software sessions

Sara Jackson on Teaching in Kanazawa (RubyConf 2023)

Teaching, LAN parties, and joining the Ruby community

Sara is a team lead at thoughtbot.

She talks about her experience as an Assistant Professor at Kanazawa Technical College, giant LAN parties in Rochester, transitioning from Java to Ruby, shining a light on maintainers, and her closing thoughts on RubyConf.

Recorded at RubyConf 2023 in San Diego.


A few topics covered:




You can help correct transcripts on GitHub.

[00:00:00] Jeremy: I'm here at RubyConf, San Diego, with Sara Jackson, thank you for joining me today.

[00:00:05] Sara: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.

[00:00:07] Jeremy: Sara right now you're working at, ThoughtBot, as a, as a Ruby developer, is that right?

[00:00:12] Sara: Yes, that is correct.

Teaching in Japan

[00:00:14] Jeremy: But I think before we kind of talk about that, I mean, we're at a Ruby conference, but something that I, I saw, on your LinkedIn that I thought was really interesting was that you were teaching, I think, programming in. Kanazawa, for a couple years.

[00:00:26] Sara: Yeah, that's right. So for those that don't know, Kanazawa is a city on the west coast of Japan. If you draw kind of a horizontal line across Japan from Tokyo, it's, it's pretty much right there on the west coast. I was an associate professor in the Global Information and Management major, which is basically computer science or software development. (laughs) Yep.

[00:00:55] Jeremy: Couldn't tell from the title.

[00:00:56] Sara: You couldn't. No.. so there I was teaching classes for a bunch of different languages and concepts from Java to Python to Unix and Bash scripting, just kind of all over.

[00:01:16] Jeremy: And did you plan the curriculum yourself, or did they have anything for you?

[00:01:21] Sara: It depended on the class that I was teaching. So some of them, I was the head teacher. In that case, I would be planning the class myself, the... lectures the assignments and grading them, et cetera. if I was assisting on a class, then usually it would, I would be doing grading and then helping in the class. Most of the classes were, uh, started with a lecture and then.

Followed up with a lab immediately after, in person.

[00:01:54] Jeremy: And I think you went to, is it University of Rochester?

[00:01:58] Sara: Uh, close. Uh, Rochester Institute of Technology. So, same city. Yeah.

[00:02:03] Jeremy: And so, you were studying computer science there, is that right?

[00:02:07] Sara: I, I studied computer science there, but I got a minor in Japanese language. and that's how, that's kind of my origin story of then teaching in Kanazawa. Because Rochester is actually the sister city with Kanazawa. And RIT has a study abroad program for Japanese learning students to go study at KIT, Kanazawa Institute of Technology, in Kanazawa, do a six week kind of immersive program.

And KIT just so happens to be under the same board as the school that I went to teach at.

[00:02:46] Jeremy: it's great that you can make that connection and get that opportunity, yeah.

[00:02:49] Sara: Absolutely. Networking!

[00:02:52] Jeremy: And so, like, as a student in Rochester, you got to see how, I suppose, computer science education was there. How did that compare when you went over to Kanazawa?

[00:03:02] Sara: I had a lot of freedom with my curriculum, so I was able to actually lean on some of the things that I learned, some of the, the way that the courses were structured that I took, I remember as a freshman in 2006, one of the first courses that we took, involved, learning Unix, learning the command line, things like that.

I was able to look up some of the assignments and some of the information from that course that I took to inform then my curriculum for my course,

[00:03:36] Jeremy: That's awesome. Yeah. and I guess you probably also remember how you felt as a student, so you know like what worked and maybe what didn't.

[00:03:43] Sara: Absolutely. And I was able to lean on that experience as well as knowing. What's important and what, as a student, I didn't think was important.

Naming, formatting, and style

[00:03:56] Jeremy: So what were some examples of things that were important and some that weren't?

[00:04:01] Sara: Mm hmm. For Java in particular, you don't need any white space between any of your characters, but formatting and following the general Guidelines of style makes your code so much easier to read. It's one of those things that you kind of have to drill into your head through muscle memory. And I also tried to pass that on to my students, in their assignments that it's.

It's not just to make it look pretty. It's not just because I'm a mean teacher. It is truly valuable for future developers that will end up reading your code.

[00:04:39] Jeremy: Yeah, I remember when I went through school. The intro professor, they would actually, they would print out our code and they would mark it up with red pen, basically like a writing assignment and it would be like a bad variable name and like, white space shouldn't be here, stuff like that. And, it seems kind of funny now, but, it actually makes it makes a lot of sense.

[00:04:59] Sara: I did that.

[00:04:59] Jeremy: Oh, nice.

