tell, talk out of turn. But I believe they may be launching a project around how we learn programming skills relatively soon.

[00:27:11] Dr. McKayla Yeah, nice. Yeah.

[00:27:11] Jess Rose But we're primates in changing environments. Even if we don't think about it as learning, we are getting new situations and new stimuli, just like you said, I've got a new teammate, I'm going to learn to work with them. Oh, I've got this API. Oh, I finally understood what's going on under the hood. Regardless of whether or not we've set ourselves a mountain path to hike a declared learning journey, there's still learning happening. Yeah.

[00:27:37] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And I think that those chill folks, how you call them, right? Maybe they have also more capacity to actually see things that are, you know, people that are very on their journey of, oh, I want to learn React and the latest, you know, whatever, technology comes out right now, maybe don't have the capacity to see, for example, oh, you know, now that the market changed a little bit, budget shifted, we have to work a little bit different with this team, or, you know, how can we make sure that our deadlines are, you know, approachable, and so on? So, yeah, I think learning really happens in so many forms. And, yeah.

[00:28:14] Jess Rose And I, yeah, I've always been really excited about that as well. I think resilience is undervalued in teams often. Sorry, this isn't very confident or it is not very definitive, but I'm going to waffle about my biases as part of this. I really like thinking about resilience in individuals and in teams as a resource available. And I like thinking of people as resources, but like, someone being rested, somebody having the capacity, somebody being ready for a little tiny crisis, or a little weird thing. That feels like a resource right there. But I think often we really lean on productivity so hard. How can we get. what kind of developer experience tooling can we use to get 20% more? How can we make sure people are focused? How can we cycle our meeting? And we're so focused on developer productivity and the productivity of technologists, I think we often sacrifice that flexibility and that resilience of having somebody who's not under these productivity pressures to such a high degree. Like, we learn better when we're chill.

[00:29:25] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah. And I think it brings us back also to, there was this glue code, right? People that are taking on responsibilities, right, glue work, sorry, glue work, that was what it was called, right? But people that are taking on some invisible work that are, you know, good for the team. And, and so yeah, I think this also for teaching, mentoring, learning, I think this can be one thing, and obviously, we shouldn't get outdated too much. And, but I also think that it's not changing every minute, you know, like, sometimes we believe, or we were made to believe, or this story lines around time, Oh, my God, you know, if you're not doing every day something and..

[00:30:11] Jess Rose What do you mean you're not using blank? I’m like, look, I’m very old, and I'm very tired. Like, I'm good.

[00:30:18] Dr. McKayla I think it's totally fine, right. And there are a lot of technologies, that I mean, if you're working on PHP, you know, a lot of the web runs on PHP, and it's still, you know, a good technology, and it's okay.

[00:30:33] Jess Rose Like, if you want to stretch a little bit, getting into some Laravel is really, really exciting. But if you write PHP, you can hang out and get better at the core stuff of what you do. And do a good job. Like, you don't have to run as hard as you can, as fast as you can forever.

[00:30:51] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think they're, they're, you know, good choices to make. And I'm definitely for growth and for learning. But sometimes people are just burning, you know, mental calories. I learned so much. I mean, I'm actually a learner, right? I love to learn. But most of the stuff that I learn, I never used. It's not very productive, right?

[00:31:16] Jess Rose Yeah, but you can't not... sorry, you've invited me on here. And I'm just up here ready to below you. But yeah, this sort of cult of productivity, not that you're espousing it makes me very, very, and when I talk to new learners, and they say, oh, okay, I need to learn this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And I've heard these words, and I need to learn this. I'm like, Babe, you can, you can show we can all chill. Like, we don't have to learn any frameworks yet. We don't have to learn any ops yet, we can just chill and learn the core stuff. And as these are like, one thing I really like to encourage, especially with new learners, or learners new to a specific space, is to go ahead and get some kind of digital or some kind of physical space where you can dump stuff. Some people like Notion, I hate Notion a lot. I quite like Obsidian. I don't care what you use, as long as you're happy about it. As you're seeing all these terms, just chuck them in a big doc. Okay, well, I keep seeing Angular, I know Angular is a thing, should I learn it? Don't worry about whether or not you have to learn it next, just go ahead. And when you see an article about it, throw it in the slush pile. I call it my link dump for early learning. And that means once you've got through the foundational stuff, you say, Okay, I've learned enough JavaScript where I can write. And I like setting these little tiny interim goals to say, Well, I've learned enough JavaScript where I'm able to make simple bug fixes in this open source project I was interested in. I've learned enough. And one thing I'm excited about is the The Art of Learning code, or the art of reading code, which is something Felienne... is an academic who’s done a lot of work in the space.

