How streaming regex crosswords led ChaelCodes to voice acting
Rachael Wright-Munn (ChaelCodes) talks about her love of programming games (games with programming elements in them, not how to make games!), starting her streaming career with regex crosswords, and how streaming games and open source every week led her to a voice acting role in one of her favorite programming games.
Recorded at RubyConf 2023 in San Diego.
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Jeremy: I'm here at RubyConf San Diego with Rachel Wright-Munn, and she goes by Chaelcodes online. Thanks for joining me today.
Rachael: Hi, everyone. Hi, Jeremy. Really excited to be here.
Jeremy: So probably the first thing I'll ask about is on your web page, and I've noticed you have streams, you say you have an interest in not just regular games, but programming games, so.
Rachael: Oh my gosh, I'm so glad you asked about this. Okay, so I absolutely love programming games. When I first started streaming, I did it with Regex Crossword. What I really like about it is the fact that you have this joyful environment where you can solve puzzles and work with programming, and it's really focused on the experience and the joy. Are you familiar with Zach Barth of Zachtronics?
Jeremy: Yeah. So, I've tried, what was it? There's TIS-100. And then there's the, what was the other one? He had one that's...
Rachael: Opus Magnum? Shenzhen I/O?
Jeremy: Yeah, Shenzhen I/O.
Rachael: Oh, my gosh. Shenzhen I/O is fantastic. I absolutely love that. The whole conceit of it, which is basically that you're this electronics engineer who's just moved to Shenzhen because you can't find a job in the States. And you're trying to like build different solutions for these like little puzzles and everything.
It was literally one of the, I think that was the first programming game that really took off just because of the visuals and everything.
And it's one of my absolute favorites. I really like what he says about it in terms of like testing environments and the developer experience.
Cause it's built based on assembly, right?
He's made a couple of modifications. Like he's talked about it before where it's like The memory allocation is different than what it would actually look like in assembly and the way the registers are handled I believe is different, I wouldn't think of assembly as something that's like fun to write, but somehow in this game it is. How far did you get in it?
Jeremy: Uh, so I didn't get too far. So, because like, I really like the vibe and sort of the environment and the whole concept, right, of you being like, oh, you've been shipped off to China because that's the only place that these types of jobs are, and you're working on these problems with bad documentation and stuff like that. And I like the whole concept, but then the actual writing of the software, I was like, I don't know.
Rachael: And it's so hard, one of the interesting things about that game is you have components that you drop on the board and you have to connect them together and wire them, but then each component only has a specific number of lines. So like half the time I would be like, oh, I have this solution, but I don't have enough lines to actually run it or I can't fit enough components, then you have to go in and refactor it and everything. And it's just such a, I don't know, it's so much fun for me. I managed to get through all of the bonus levels and actually finish it. Some of them are just real, interesting from both a story perspective and interesting from a puzzle perspective. I don't wanna spoil it too much. You end up outside Shenzhen, I'll just say that.
Jeremy: OK. That's some good world building there.
Jeremy: Because in your professional life, you do software development work. So I wonder, what is it about being in a game format where you're like, I'm in it. I can do it more. And this time, I'm not even being paid. I'm just doing it for fun.
Rachael: I think for me, software development in general is a very joyful experience. I love it. It's a very human thing. If you think about it like math, language, all these things are human concepts and we built upon that in order to build software in our programs and then on top of that, like the entire purpose of everything that we're building is for humans, right? Like they don't have rats running programs, you know what I mean? So when I think about human expression and when I think about programming, these two concepts are really closely linked for me and I do see it as joyful, But there are a lot of things that don't spark joy in our development processes, right? Like lengthy test suites, or this exhausting back and forth, or sometimes the designs, and I just, I don't know how to describe it, but sometimes you're dealing with ugly code, sometimes you're dealing with code smells, and in your professional developer life, sometimes you have to put up with that in order to ship features. But when you're working in a programming game, It's just about the experience. And also there is a correct solution, not necessarily a correct solution, but like there's at least one correct solution. You know for a fact that there's, that it's a solvable problem.