[00:05:00] Sara: I did that for my students. They were not happy about it. (laughs)

[00:05:04] Jeremy: Yeah, at that time they're like, why are you like being so picky, right?

[00:05:08] Sara: Exactly. But I, I think back to my student, my experience as a student. in some of the classes I've taken, not even necessarily computer related, the teachers that were the sticklers, those lessons stuck the most for me. I hated it at the time. I learned a lot.

[00:05:26] Jeremy: Yeah, yeah. so I guess that's an example of things that, that, that matter. The, the aesthetics or the visual part for understanding. What are some things that they were teaching that you thought like, Oh, maybe this isn't so important.

[00:05:40] Sara: Hmm.

Pause for effect. (laughs) So I think that there wasn't necessarily Any particular class or topic that I didn't feel was as valuable, but there was some things that I thought were valuable that weren't emphasized very well. One of the things that I feel very strongly about, and I'm sure those of you out there can agree. in RubyWorld, that naming is important.

The naming of your variables is valuable. It's useful to have something that's understood. and there were some other teachers that I worked with that didn't care so much in their assignments. And maybe the labs that they assigned had less than useful names for things. And that was kind of a disappointment for me.

[00:06:34] Jeremy: Yeah, because I think it's maybe hard to teach, a student because a lot of times you are writing these short term assignments and you have it pass the test or do the thing and then you never look at it again.

[00:06:49] Sara: Exactly.

[00:06:50] Jeremy: So you don't, you don't feel that pain. Yeah,

[00:06:53] Sara: Mm hmm. But it's like when you're learning a new spoken language, getting the foundations correct is super valuable.

[00:07:05] Jeremy: Absolutely. Yeah. And so I guess when you were teaching in Kanazawa, was there anything you did in particular to emphasize, you know, these names really matter because otherwise you or other people are not going to understand what you were trying to do here?

[00:07:22] Sara: Mm hmm. When I would walk around class during labs, kind of peek over the shoulders of my students, look at what they're doing, it's... Easy to maybe point out at something and be like, well, what is this? I can't tell what this is doing. Can you tell me what this does? Well, maybe that's a better name because somebody else who was looking at this, they won't know, I don't know, you know, it's in your head, but you will not always be working solo.

my school, a big portion of the students went on to get technical jobs from after right after graduating. it was when you graduated from the school that I was teaching at, KTC, it was the equivalent of an associate's degree. Maybe 50 percent went off to a tech job. Maybe 50 percent went on to a four year university.

And, and so as students, it hadn't. Connected with them always yet that oh, this isn't just about the assignment. This is also about learning how to interact with my co workers in the future.

Differences between students

[00:08:38] Jeremy: Yeah, I mean, I think It's hard, but, group projects are kind of always, uh, that's kind of where you get to work with other people and, read other people's code, but there's always that potential imbalance of where one person is like, uh, I know how to do this.

I'll just do it. Right? So I'm not really sure how to solve that problem. Yeah.

[00:09:00] Sara: Mm hmm. That's something that I think probably happens to some degree everywhere, but man, Japan really has groups, group work down. They, that's a super generalization. For my students though, when you would put them in a group, they were, they were usually really organized about who was going to do what and, kept on each other about doing things

maybe there were some students that were a little bit more slackers, but it was certainly not the kind of polarized dichotomy you would usually see in an American classroom.

[00:09:39] Jeremy: Yeah. I've been on both sides. I've been the person who did the work and the slacker.

[00:09:44] Sara: Same.

[00:09:46] Jeremy: And, uh, I feel bad about it now, but, uh,

[00:09:50] Sara: We did what we had to do.

[00:09:52] Jeremy: We all got the degree, so we're good. that is interesting, though. I mean, was there anything else, like, culturally different, you felt, from, you know, the Japanese university?

[00:10:04] Sara: Yes. Absolutely. A lot of things. In American university, it's kind of the first time in a young person's life, usually, where they have the freedom to choose what they learn, choose where they live, what they're interested in. And so there's usually a lot of investment in your study and being there, being present, paying attention to the lecture.

This is not to say that Japanese college students were the opposite. But the cultural feeling is college is your last time to have fun before you enter the real world of jobs and working too many hours. And so the emphasis on paying Super attention or, being perfect in your assignments. There was, there was a scale.

There were some students that were 100 percent there. And then there were some students that were like, I'm here to get a degree and maybe I'm going to sleep in class a little bit. (laughs) That is another major difference, cultural aspect. In America, if you fall asleep in a meeting, you fall asleep in class, super rude.

Don't do it. In Japan, if you take a nap at work, you take a nap in class, not rude. It's actually viewed as a sign of you are working really hard. You're usually working maybe late into the night. You're not getting enough sleep. So the fact that you need to take maybe a nap here or two here or there throughout the day means that you have put dedication in.