[00:32:59] Dr. McKayla She's from Leiden University.

[00:33:01] Jess Rose Yes. You've talked to her already. I bet.

[00:33:02] Dr. McKayla I did my PhD with her in the same room. Roommates. Yeah.

[00:33:06] Jess Rose Did you? Did you?

[00:33:06] Dr. McKayla Yeah, we were roommates. Yeah.

[00:33:07] Jess Rose Oh, is she just as delightful to study with?

[00:33:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah, she is wonderful.

[00:33:13] Jess Rose But yeah, so really getting through the basics of well, I set out to do X, I'm doing X. Now it's time for me to go look through my link dump file, and see, wow, it looks like I've got like 40 different articles about Angular. Maybe that was important that that's enough for what I want to learn next. Yeah.

[00:33:34] Dr. McKayla Maybe something else that comes to my mind here is also that I think fundamentals are really important, right? So I like for example, the approach of Dan Abramoff, right? He has like this course of Just JavaScript, which it means that you're not starting with React, right? You're starting with JavaScript and with the fundamentals around it, and I wouldn't say it's really a course for really real beginners. But it's like if you got a little bit of your hands dirty around JavaScript, it's really nice to go in and then check. Did I actually really understand what's you know, what's happening here? And then if you have these fundamentals, I think it's so much easier to build upon that, them. And dive into React or whatnot, right? Whatever framework or technology you want to add here.

[00:34:21] Jess Rose I think this comes back to something I've been thinking about a lot in how we learn and teach. But like, where we abstract things out. So in the boot camp, we're using Free Code Camp to teach, which is a, it's an in-browser sandbox, you don't have, and they've just come out with a new beta curriculum for web development I'm in love with. And it previews that these are files and that you have to link to these files. It is very, very good. But it's still a sandbox, it's still an abstraction. And the places we tend to send learners next are things like, Okay, we're going to head over to CodeSandbox, we're going to head over to Glitch which are still abstracting away a lot of really, and then even when you look in to professional tooling and frameworks, they say, Okay, let's get into React. A lot of the power behind these frameworks are that they abstract away or that they compress, or they obscure or or smooth over some of the fundamentals of how we work with the core technology, maybe JavaScript or the way, Tailwind is a weird abstraction of the things you'd like to do with CSS. And I don't have a problem with, I think as a teacher, I'd have a hard time having a problem with abstraction. But I think that thinking really carefully about how we do this, when we abstract things , and how we signpost what's been taken, or what's been added gets to be really valuable.

[00:34:47] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. When I was starting to learn programming, I struggled a lot with abstractions because I just wanted to know, or not only with abstractions, but also like, there wasn't a lot of abstractions. It was actually very, very raw, right? It was like, Oh, you have an Eclipse IDE open and you're writing Java code. But then you have like, oh, let's say, you know, public void string main, whatever, right? And it's just like, you just do it, right. And I'm like, why? What does it mean, don't worry about it.

[00:36:22] Jess Rose And then we'll cover this later. And so by the time, we will have covered it, yeah… Having been a linguist, I fear that I mentally map language learning to programming language learning, even when it might not be entirely suitable. But I see this happening in human language education as well, where we say, okay, cool. Here's how, we keep we start people in the present perfect tens for a lot of languages, I see the cat, I drink the water, I walked to the store. And we don't send them into a present perfect world. And I think that's true with programming as well to say, Okay, well, we're going to give you this sandbox, or we're going to give you this framework, which abstracts away a lot of the complexities of the grammar or the the nuance of, and I think it's really valuable to talk about the culture of the language we use around programming and really the culture of, of the structures we build, because it's not transparent to people. I met with a learner in person, what a delight, in person last week. And without thinking about it, I said, yada yada yada bikeshedding. And thank goodness, this learner was confident enough to be like, cool, what the heck are you talking about? I was like, oh, gosh, that's just something we say. We say it as though everyone's going to understand it. And it means to get sidelined to get distracted with little unnecessary details. Just like okay, cool. You should just say that, it's less complicated.

[00:37:55] Dr. McKayla Yeah. I think it's not always that easy to be always aware of how you do it. But I recall the time that I started at Microsoft, and, you know, when you start there, it's full of acronyms. And they mean, they mean something completely else inside Microsoft and than it would mean outside, and it really takes quite some time. And then a lot of people get very blind to it, and you know, just start using it as well. And you know, you start talking this gibberish. Nobody else can understand. Yeah.

[00:38:32] Jess Rose But like, from a linguistic perspective, that identifies you as a member of the in-group, doesn't it? How fascinating. Yeah, incredibly interesting. Oh, no, no, I absolutely refuse to spend the next three days hyperfocused learning about weird Microsoft acronyms. It's so tempting.