And for me, that's really fun. But also the environment and the story and the world building is fun as well, right? So one of my favorite ones, we mentioned Shenzhen, but Zachtronics also has Exapunks. And that one's really fun because you have been infected by a disease. And like a rogue AI is the only one that can provide you with the medicine you need to prevent it. And what this disease is doing is it is converting parts of your body into like mechanical components, like wires and everything. So what you have to do as an engineer is you have to write the code to keep your body running. Like at one point, you were literally programming your heart to beat. I don't have problems like that in my day job. In my day job, it's like, hey, can we like charge our customers more? Like, can we put some banners on these pages? Like, I'm not hacking anybody's hearts to keep them alive.
Jeremy: The stakes are a little more interesting. Yeah, yeah.
Rachael: Yeah, and in general, I'm a gamer. So like having the opportunity to mix two of my passions is really fun.
Jeremy: That's awesome. Yeah, because that makes sense where you were saying that there's a lot of things in professional work where it's you do it because you have to do it. Whereas if it's in the context of a game, they can go like, OK, we can take the fun problem solving part. We can bring in the stories. And you don't have to worry about how we're going to wrangle up issue tickets.
Rachael: Yeah, there are no Jira tickets in programming games.
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.
Rachael: I love what you said there about the problem solving part of it, because I do think that that's an itch that a lot of us as engineers have. It's like we see a problem, and we want to solve it, and we want to play with it, and we want to try and find a way to fix it. And programming games are like this really small, compact way of getting that dopamine hit.
Jeremy: For sure. Yeah, it's like. Sometimes when you're doing software for work or for an actual purpose, there may be a feeling where you want to optimize something or make it look really nice or perform really well. And sometimes it just doesn't matter, right? It's just like we need to just put it out and it's good enough. Whereas if it's in the context of a game, you can really focus on like, I want to make this thing look pretty. I want to feel good about this thing I'm making.
Rachael: You can make it look good, or you can make it look ugly. You don't have to maintain it. After it runs, it's done. Right, right, right. There's this one game. It's 7 Billion Humans. And it's built by the creators of World of Goo. And it's like this drag and drop programming solution. And what you do is you program each worker. And they go solve a puzzle. And they pick up blocks and whatever. But they have these shredders, right? And the thing is, you need to give to the shredder if you have like a, they have these like little data blocks that you're handing them. If you're not holding a data block and you give to the shredder, the worker gives themself to the shredder. Now that's not ideal inside a typical corporate workplace, right? Like we don't want employees shredding themselves. We don't want our workers terminating early or like anything like that. But inside the context of a game, in order to get the most optimal solution, They have like a lines of code versus fastest execution and sometimes in order to win the end like Lines of code. You just kind of have to shred all your workers at the, When I'm on stream and I do that when I'm always like, okay everybody close your eyes That's pretty good it's Yeah, I mean cuz like in the context of the game.
Jeremy: I think I've seen where they're like little They're like little gray people with big eyes Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yeah, so it's like, sorry, people. It's for the good of the company, right?
Rachael: It's for my optimal lines of code solution. I always draw like a, I always write a humane solution before I shred them.
Jeremy: Oh, OK. So it's, you know, I could save you all, but I don't have to.
Rachael: I could save you all, but I would really like the trophy for it. There's like a dot that's going to show up in the elevator bay if I shred you.
Jeremy: It's always good to know what's important. But so at the start, you mentioned there was a regular expression crossword or something like that. Is that how you got started with all this?
Rachael: My first programming game was Regex Crossword. I absolutely loved it. That's how I learned Regex.
Rachael: I love it a lot. I will say one thing that's been kind of interesting is I learned Regex through Regex Crossword, which means there's actually these really interesting gaps in my knowledge. What was it? at Link Tech Retreat, they had like a little Regex puzzle, and it was like forward slash T and then a plus, right? And I was like, I have no idea what that character is, right? Like, I know all the rest of them. But the problem is that forward slash T is tab, and Regex crossword is a browser game. So you can't have a solution that has tab in it. And have that be easy for users. Also, the idea of like greedy evaluation versus lazy evaluation doesn't apply, because you're trying to find a word that satisfies the regex. So it's not necessarily about what the regex is going to take. So it's been interesting finding those gaps, but I really think that some of the value there was around how regex operates and the rules underlying it and building enough experience that I can now use the documentation to fill in any gaps.
Jeremy: So the crossword, is it where you know the word and you have to write a regular expression to match it? Or what's the?