[00:11:50] Jeremy: Even if the reason you're asleep is because you were playing games late at night.

[00:11:54] Sara: Yep.

[00:11:55] Jeremy: But they don't know that.

[00:11:56] Sara: Yeah. But it's usually the case for my students.

[00:11:59] Jeremy: Okay. I'm glad they were having fun at least

[00:12:02] Sara: Me too.

Why she moved back

[00:12:04] Jeremy: That sounds like a really interesting experience. You did it for about two years? Three years.

[00:12:12] Sara: So I had a three year contract with an option to extend up to five, although I did have a There were other teachers in my same situation who were actually there for like 10 years, so it was flexible.

[00:12:27] Jeremy: Yeah. So I guess when you made the decision to, to leave, what was sort of your, your thinking there?

[00:12:35] Sara: My fiance was in America

[00:12:37] Jeremy: Good.

[00:12:37] Sara: he didn't want to move to Japan

[00:12:39] Jeremy: Good, reason.

[00:12:39] Sara: Yeah, he was waiting three years patiently for me.

[00:12:44] Jeremy: Okay. Okay. my heart goes out there . He waited patiently.

[00:12:49] Sara: We saw each other. We, we were very lucky enough to see each other every three or four months in person. Either I would visit America or he would come visit me in Kanazawa.

[00:12:59] Jeremy: Yeah, yeah. You, you couldn't convince him to, to fall in love with the country.

[00:13:03] Sara: I'm getting there

[00:13:04] Jeremy: Oh, you're getting Oh,

[00:13:05] Sara: it's, We're making, we're making way.

[00:13:07] Jeremy: Good, that's good. So are you taking like, like yearly trips or something, or?

[00:13:11] Sara: That was, that was always my intention when I moved back so I moved back in the Spring of 2018 to America and I did visit. In 2019, the following year, so I could attend the graduation ceremony for the last group of students that I taught.

[00:13:26] Jeremy: That's so sweet.

[00:13:27] Sara: And then I had plans to go in 2020. We know what happened in 2020

[00:13:32] Jeremy: Yeah.

[00:13:33] Sara: The country did not open to tourism again until the fall of 2022.

But I did just make a trip last month.

[00:13:40] Jeremy: Nice

[00:13:40] Sara: To see some really good friends for the first time in four years.

[00:13:43] Jeremy: Amazing, yeah. Where did you go?

[00:13:46] Sara: I did a few days in Tokyo. I did a few days in Niigata cause I was with a friend who studied abroad there. And then a few days in Kanazawa.

[00:13:56] Jeremy: That's really cool, yeah. yeah, I had a friend who lived there, but they were teaching English, yeah. And, I always have a really good time when I'm out there, yeah.

[00:14:08] Sara: Absolutely. If anyone out there visiting wants to go to Japan, this is your push. Go do it. Reach out to me on LinkedIn. I will help you plan.

[00:14:17] Jeremy: Nice, nice. Um, yeah, I, I, I would say the same. Like, definitely, if you're thinking about it, go. And, uh, sounds like Sara will hook you up.

[00:14:28] Sara: Yep, I'm your travel guide.

Technical terms in Japanese

[00:14:31] Jeremy: So you, you studied, uh, you, you said you had a minor in Japanese? Yeah. So, so when you were teaching there, were you teaching classes in English or was it in Japanese?

[00:14:42] Sara: It was a mix. Uh, when I was hired, the job description was no Japanese needed. It was a very, like, Global, international style college, so there was a huge emphasis on learning English. They wanted us to teach only in English. My thought was, it's hard enough learning computer science in your native language, let alone a foreign language, so my lectures were in English, but I would assist the labs in japanese

[00:15:14] Jeremy: Oh, nice. Okay. And then, so you were basically fluent then at the time. Middle. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Hey, well, I think if you're able to, to help people, you know, in labs and stuff, and it's a technical topic, right? So that's gotta be kind of a, an interesting challenge

[00:15:34] Sara: I did learn a lot of new computer vocabulary. Yes.

[00:15:39] Jeremy: So the words are, like, a lot of them are not the same? Or, you know, for, for specifically related to programming, I guess.

[00:15:46] Sara: Hmm. Yeah, there are Japanese specific words. There's a lot of loan words that we use. We. Excuse me. There's a lot of loan words that Japanese uses for computer terms, but there's plenty that are just in Japanese. For example, uh, an array is hairetsu.

[00:16:08] Jeremy: Okay.

[00:16:08] Sara: And like a screen or the display that your monitor is a gamen,

but a keyboard would be keyboard... Kībōdo, probably.