[00:38:49] Dr. McKayla Yeah, there are a lot. But I think it's the same with code reviews, right? And with sometimes how people say, oh, you know, we have this style of giving feedback to each other. And in my code review workshops, I always talk You know, I always try to have people come to an agreement that we need to use language and also, you know, phrase that in a respectful way, that's not only for the internal, you know, internal team to understand. Because there are newcomers, you know, in the team, maybe somebody will look at that, what you wrote two years from now, right, and still should be able to understand it. And so I think it's really good if we be clear about those bridges that we built that, you know, are this internal behavior and language that we are using that it's only, you know, it's an insider joke, and so on.

[00:39:47] Jess Rose Yeah. Yeah. And I think we're often really chill about that in tech. Yeah, oh, here's a glossary of technical terms you need to know to do the thing. We're, we're cool about that. There seems to be a bit more resistance around when shared language or shared norms, or shared language structures around things like code reviews are proposed because we don't need that we know how to talk to each other. I hope I'm not putting you on the spot. Are you one of those lucky people who speak like nine languages?

[00:40:15] Dr. McKayla No, not nine.

[00:40:15] Jess Rose Oh, only five?

[00:40:17] Dr. McKayla Maybe, yeah. German is my mother tongue, right? English, Dutch, Italian, and a little bit of Spanish.

[00:40:28] Jess Rose A little bit of Spanish. Look at that. The fantastic thing about chatting to many folks from Europe is, is y'all always have this very, very beautiful, very casual, like humble brag at the end, you like, you know, just a little tiny bit of Croatian. I'm terribly jealous. Yeah, like recognizing that folks aren't going to be coming to, coming to these code reviews. And I really liked that you highlight that they're going to be coming to the uncoupled in time. I love this idea that when you leave a code review, when you leave feedback, when you leave a pull request, when you leave code, you're leaving a little artifact of understanding behind. So to say, Cool, we've standardized how we talk about these, we've created a shared language for them. Because when we go into the far scary future, we want these to still make sense.

[00:41:23] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think this is really important.

[00:41:26] Jess Rose But also making them like giving a shared language around, hey, maybe English, or if we're doing the, if we're doing the code review, in Dutch, I'm in a bit of trouble. But maybe the language this code review is in is your second or third or fifth? Let's go ahead and have some shared language have some shared structures around feedback to lower the cognitive load? Yeah, well, can we talk about cognitive load? I imagine you've done it tons of times on the podcast. I imagine many programmers are familiar with it.

[00:42:00] Dr. McKayla Yeah, we also have to be a little bit careful of the time now. But maybe the last thing that I want to add here is I'm writing a book on code reviews, right?

[00:42:10] Jess Rose Are you?

[00:42:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I'm right now in the middle of the feedback section, right? So how to give feedback, how to give respectful feedback, and how to communicate with each other and also cultural right? So how do we deal with, it gets really hairy there, right? So yeah, what are different cultures are expecting, what's respectful there, you know, how much you know, how harsh should a feedback be? Or can it be or, you know, what is seen as polite and so on? And this is not only, it's not only, it's not one standard thing, right? It depends on who's on the team, what's the background? What's the culture? But I think the expectation, setting the right expectations, and, you know, explicitly stating that, and talking about that, reflecting on that, and, you know, learning how others see those things and learning how, you know, like, if I would talk to you I'm originally from Austria lived in a couple of countries, right? You're from the States you're, you're in the UK now, right?

[00:43:12] Jess Rose I am, yeah, everything's just fine here. Very chill. Not weird.

[00:43:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And then maybe we have another person from Croatia and then somebody from India, right. And so I think it would be really important for us to talk about how we understand different terminologies, how we understand different you know, expressions in my code review workshops, sometimes I have discussions about looks good to me. And I love those discussions because, you know, it's just a simple term looks good to me. Most of the time, people just, you know, have the acronym for it, right?

[00:43:47] Jess Rose Like it's the thumbs up emoji in my head.

[00:43:50] Dr. McKayla Exactly or you know, LGTM, right? And then some people are like, oh, yeah, this means you know, that I looked through it and you did a good job. And then the other person has no, you know, looks good to me means that you haven't looked at my code.

[00:44:07] Jess Rose You just glanced at it.

[00:44:07] Dr. McKayla Yeah, you just want it out of your way. Yeah. And the other person says, Oh, this means, I don't care.

[00:44:07] Jess Rose Sometimes, sometimes.