Rachael: They give you regex. And there's a couple of different versions, right? The first one, you have two regex patterns. There's one going up and down, and there's one going left and right. And you have to fill the crossword block with something that matches both regular expressions.
Rachael: Then we get into hexagonal ones. Yeah, where you have angles and a hexagon, and you end up with like three regular expressions. What's kind of interesting about that one is I actually think that the hexagonal regex crosswords are a little bit easier because you have more rules and constraints, which are more hints about what goes in that box.
Jeremy: Interesting. OK, so it's the opposite of what I was thinking. They give you the regex rules, and then you put in a word that's going to satisfy all the regex you see.
Rachael: Exactly. When I originally did it, they didn't have any sort of hints or anything like that. It was just empty. Now it's like you click a box, and then they've got a suggestion of five possible letters that could go in there. And it just breaks my heart. I liked the old version that was plainer, and didn't have any hints, and was harder. But I acknowledge that the new version is prettier, and probably easier, and more friendly. But I feel like part of the joy that comes from games, that comes from puzzles, It comes from the challenge, and I miss the challenge.
Jeremy: I guess someone, it would be interesting to see people who are new to it, if they had tried the old way, if they would have bounced off of it.
Rachael: I think you're probably right. I just want them to give me a toggle somewhere.
Jeremy: Yeah, oh, so they don't even let you turn off the hints, they're just like, this is how it is.
Jeremy: Okay. Well, we know all about feature flags.
Rachael: And how difficult they are to maintain in perpetuity.
Jeremy: Yeah, but no, that sounds really cool because I think some things, like you can look up a lot of stuff, right? You can look up things about regex or look up how to use them. But I think without the repetition and without the forcing yourself to actually go through the motion, without that it's really hard to like learn and pick it up.
Rachael: I completely agree with you. I think the repetition, the practice, and learning the paradigm and patterns is huge. Because like even though I didn't know what forward slash t plus was, I knew that forward slash t was going to be some sort of character type.
Jeremy: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of, there was, I'm not sure if you've heard of Vim Adventures, but...
Rachael: I did! I went through the free levels. I had a streamerversary and my chat had completed a challenge where I had to go learn Vim. So I played a little bit of Vim Adventures.
Jeremy: So I guess it didn't sell you.
Rachael: Nope, I got Vim Extensions turned on.
Jeremy: Oh, you did?
Rachael: Yeah, I have the Vim extension turned on in VS Code. So I play with a little bit of sprinkling of Vim in my everyday.
Jeremy: It's kind of funny, because I am not a Vim user in the sense that I don't use it as my daily editor or anything like that. But I do the same thing with the extensions in the browser. I like being able to navigate with the keyboard and all that stuff.
Rachael: Oh, that is interesting. That's interesting. You have a point like memorizing all of the different patterns when it comes to like Keyboard navigation and things like that is very similar to navigating in Vim. I often describe writing code in Vim is kind of like solving a puzzle in order to write your code So I think that goes back to that Puzzle feeling that puzzle solving feeling we were having we were talking about before.
Jeremy: Yeah, I personally can't remember, but whenever I watch somebody who's, really good at using Vim, it is interesting to see them go, oh, yes, I will go to the fifth word, and I will swap out just this part. And it's all just a few keystrokes, yeah.
Rachael: Very impressive. Can be done just as well with backspace and, like, keyboard, like, little arrows and everything. But there is something fun about it and it is... Faster-ish.
Jeremy: Yeah, I think it's like I guess it depends on the person, but for some people it's like they, they can think and do things at the speed that they type, you know, and so for them, I guess the the flow of, I'm doing stuff super fast using all these shortcuts is probably helpful to them.
Rachael: I was talking to someone last night who was saying that they don't even think about it in Vim anymore. They just do it. I'm not there yet. (laughs)
Jeremy: Yeah, I'll probably never be there (laughs)
But yeah, it is something to see when you've got someone who's really good at it.
Rachael: Definitely. I'm kind of glad that my chat encouraged and pressured me to work with Vim. One of the really cool things is when I'm working on stuff, I'll sometimes be like, oh, I want to do this. Is there a command in Vim for that? And then I'll get multiple suggestions or what people think, and ideas for how I can handle things better. Someone recently told me that if you want to delete to the end of a line, you can use capital D. And this whole time I was doing lowercase d dollar sign.