[00:16:20] Jeremy: Yeah. So just, uh, so that, they use that as a loan word, I guess. But I'm not sure why not the other two.

[00:16:27] Sara: Yeah, it's a mystery.

[00:16:29] Jeremy: So it's just, it's just a total mix. Yeah. I'm just picturing you thinking like, okay, is it the English word or is it the Japanese word? You know, like each time you're thinking of a technical term. Yeah.

[00:16:39] Sara: Mm hmm. I mostly, I, I I went to the internet. I searched for Japanese computer term dictionary website, and kind of just studied the terms. I also paid a lot of attention to the Japanese professors when they were teaching, what words they were using. Tried to integrate.

Also, I was able to lean on my study abroad, because it was a technical Japanese, like there were classes that we took that was on technical Japanese.

Computer usage, and also eco technology, like green technology. So I had learned a bunch of them previously.

[00:17:16] Jeremy: Mm. So was that for like a summer or a year or something

[00:17:20] Sara: It was six weeks

[00:17:21] Jeremy: Six weeks.

[00:17:21] Sara: During the summer,

[00:17:22] Jeremy: Got it. So that's okay. So like, yeah, that must have been an experience like going to, I'm assuming that's the first time you had been

[00:17:30] Sara: It was actually the second time

[00:17:31] Jeremy: The second

[00:17:32] Sara: Yeah. That was in 2010 that I studied abroad.

[00:17:35] Jeremy: And then the classes, they were in Japanese or? Yeah.

Yeah. That's, uh, that's, that's full immersion right there.

[00:17:42] Sara: It was, it was very funny in the, in the very first lesson of kind of just the general language course, there was a student that was asking, I, how do I say this? I don't know this. And she was like, Nihongo de.

[00:17:55] Jeremy: Oh (laughs) !

[00:17:56] Sara: You must, must ask your question only in

[00:17:59] Jeremy: Yeah,

Programming resources in Japanesez

[00:17:59] Jeremy: yeah. yeah. That's awesome. So, so it's like, I guess the, the professors, they spoke English, but they were really, really pushing you, like, speak Japanese. Yeah, that's awesome. and maybe this is my bias because I'm an English native, but when you look up. Resources, like you look up blog posts and Stack Overflow and all this stuff.

It's all in English, right? So I'm wondering for your, your students, when, when they would search, like, I got this error, you know, what do I do about it? Are they looking at the English pages or are they, you know, you know what I mean?

[00:18:31] Sara: There are Japanese resources that they would use. They love Guguru (Google) sensei.

[00:18:36] Jeremy: Ah okay. Okay.

[00:18:38] Sara: Um, but yeah, there are plenty of Japanese language stack overflow equivalents. I'm not sure if they have stack overflow specifically in Japanese. But there are sites like that, that they, that they used. Some of the more invested students would also use English resources, but that was a minority.

[00:19:00] Jeremy: Interesting. So there's a, there's a big enough community, I suppose, of people posting and answering questions and stuff where it's, you don't feel like, there aren't people doing the same thing as you out there.

[00:19:14] Sara: Absolutely. Yeah. There's, a large world of software development in Japan, that we don't get to hear. There are questions and answers over here because of that language barrier.

[00:19:26] Jeremy: Yeah. I would be, like, kind of curious to, to see, the, the languages and the types of problems they have, if they were similar or if it's, like, I don't know, just different.

[00:19:38] Sara: Yeah, now I'm interested in that too, and I bet you there is a lot of research that we could do on Ruby,

since Ruby is Japanese.

[00:19:51] Jeremy: Right. cause something I've, I've often heard is that, when somebody says they're working with Ruby, Here in, um, the United States, a lot of times people assume it's like, Oh, you're doing a Rails app,

[00:20:02] Sara: Mm hmm.

[00:20:03] Jeremy: Almost, almost everybody who's using Ruby, not everyone, but you know, the majority I think are using it because of Rails.

And I've heard that in Japan, there's actually a lot more usage that's, that's not tied to Rails.

[00:20:16] Sara: I've also heard that, and I get the sense of that from RubyKaigi as well. Which I have never been lucky enough to attend. But, yeah, the talks that come out of RubyKaigi, very technical, low to the metal of Ruby, because there's that community that's using it for things other than Rails, other than web apps.

[00:20:36] Jeremy: Yeah, I think, one of the ones, I don't know if it was a talk or not, but, somebody was saying that there is Ruby in space.

[00:20:42] Sara: That's awesome. Ruby's everywhere.

LAN parties in college

[00:20:44] Jeremy: So yeah, I guess like another thing I saw, during your time at Rochester is you were, involved with like, there's like a gaming club I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your experience with that.