[00:44:16] Dr. McKayla And having those discussions in the team, you know, and understanding where everybody is coming from, and that they actually use, you know, one simple terminology. And everybody on the same team understood something else about it, I think it's so valuable, right? And only by these discussions, you know, we can really understand what's behind those terms and the way that we are communicating. But I'm also getting a little bit carried away.

[00:44:45] Jess Rose No, no. So I'm going to ask you about your book. And yeah, I've just had a friend tell me that there are some questions you're not supposed to ask about someone's book. So I won't ask any of those. Instead, I've been told you're supposed to say, I hope it's going well. I'd like and I think it might be useful for hopefully some of the audience as well. I had an idea for a book that sounded really fun in my head. And I've sort of broken it down into chapters into essays and trying to write a couple of chapters. And my goal in writing a couple of essays is I'm trying to talk myself out of writing a book.

[00:45:22] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I've heard that. Yeah.

[00:45:23] Jess Rose Do you have any advice for not, like, it's the worst. It's the worst idea ever. No one wants to write a book like, please, please, please.

[00:45:32] Dr. McKayla No, I don't have.

[00:45:32] Jess Rose No, I want to know what you’re doing.

[00:45:34] Dr. McKayla But I saw on Twitter that you said that and I thought, like, yeah, you won't be able to not write a book with this approach, right?

[00:45:42] Jess Rose I love that it sounds like a threat, where you’re like, you’re going to write that book.

[00:45:45] Dr. McKayla Yeah, it looks like. I think if you're breaking it up in essays, that become more manageable. I think you will write this book. Yeah.

[00:45:55] Jess Rose But for our beloved audience, for your beloved audience, they shouldn't write a book, they should, they should definitely do things that are not writing a book. Like, it's a terrible idea, isn't it?

[00:46:04] Dr. McKayla I can't, I can't say it's a terrible idea.

[00:46:06] Jess Rose Are you enjoying it?

[00:46:08] Dr. McKayla I don't think it's a good idea. But I think a lot of people would like to write a book and I would be the last person that would discourage them. Because I was always discouraged to write a book, right? But I think I know what mess I got myself into.

[00:46:25] Jess Rose That’s what I'm looking for, there we go.

[00:46:26] Dr. McKayla I would just tell the people that you're getting yourself into a big mess. But it's okay. You know, it's okay. I think people can write books, and people should write books.

[00:46:36] Jess Rose The world is messy. It'll be fun. Oh, no, this is the opposite of what I was looking for. But it's so delightful.

[00:46:42] Dr. McKayla Yeah, well, Jess actually, this brings us to the end of our show, I really enjoyed talking with you about all of that. And I think we should talk about cognition and cognitive load, and you know, all of that. So maybe I will invite you again, to another session.

[00:46:58] Jess Rose I'd love to come back any time. But I'll also pass you some contacts for folks who are much better at this than I am, I would just go back and be like, so books. And really, your audience deserves better.

[00:47:13] Dr. McKayla Okay. And we will put all the things that we talked about down there also, maybe the Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile or whatnot, from the person that you mentioned in the middle, where you forgot the last name, I put it there. So she will be there as well. And then, yeah, so is there something that you want to wrap this episode up? Or?

[00:47:36] Jess Rose Oh, gosh, can I bully your audience? Is that doable? Is it permitted? I've been doing advice calls all this week. And the big thing that I keep coming back to when I chat to people, I do do them just to be mean to people who are smarter than me is right now everything, everything is just so big and so loud and so stressful. One thing I've really enjoyed exploring with people is looking at ways that what they have to do, what they think they have to do can be smaller and softer and quieter. And I think that yeah, I'd love to gently bully folks to consider how what they need to do could be a little less. Maybe you don't have to write that book. It can just be an essay.

[00:48:24] Dr. McKayla Yeah. Yeah. I like that. I actually did that this week with myself and just gave myself permission to let go of a couple of balls that I was juggling. And I think it's delightful. We should really do that. And I think it's it's the time that we are many people needed. Not everybody, right. I think a lot of people needed.

[00:48:41] Jess Rose There's going to be one person out there who's having a real good week. I just haven't met him.

[00:48:46] Dr. McKayla Or yeah, or that got very nicely distracted by all of the work and don't have to think about the stuff that's going on. Yeah. Okay, so Jess, thank you so much. Thank you. It was really a pleasure talking to you.

[00:49:01] Jess Rose Thanks so much. I'll let you go and thank you again. I won't get into a thank you loop with you.

[00:49:06] Dr. McKayla Okay, bye-bye.

[00:49:06] Dr. McKayla This was another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast, send episode to a friend via email, Twitter, LinkedIn. Well, whatever messaging system you use, or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don't forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

Copyright 2022 Doctor McKayla