Jeremy: Oh, right, right, right. Yeah. Yeah, it's like there's so many things there that, I mean, we should probably talk about your experiences streaming. But that seems like a really great benefit that you can be working through a problem or just doing anything, really. And then there's people who they're watching, and they're like, I know how to do it better. And they'll actually tell you, yeah.
Rachael: I think that being open to that is one of the things that's most important as a streamer. A lot of people get into this cycle where they're very defensive and where they feel like they have to be the expert. But one of the things that I love about my chat is the fact that they do come to me with these suggestions. And then I can be open to them, and I can learn from them. And what I can do is I can take those learnings from one person and pass it on to the other people in chat. I can become a conduit for all of us to learn.
Jeremy: So when you first decided to start streaming, I guess what inspired you to give it a shot? Like, what were you thinking?
Rachael: That's a great question. It's also kind of a painful question. So the company that I was working for, I found out that there were some pay issues with regards to me being a senior, promotion track, things like that. And it wasn't the first time this had happened, right? Like, I often find that I'm swapping careers every two to three years because of some miserable experience at the company. Like you start and the first year is great. It's fantastic. It's awesome. But at the end of it, you're starting to see the skeletons and that two to three years later you're burnt out. And what I found was that every two to three years I was losing everything, right? Like all of my library of examples, the code that I would reference, like that's in their private repo. When it came to my professional network, the co -workers that liked and respected me, we had always communicated through the workplace Slack. So it's really hard to get people to move from the workplace Slack to like Instagram or Twitter or one of those other places if that's not where, if that's not a place where you're already used to talking to them. And then the other thing is your accomplishments get wiped out, right? Like when you start at the next company and you start talking about promotion and things like that, the work that you did at previous companies doesn't matter. They want you to be a team lead at that company. They want you to lead a massive project at that company and that takes time. It takes opportunities and Eventually, I decided that I wanted to exist outside my company.
Like I wanted to have a reputation that went beyond that and that's what originally inspired me to stream And it's pretty hard to jump from like oh.
I got really frustrated and burnt out at my company to I've got it I'm gonna do some regex crossword on stream, but honestly, that's what it was right was I just wanted to slowly build this reputation in this community outside of of my company and it's been enormously valuable in terms of my confidence, in terms of my opportunities. I've been able to pick up some really interesting jobs and I'm able to leverage some of those experiences in really clear professional ways and it's really driven me to contribute more to open source. I mentioned that I have a lot of people like giving me advice and suggestions and feedback.
That's enormously helpful when you're going out there and you're trying to like get started in open source and you're trying to build that confidence and you're trying to build that reputation. I often talk about having a library of examples, right? Like your best code that you reference again and again and again. If I'm streaming on Twitch, everything that I write has to be open source because I'm literally showing it on video, right? So it's really encouraged me to build that out. And now when I'm talking to my coworkers and companies, I can be like, oh, we need to talk about single table inheritance. I did that in Hunter's Keepers. Why don't we go pull that up and we'll take a look at it. Or are we building a Docker image? I did that in Hunter's Keepers and Conf Buddies. Why don't we look at these, compare them, and see if we can get something working here, right? Like I have all of these examples, and I even have examples from other apps as well. Like I added Twitch Clips to 4M. So when I want to look at how to build a liquid tag, because Jekyll uses liquid tags as well. So when I'm looking at that, I can hop to those examples and hop between them, and I'm never going to lose access to them.
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean, that's a really good point where I think a lot of people, they do their work at their job and it's never going to be seen by anyone and you can sort of talk about it, but you can't actually show anybody what you did. So it's like, and I think to that point too, is that there's some knowledge that is very domain specific or specific to that company. And so when you're actually doing open source work, it's something that anybody can pick up and use and has utility way beyond just your company. And the whole point of creating this record, that makes a lot of sense too, because if I wanna know if you know how to code, I can just see like, wow, she streams every Thursday. She's clearly she knows what she's doing and you know, you have these also these open source contributions as well So it's it's sort of like it's not this question of if I interview you It's it's not I'm just going off of your word that and I believe what you're saying. But rather it's kind of the proof is all it's all out there.