[00:20:55] Sara: Absolutely, I can. So, at RIT, I was an executive board member for three or four years at the Electronic Gaming Society. EGS for short, uh, we hosted weekly console game nights in, the student alumni union area, where there's open space, kind of like a cafeteria. We also hosted quarterly land parties, and we would actually get people from out of state sometimes who weren't even students to come.

Uh, and we would usually host the bigger ones in the field house, which is also where concerts are held.

And we would hold the smaller ones in conference rooms. I think when I started in 2006, the, the, the LANs were pretty small, maybe like 50, 50 people bring your, your, your huge CRT monitor tower in.

[00:21:57] Jeremy: Oh yeah,

[00:21:57] Sara: In And then by the time I left in 2012. we were over 300 people for a weekend LAN party, um, and we were actually drawing more power than concerts do.

[00:22:13] Jeremy: Incredible. what were, what were people playing at the time? Like when they would the LANs like,

[00:22:18] Sara: Yep. Fortnite, early League of Legends, Call of Duty. Battlegrounds. And then also just like fun indie games like Armagedtron, which is kind of like a racing game in the style of

[00:22:37] Jeremy: okay. Oh, okay,

[00:22:39] Sara: Um, any, there are some like fun browser games where you could just mess with each other. Jackbox. Yeah.

[00:22:49] Jeremy: Yeah, it's, it's interesting that, you know, you're talking about stuff like Fortnite and, um, what is it? Battlegrounds is

[00:22:55] Sara: not Fortnite. Team Fortress.

[00:22:58] Jeremy: Oh Team Fortress!

[00:22:59] Sara: Sorry. Yeah.

Oh, yeah, I got my, my names mixed up. Fortnite, I think, did not exist at the time, but Team Fortress was big.

[00:23:11] Jeremy: Yeah.

that's really cool that you're able to get such a big group there. is there something about Rochester, I guess, that that was able to bring together this many people for like these big LAN events? Because I'm... I mean, I'm not sure how it is elsewhere, but I feel like that's probably not what was happening elsewhere in the country.

[00:23:31] Sara: Yeah, I mean, if you've ever been to, um, DreamHack, that's, that's a huge LAN party and game convention, that's fun. so... EGS started in the early 2000s, even before I joined, and was just a committed group of people. RIT was a very largely technical school. The majority of students were there for math, science, engineering, or they were in the computer college,

[00:24:01] Jeremy: Oh, okay.

[00:24:01] Sara: GCIS, G C C I S, the Gossano College of Computing and Information Sciences.

So there was a lot of us there.

[00:24:10] Jeremy: That does make sense. I mean, it's, it's sort of this, this bias that when there's people doing, uh, technical stuff like software, um, you know, and just IT,

[00:24:21] Sara: Mm


[00:24:23] Jeremy: there's kind of this assumption that's like, oh, maybe they play games. And it seems like that was accurate

[00:24:27] Sara: It was absolutely accurate. And there were plenty of people that came from different majors. but when I started, there were 17, 000 students and so that's a lot of students and obviously not everyone came to our weekly meetings, but we had enough dedicated people that were on the eboard driving, You know, marketing and advertising for, for our events and things like that, that we were able to get, the good community going.

I, I wasn't part of it, but the anime club at RIT is also huge. They run a convention every year that is huge, ToraCon, um. And I think it's just kind of the confluence of there being a lot of geeks and nerds on campus and Rochester is a college town. There's maybe like 10 other universities in

[00:25:17] Jeremy: Well, sounds like it was a good time.

[00:25:19] Sara: Absolutely would recommend.

Strong Museum of Play

[00:25:22] Jeremy: I've never, I've never been, but the one thing I have heard about Rochester is there's the, the Strong Museum of Play.

[00:25:29] Sara: Yeah, that place is so much fun, even as an adult. It's kind of like, um, the, the Children's Museum in Indiana for, for those that might know that. it just has all the historical toys and pop culture and interactive exhibits. It's so fun.

[00:25:48] Jeremy: it's not quite the same, but it, when you were mentioning the Children's Museum in, um, I think it's in St. Louis, there's, uh, it's called the City Museum and it's like a, it's like a giant playground, you know, indoors, outdoors, and it's not just for kids,

right? And actually some of this stuff seems like kind of sketch in terms of like, you could kind of hurt yourself, you

know, climbing

[00:26:10] Sara: When was this made?

[00:26:12] Jeremy: I'm not sure, but,


[00:26:14] Sara: before regulations maybe. ha.

[00:26:16] Jeremy: Yeah. It's, uh, but it's really cool. So at the, at the Museum of Play, though, is it, There's like a video game component, right? But then there's also, like, other types of things,

[00:26:26] Sara: Yeah, they have, like, a whole section of the museum that's really, really old toys on display, like, 1900s, 1800s. Um, they have a whole Sesame Street section, and other things like that.