Oh, definitely if I were to think about my goals and aspirations for the future I've been doing this for four years still continuing But I think I would like to get to the point where I don't really have to interview.
Where an interview is more of a conversation between me and somebody who already knows they want to hire me.
Jeremy: Have you already started seeing a difference?
Like you've been streaming for about four years I think
Rachael: I had a really interesting job for about eight months doing developer relations with New Relic. That was a really interesting experience. And I think it really pushed the boundaries of what I understood myself to be capable of because I was able to spend 40 hours a week really focused on content creation, on blogging, on podcasting, on YouTube videos and things like that. Obviously there was a lot of event organization and things like that as well. But a lot of the stuff that came out of that time is some of my best work. Like I, I'm trying to remember exactly what I did while I was at New Relic, but I saw a clear decrease afterwards. But yeah, I think that was probably close to the tipping point. I don't for sure know if I'm there yet, right? Like you never know if you're at the point where you don't have to interview anymore until you don't have to interview. But the last two jobs, no, I haven't had to interview.
Jeremy: So, doing it full -time, how did you feel about that versus having a more traditional lead or software developer role?
Rachael: It was definitely a trade-off. So I spent a lot less time coding and a lot more time with content, and I think a little bit of it was me trying to balance the needs and desires of my audience against the needs and desires of my company. For me, and this is probably going to hurt my chances of getting one of those jobs where I don't have to interview in the future, but my community comes first, right? They're the people who are gonna stick with me when I swap between jobs, but that was definitely something that I constantly had to think about is like, how do I balance what my company wants from me with the responsibility that I have to my community? But also like my first talk, your first open source contribution, which was at RubyConf Denver, Like, that was written while I was at New Relic. Like, would I have had the time to work on a talk in addition to the streaming schedule and everything else? Um, for a period of time, I was hosting Ruby Galaxy, which was a virtual meetup. It didn't last very long, and we have deprecated it. Um, I deprecated it before I left the company because I wanted to give it, like, a good, clean ending versus, um, necessarily having it, like, linger on and be a responsibility for other people. but...
I don't think I would have done those if I was trying to balance it with my day job. So, I think that that was an incredible experience. That said, I'm very glad it's over. I'm very glad that the only people I'm beholden to are my community now.
Jeremy: So, is it the sheer amount that you had to do that was the main issue? Or is it more that that tension between, like you said, serving your audience and your community versus serving your employer?
Rachael: Oh, a lot of it was tension. A lot of it was hectic, event management in general. I think if you're like planning and organizing events, that's a very challenging thing to do. And it's something that kind of like goes down to the deadline, right? And it's something where everybody's trying to like scramble and pull things together and keep things organized. And that was something that I don't think I really enjoyed. I like to have everything like nice and planned out and organized and all that sort of stuff, and I don't think that that's Something that happens very often in event management at least not from my experience So these were like in -person events or what types of events like I actually skipped out before the in -person events.
They would have been in -person events. We had future stack at New Relic, which is basically like this big gathering where you talk about things you can do with New Relic and that sort of stuff. We all put together talks for that. We put together an entire like. Oh gosh, I'm trying to remember the tool that we use, but it was something similar to gather round where you like interact with people. And there's just a lot that goes into that from marketing to event planning to coordinating with everyone. I'm grateful for my time at New Relic and I made some incredible friends and some incredible connections and I did a lot, but yeah, I'm very glad I'm not in DevRel anymore. I don't, if you ask any DevRel, They'll tell you it's hectic, they'll tell you it's chaotic, and they'll tell you it's a lot of work.
Jeremy: Yeah. So it sounds like maybe the streaming and podcasting or recording videos, talks, that part you enjoy, but it's the I'm responsible for planning this event for all these people to, you know. That's the part where you're like, OK, maybe not for me.
Rachael: Yeah, kind of. I describe myself as like a content creator because I like to just like dabble and make things, right? Like I like to think about like, what is the best possible way to craft this tweet or this post or like to sit there and be like, okay, how can I structure this blog post to really communicate what I want people to understand? When it comes to my streams, what I actually do is I start with the hero's journey as a concept. So every single stream, we start with an issue in the normal world, right? And then what we do is we get drawn into the chaos realm as we're like debugging and trying to build things and going Back and forth and there's code flying everywhere and the tests are red and then they're green and then they're red and then they're green and then finally at the end we come back to the normal world as we create this PR and, Submit it neither merge it or wait for maintainer feedback. And for me that Story arc is really key and I like I'm a little bit of an artist. I like the artistry of it. I like the artistry of the code, and I like the artistry of creating the content. I think I've had guests on the show before, and sometimes it's hard to explain to them, like, no, no, no, this is a code show. We can write code, and that's great, but that's not what it's about. It's not just about the end product. It's about bringing people along with us on the journey.
And sometimes it's been three hours, and I'm not doing a great job of bringing people along on the journey so like you know I'm tooting my own horn a little bit here but like that is important to me.
Jeremy: So when you're working through a problem, When you're doing it on stream versus you're doing it by yourself, what are the key differences in how you approach the problem or how you work through it?
Rachael: I think it's largely the same. It's like almost exactly the same. What I always do is, when I'm on stream, I pause, I describe the problem, I build a test for it, and then I start working on trying to fix what's wrong. I'm a huge fan of test -driven development. The way I see it, you want that bug to be reproducible, and a test gives you the easiest way to reproduce it. For me, it's about being easy as much as it is about it being the right way or not.
But yeah, I would say that I approach it largely in the same way. I was in the content creator open space a little bit earlier, and I had to give them a bit of a confession. There is one small difference when I'm doing something on stream versus when I'm doing something alone. Sometimes, I have a lot of incredible senior staff, smart, incredible people in my chat. I'll describe the problem in vivid detail, and then I'll take my time writing the test, and by the time I'm done writing the test, somebody will have figured out what the problem is, and talk back to me about it. I very rarely do that. It's more often when it's an ops or an infrastructure or something like that. A great example of this is like the other day I was having an issue, I mentioned the Vim extensions. If I do command P on the code section, Vim extensions was capturing that, and so it wasn't opening the file. So one of my chatters was like, oh, you know, you can fix that if you Google it. I was like, oh, I don't know. I mean, I could Google it, but it will take so long and distract from the stream. Literally less than 15 minutes later a chatter had replied with like, here's exactly what to add to your VS Code extension, and I knew that was gonna happen. So that's my little secret confession. That's the only difference when I'm debugging things on stream is sometimes I'll let chat do it for me.
Jeremy: Yeah, that's a superpower right there.
Rachael: It is, and I think that happens because I am open to feedback and I want people to engage with me and I support that and encourage that in my community. I think a lot of people sometimes get defensive when it comes to code, right? Like when it comes to the languages or the frameworks that we use, right? There's a little bit of insecurity because you dive so deep and you gain so much knowledge that you're kind of scared that there might be something that's just as good because it means you might not have made the right decision. And I think that affects us when it comes to code reviews. I think it affects us when we're like writing in public.
And I think, yeah, and I think it affects a lot of people when they're streaming, where they're like, if I'm not the smartest person in the room, and why am I the one with a camera and a microphone? But I try to set that aside and be like, we're all learning here.
Jeremy: And when people give that feedback, and it's good feedback, I think it's really helpful when people are really respectful about it and kind about it. Have you had any issues like having to moderate that or make sure it stays positive in the context of the stream?
Rachael: I have had moderation issues before, right? Like, I'm a woman on the internet, I'm going to have moderation issues. But for me, when it comes to feedback and suggestions, I try to be generous with my interpretation and my understanding of what they're going with. Like people pop in and they'll say things like, Ruby is dead, Rails is dead. And I have commands for that to like remind them, no, actually Twitch is a Rails app. So like, no, it's definitely not dead. You just used it to send a message. But like, I try to be understanding of where people are coming from and to meet them where they are, even if they're not being the most respectful. And I think what I've actually noticed is that when I do that, their tone tends to change. So I have two honorary trolls in my chat, Kego and John Sugar, and they show up and they troll me pretty frequently. But I think that that openness, that honesty, like that conversation back and forth it tends to defuse any sort of aggressive tension or anything.
Jeremy: Yeah, and it's probably partly a function of how you respond, and then maybe the vibe of your stream in general probably brings people that are.
Rachael: No, I definitely agree. I think so.
Rachael: It's the energy, you get a lot of the energy that you put out.