From Java to Ruby

[00:26:42] Jeremy: Check it out if you're in Rochester. maybe now we could talk a little bit about, so like now you're working at Thoughtbot as a Ruby developer. but before we started recording, you were telling me that you started, working with Java. And there was like a, a long path I suppose, you know, changing languages.

So maybe you can talk a little bit about your experience there.

[00:27:06] Sara: Yeah. for other folks who have switched languages, this might be a familiar story for you, where once you get a job in one technology or one stack, one language, you kind of get typecast after a while. Your next job is probably going to be in the same language, same stack. Companies, they hire based on technology and So, it might be hard, even if you've been playing around with Ruby in your free time, to break, make that barrier jump from one language to another, one stack to another.

I mean, these technologies, they can take a little while to ramp up on. They can be a little bit different, especially if you're going from a non object oriented language to an object oriented, don't. Lose hope. (laughs) If you have an interest in Ruby and you're not a Rubyist right now, there's a good company for you that will give you a chance.

That's the key that I learned, is as a software developer, the skills that you have that are the most important are not the language that you know. It's the type of thinking that you do, the problem solving, communication, documentation, knowledge sharing, Supporting each other, and

as Saron the keynote speaker on Wednesday said, the, the word is love.

[00:28:35] Jeremy:

[00:28:35] Sara: So when I was job hunting, it was really valuable for me to include those important aspects in my skill, in my resume, in my CV, in my interviews, that like, I'm newer to this language because I had learned it at a rudimentary level before. Never worked in it really professionally for a long time. Um, when I was applying, it was like, look, I'm good at ramping up in technologies.

I have been doing software for a long time, and I'm very comfortable with the idea of planning, documenting, problem solving. Give me a chance, please. I was lucky enough to find my place at a company that would give me a chance. Test Double hired me in 2019 as a remote. Software Consultant, and it changed my life.

[00:29:34] Jeremy: What, what was it about, Ruby that I'm assuming that this is something that you maybe did in your spare time where you were playing with Ruby or?

[00:29:43] Sara: I am one of those people that don't really code in their spare time, which I think is valuable for people to say. The image of a software developer being, well, if you're not coding in your spare time, then you're not passionate about it. That's a myth. That's not true. Some of us, we have other hobbies. I have lots of hobbies.

Coding is not the one that I carry outside of the workplace, usually, but, I worked at a company called Constant Contact in 2014 and 2015. And while I was there, I was able to learn Ruby on Rails.

[00:30:23] Jeremy: Oh, okay. So that was sort of, I guess, your experience there, on the job. I guess you enjoyed something about the language or something about Rails and then that's what made you decide, like, I would really love to, to... do more of this

[00:30:38] Sara: Absolutely. It was amazing. It's such a fun language. The first time I heard about it was in college, maybe 2008 or 2009. And I remember learning, this looks like such a fun language. This looks like it would be so interesting to learn. And I didn't think about it again until 2014. And then I was programming in it.

Coming from a Java mindset and it blew my mind, the Rails magic also, I was like, what is happening? This is so cool. Because of my typecasting sort of situation of Java, I wasn't able to get back to it until 2019. And I don't want to leave. I'm so happy. I love the language. I love the community. It's fun.

[00:31:32] Jeremy: I can totally see that. I mean, when I first tried out Rails, yeah, it, like, you mentioned the magic, and I know some people are like, ah, I don't like the magic, but when, I think, once I saw what you could do, And how, sort of, little you needed to write, and the fact that so many projects kind of look the same.

Um, yeah, that really clicked for me, and I really appreciated that. think that and the Rails console. I think the console is amazing.

[00:32:05] Sara: Being able to just check real quick. Hmm, I wonder if this will work. Wait, no, I can check right now. I

[00:32:12] Jeremy: And I think that's an important point you brought up too, about, like, not... the, the stereotype and I, I kind of, you know, showed it here where I assumed like, Oh, you were doing Java and then you moved to Ruby. It must've been because you were doing Ruby on the side and thought like, Oh, this is cool.

I want to do it for my job. but I, I thought that's really cool that you were able to, not only that you, you don't do the programming stuff outside of work, but that you were able to, to find an opportunity where you could try something different, you know, in your job where you're still being paid. And I wonder, was there any, was there any specific intention behind, like, when you took that job, it was so that I can try something different, or did it just kind of happen? I'm curious what your...

The appeal of consulting

[00:32:58] Sara: I was wanting to try something different. I also really wanted to get into consulting.

[00:33:04] Jeremy: Hmm.