Jeremy: And you've been doing this for about four years, and I'm having trouble picturing what it's even like, you know, you've never done a stream and you decide I'm gonna turn on the camera and I'm gonna code live and, you know, like, what was kind of going through your mind? How did you prepare? And like, what did, like, what was that like?
Rachael: Thank you so much. That's a great question. So, actually, I started with Regex Crossword because it was structured, right? Like, I didn't necessarily know what I wanted to do and what I wanted to work on, but with Regex Crossword, you have a problem and you're solving it. It felt very structured and like a very controlled environment, and that gave me the confidence to get comfortable with, like, I'm here, I have a moderator, right? Like we're talking back and forth, I'm interacting with chatters, and that allowed me to kind of build up some skills. I'm actually a big fan of Hacktoberfest. I know a lot of people don't like it. I know a lot of people are like, oh, there are all these terrible spam PRs that show up during Hacktoberfest and open source repositories. But I'm a really big fan because I've always used it to push my boundaries, right? Like every single year, I've tried to take a new approach on it. So the first year that I did it, I decided that what I wanted to do to push my boundaries was to actually work on an application. So this one was called Hunter's Keepers. It was an app for managing characters in Monster of the Week and it was a Reels app because that's what I do professionally and that's what I like to work on.
So I started just building that for Hacktoberfest and people loved it. It got a ton of engagement, way more than Regex Crossword and a little bit, like those open source streams continue to do better than the programming games, but I love the programming games so much that I don't wanna lose them, but that's where it kind of started, right? Was me sitting there and saying like, oh, I wanna work on these Rails apps. The Hacktoberfest after that one, And I was like, OK, I worked on my own app in the open, and I've been doing that for basically a year. I want to work on somebody else's app. So I pushed myself to contribute to four different open source repositories. One of the ones I pushed myself to work on was 4M. They did not have Twitch clips as embeds. They had YouTube videos and everything else. And I looked into how to do it, and I found out how liquids tags work, and I had a ton of other examples. I feel like extensions like that are really great contributions to open source because it's an easy way with a ton of examples that you can provide value to the project, and it's the sort of thing where, like, if you need it, other people probably need it as well. So I went and I worked on that, and I made some Twitch clips.
And that was like one of my first like external open source project contributions. And that kind of snowballed, right? Because I now knew how to make a liquid tag. So when I started working on my Jekyll site, and I found out that they had liquid tags that were wrapped in gems, I used that as an opportunity to learn how to build a gem. And like how to create a gem that's wrapped around a liquid tag.
And that exists now and is a thing that I've done. And so it's all of these little changes and moments that have stacked on top of each other, right? Like it's me going in and saying, OK, today I'd like to customize my alerts. Or like, today I'd like to buy a better microphone and set it up and do these changes. It's not something that changed all at once, right? It's just this small putting in the time day by day, improving.
I say like the content gears are always grinding. You always need something new to do, right? And that's basically how my stream has gone for the last four years, is I'm just always looking for something new to do.
We haven't talked about this yet, but I'm a voice actress in the programming video game, One Dreamer.
And I actually collaborated with the creator of another one, Compressor, who like reached out to me about that Steam key.
But the reason that I was able to talk to these people and I was able to reach out to them is rooted in Regex Crossword, right? Cause I finished Regex Crossword and Thursday night was like my programming game stream. And I loved them, so I kept doing them. And I kept picking up new games to play, and I kept exploring new things. So at the end of it, I ended up in this place where I had this like backlog in knowledge and history around programming games. So when Compressor was developed, I think he's like the creator, Charlie Bridge is like a VP at Arm or something. And okay, I should back up a little bit. Compressor is this game where you build CPUs with Steam. So it's like Steam Punk, like, electrical engineering components. Ah, it's so much fun. And like, the characters are all cool, because it's like you're talking to Nikola Tesla, and like Charles Babbage, and Ada Lovelace, and all this sort of stuff. It's just super fun.
But the reason he reached out to me was because of that reputation, that backlog, that feedback. Like, when you think about how you became a developer, right, it's day by day, right? when you develop your experience. There's a moment where you look back and you're like, I just have all of these tools in my toolkit. I have all of these experiences. I've done all these things, and they just stack to become something meaningful. And that's kind of how it's gone with my stream, is just every single day I was trying to push, do something new. Well, not every day. Sometimes I have a lazy day, but like, but like I am continuously trying to find new ground to tread.