[00:33:05] Sara: I have ADHD. And working at a product company long term, I think, was never really going to work out for me. another thing you might notice in my LinkedIn is that a lot of my stays at companies have been relatively short.

Because, I don't know, I, my brain gets bored. The consultancy environment is... Perfect. You can go to different clients, different engagements, meet new people, learn a different stack, learn how other people are doing things, help them be better, and maybe every two weeks, two months, three months, six months, a year, change and do it all over again.

For some people, that sounds awful. For me, it's perfect.

[00:33:51] Jeremy: Yeah, I hadn't thought about that with, with consulting. cause I, I suppose, so you said it's, it's usually about half a year between projects or is


[00:34:01] Sara: varies

[00:34:01] Jeremy: It varies widely.

[00:34:02] Sara: Widely. I think we try to hit the sweet spot of 3-6 months. For an individual working on a project, the actual contract engagement might be longer than that, but, yeah.

Maintainers don't get enough credit

[00:34:13] Jeremy: Yeah. And, and your point about how some people, they like to jump on different things and some people like to, to stick to the same thing. I mean, that, that makes a lot of, sense in terms of, I think maintaining software and like building new software. It's, they're both development,

[00:34:32] Sara: Mm hmm.

[00:34:32] Jeremy: they're very different.


[00:34:35] Sara: It's so funny that you bring that up because I highly gravitate towards maintaining over making. I love going to different projects, but I have very little interest in Greenfield, very little interest in making something new. I want to get into the weeds, into 10 years that nobody wants to deal with because the weeds are so high and there's dragons in there.

I want to cut it away. I want to add documentation. I want to make it better. It's so important for us to maintain our software. It doesn't get nearly enough credit. The people that work on open source, the people that are doing maintenance work on, on apps internally, externally, Upgrades, making sure dependencies are all good and safe and secure.

love that stuff.

[00:35:29] Jeremy: That's awesome. We, we need more of you. (laughs)

[00:35:31] Sara: There's plenty of us out there, but we don't get the credit (laughs)

[00:35:34] Jeremy: Yeah, because it's like with maintenance, well, I would say probably both in companies and in open source when everything is working.

Then Nobody nobody knows.

Nobody says anything. They're just like, Oh, that's great. It's working. And then if it breaks, then everyone's upset.

[00:35:51] Sara: Exactly.

[00:35:53] Jeremy: And so like, yeah, you're just there to get yelled at when something goes wrong.

But when everything's going good, it's like,

[00:35:59] Sara: A job well done is, I was never here.

[00:36:02] Jeremy: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know how. To, you know, to fix that, I mean, when you think about open source maintainers, right, like a big thing is, is, is burnout, right? Where you are keeping the internet and all of our applications running and, you know, what you get for it is people yelling at you and the issues, right?

[00:36:23] Sara: Yeah, it's hard. And I think I actually. Submitted a talk to RubyConf this year about this topic. It didn't get picked. That's okay.

Um, we all make mistakes.

I'm going to try to give it somewhere in the future, but I think one of the important things that we as an industry should strive for is giving glory.

Giving support and kudos to maintenance work. I've been trying to do that. slash I have been doing that at ThoughtBot by, at some cadence. I have been putting out a blog post to the ThoughtBot blog called. This week in open source, the time period that is covered might be a week or longer in those posts.

I give a summary of all of the commits that have been made to our open source projects. And the people that made those contributions with highlighting to new version releases, including patch level. And I do this. The time I, I, I took up the torch of doing this from a co worker, Mike Burns, who used to do it 10 years ago. I do this so that people can get acknowledgement for the work they do, even if it's fixing a broken link, even if it's updating some words that maybe don't make sense. All of it is valuable.

[00:37:54] Jeremy: Definitely. Yeah. I mean, I, I think that, um, yeah, what's visible to people is when there's a new feature or an API change and Yeah, it's just, uh, people don't, I think a lot of people don't realize, like, how much work goes into just keeping everything running.

[00:38:14] Sara: Mm hmm. Especially in the world of open source and Ruby on Rails, all the gems, there's so many different things coming out, things that suddenly this is not compatible. Suddenly you need to change something in your code because a dependency, however many steps apart has changed and it's hard work. The people that do those things are amazing.

[00:38:41] Jeremy: So if anybody listening does that work, we, we appreciate you.

[00:38:45] Sara: We salute you.

Thank you. And if you're interested in contributing to ThoughtBot open source, we have lots of repos. There's one out there for you.

Thoughts on RubyConf

[00:38:54] Jeremy: You've been doing programming for quite a while, and, you're here at, at RubyConf. I wonder what kind of brings you to these, these conferences? Like, what do you get out of them? Um, I guess, how was this one? That sort of thing.