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean that's really awesome thinking about how it went from streaming you solving these regex crosswords to all the way to ending up in one of these games that you play. Yeah, that's pretty pretty cool.
Rachael: By the way, that is my absolute favorite game. So the whole reason that I'm in the game is because I played the demo on stream.
Jeremy: Oh, nice.
Rachael: And I loved it. Like I immediately was like, I'm going to go join the creators discord. This is going to be my game of the year. I can't wait to like make a video on this game. What's really cool about this one is that it uses programming as a mechanic and the story is the real driver. It's got this emotional impact and story. The colors are gorgeous and the way you interact with the world, like it is a genuine puzzle game where the puzzles are small, little, simple programming puzzles. And not like I walk up to this and like I solve a puzzle and the door opens.
No, it's like you're interacting with different components in the world and wiring them together in order to get the code working.
The whole premise is that there's an indie game developer who's gone through this really traumatic experience with his game, and now he's got the broken game, and he's trying to fix it in time for a really important game demo.
I think it's like, it's like Vig something. Video game indie gaming.
But what happened is I started following the creator, and I was super interested in them. And then he actually reached out to me about like the Steve workshop and then he was looking for people to voice act and I was like me please yes so yeah that's how I got involved with it yeah that's awesome it's like everything came full circle I guess it's like where you started and yeah no absolutely it's amazing.
Jeremy: And so what was that experience like the voice acting bit? I'm assuming you didn't have professional experience with that before.
Rachael: No, no, no, no. I had to do a lot of research into like how to voice act. My original ones were tossed out. I just, OK, so there's one line in it. This is going to this is so embarrassing. I can't believe I'm saying this on a podcast. There's one line that's like, it's a beautiful day to code. It's like a, because I'm an NPC, right? So like you can keep interacting with me and one of the like cycling ones is like, it's a beautiful day to code. Well, I tried to deliver it wistfully. Like I was staring out a window and I was like, it's a beautiful day to code. And every single person who heard it told me that it sounded like somewhat sensual, sexy. And I was dying because I had just sent this to this like indie game developer that like I appreciated and he replies back and he's like, I'm not sure if there was an audio issue with some of these, but could you like rerecord some of these? So I was very inexperienced. I did a lot of practicing, a lot of vocal exercises, but I think that it turned out well.
Jeremy: That's awesome. So you kind of just kept trying and sending samples, or did they have anybody like try and coach you?
Rachael: No, I just kept sending samples. I did watch some YouTube videos from like real voice actors. To try and like figure out what the vocal exercises were. One of the things that I did at first was I sent him like one audio, like the best one in my opinion. And he replied back being like, no, just record this like 10, 20 times. Send it to me and I'll chop the one I want.
Jeremy: So the, anytime you did that, the one they picked, was it ever the one you thought was the best one?
Rachael: Oh gosh, I don't think I actually like, Wow, I don't think I've gone back over the recordings to figure out which one I thought was the best one. Or like checked which one he picked out of the ones that I recorded. Oh, that's interesting. I'm going to have to do that after this.
Jeremy: You're going to listen to all the, it's a beautiful day to code.
Rachael: The final version is like a nice, neutral like, it's a beautiful day to code. One of the really cool things about that, though, is my character actually triggers the end of game scene, which is really fun. You know how you get a little hint that's like, oh, this is where the end of the game is, my character gets to do that.
Jeremy: That's a big responsibility.
Rachael: It is. I was so excited when I found out.
Jeremy: That's awesome. Cool. Well, I think that's probably a good place to wrap it up on. But is there anything else you want to mention, or any games you want to recommend?
Jeremy: Oh, right, yeah.
Rachael: I haven't written the blog post yet, but that's my five programming video games that you should try if you've never done one before. 7 million humans is on mobile, so if you've got a long flight back from RubyConf, it might be a great choice.
Jeremy: Oh, there you go.
Rachael: Yeah. Other than that, it can be found at chael.codes, chael.codes/links for the socials, chael.codes/about for more information about me. And yeah, thank you so much for having me. This has been so much fun.
Jeremy: Awesome. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for taking the time.
Rachael: Thank you.