[00:39:09] Sara: Well, first, this one was sick. This one was awesome. Uh, Ruby central pulled out all the stops and that DJ on Monday. In the event, in the exhibit hall. Wow. Amazing. So he told me that he was going to put his set up on Spotify, on Weedmaps Spotify, so go check it out. Anyway, I come to these conferences for people.

I just love connecting with people. Those listening might notice that I'm an extrovert. I work remotely. A lot of us work remotely these days. this is an opportunity to see some of my coworkers. There's seven of us here. It's an opportunity to see people I only see at conferences, of which there are a lot.

It's a chance to connect with people I've only met on Mastodon, or LinkedIn, or Stack Overflow. It's a chance to meet wonderful podcasters who are putting out great content, keeping our community alive. That's, that's the key for me. And the talks are wonderful, but honestly, they're just a side effect for me.

They just come as a result of being here.

[00:40:16] Jeremy: Yeah, it's kind of a unique opportunity, you know, to have so many of your, your colleagues and to just all be in the same place. And you know that anybody you talk to here, like if you talk about Ruby or software, they're not going to look at you and go like, I don't know what you're talking about.

Like everybody here has at least that in common. So it's, yeah, it's a really cool experience to, to be able to chat with anybody. And it's like, You're all on the same page,

[00:40:42] Sara: Mm hmm. We're all in this boat together.

[00:40:45] Jeremy: Yup, that we got to keep, got to keep afloat according to matz

[00:40:49] Sara: Gotta keep it afloat, yeah.

[00:40:51] Jeremy: Though I was like, I was pretty impressed by like during his, his keynote and he had asked, you know, how many of you here, it's your first RubyConf and it felt like it was over half the room.

[00:41:04] Sara: Yeah, I got the same sense. I was very glad to see that, very impressed. My first RubyConf was and it was the same sort of showing of

[00:41:14] Jeremy: Nice, yeah. Yeah, actually, that was my first one, too.

[00:41:17] Sara: Nice!

[00:41:19] Jeremy: Uh, that was Nashville, Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it's, yeah, it's really interesting to see because, the meme online is probably like, Ah, Ruby is dead, or Rails is dead.

But like you come to these conferences and yeah, there's, there's so many new people.

There's like new people that are learning it and experiencing it and, you know, enjoying it the same way we are. So I, I really hope that the, the community can really, yeah, keep this going.

[00:41:49] Sara: Continue, continue to grow and share. I love that we had first timer buttons, buttons where people could self identify as this is my first RubyConf and, and then that opens a conversation immediately. It's like, how are you liking it? What was your favorite talk?

[00:42:08] Jeremy: Yeah, that's awesome. okay, I think that's probably a good place to start wrapping it. But is there anything else you wanted to mention or thought we should have talked about?

[00:42:18] Sara: Can I do a plug for thoughtbot?

[00:42:20] Jeremy: yeah, go for it.

[00:42:21] Sara: Alright. For those of you out there that might not know what ThoughtBot does, we are a full software lifecycle or company lifecycle consultancy, so we do everything from market fit and rapid prototyping to MVPs to helping with developed companies, developed teams, maybe do a little bit of a Boost when you have a deadline or doing some tech debt.

Pay down. We also have a DevOps team, so if you have an idea or a company or a team, you want a little bit of support, we have been around for 20 years. We are here for you. Reach out to us at

[00:43:02] Jeremy: I guess the thing about Thoughtbot is that, within the Ruby community specifically, they've been so involved with sponsorships and, and podcasts. And so, uh, when you hear about consultancies, a lot of times it's kind of like, well, I don't know, are they like any good? Do they know what they're doing?

But I, I feel like, ThoughtBot has had enough, like enough of a public record. I feel It's like, okay, if you, if you hire them, um, you should be in good hands.

[00:43:30] Sara: Yeah. If you have any questions about our abilities, read the blog.

[00:43:35] Jeremy: It is a good blog. Sometimes when I'm, uh, searching for how to do something in Rails, it'll pop up,

[00:43:40] Sara: Mm hmm. Me too. Every question I ask, one of the first results is our own blog. I'm like, oh yeah, that makes sense.

[00:43:47] Jeremy: Probably the peak is if you've written the blog.

[00:43:50] Sara: That has happened to my coworkers They're like, wait, I wrote a blog about this nine years ago.

[00:43:55] Jeremy: Yeah, yeah. So maybe, maybe that'll happen to you soon. I, I know definitely people who do, um, Stack Overflow. And it's like, Oh, I like, this is a good answer. Oh, I wrote this. (laughs) yeah. Well, Sara, thank you so much for, for chatting with me today.

[00:44:13] Sara: Absolutely, Jeremy. Thank you so much for having me. I was really glad to chat today.