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THE README PODCAST // S2.8

Hosts in the hot seat

Neha and Brian turn the interview tables on each other.

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Neha Batra  & Brian Douglas

The ReadME Project amplifies the voices of the open source community: the maintainers, developers, and teams whose contributions move the world forward every day.

Neha Batra & Brian Douglas // @github

Growing up in South Florida, Neha Batra graduated from MIT and jumped into a role as an energy consultant—but craved an even faster pace of life and taught herself to program. She was a software engineer at several companies, and joined the board of Write/Speak/Code, where she helped make the open source world more inclusive for marginalized genders. Neha now lives in San Francisco, where she’s a Senior Engineering Director at GitHub. A foodie who’s into planning trips, she also has a thing for national park magnets.

Brian also grew up in Florida, and was in full-time sales before the birth of his son inspired him to build an app—and he saw a new career unfold before his eyes. He also taught himself to code, started blogging, and caught the eye of a San Francisco tech company. Now living in Oakland with his family, Brian is a Director of Developer Advocacy at GitHub, where he creates space for other developers to find their voice. He’s also the host of the JAMstack Radio podcast and created the Open Sauced community.

OPENING QUOTES: [Brian] "Whoa, you can do that? Just give me code for free. I don't have to pay for this?" He is like, "Yeah, it's called open source, dude," and I was like, "Wow, that's so amazing." That's what really unlocked this whole world. People are just giving help for free, bettering other people around them, and that just blew me away. [Neha] It's been so heartwarming to meet a bunch of people who are in open source and see how committed they are to that philosophy and how open they are to contributions and meeting new people, and that serendipity.

Brian: Welcome to The ReadME Podcast, a GitHub podcast that takes a peek behind the curtain at some of the most impactful open source projects and the developers who make them happen. I am bdougie aka Brian Douglas…

Neha: And I’m nerdneha aka Neha Batra.

Brian: For our final episode of the season and 2021, we thought it would be fun to turn the interview tables around a bit and interview each other. My co-host Neha has such an interesting background, that I personally wanted to get to know her more and share that story with all of y’all.

Neha: And likewise! Brian, we’ve worked around each other for a few years now, but through this podcast I’ve gotten to know you so much better. And I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, in this episode, we put each other in the hot seat and talk about how we got into coding, how open source came into our lives, and very crucial things like merge, squash, or rebase? And what keyboard shortcut we use the most. 

Brian: I am excited about this episode and hope you will be too.

Neha: Okay. I have to admit I'm a little bit nervous. Even though we've been doing this so many times, it's so different to be in the hot seat. This is going to be fun.

Brian: I'm actually a really hard interview. I'll ask the first question, and I'm actually intrigued to hear this, which is… Neha, what was your first computer interaction? What impression did that leave on you?

Neha: Okay. I don't remember exactly when, but my dad's a professor and he's at a university in the management information systems program…

Brian: Which school? 

Neha: FIU, Florida International University.

Brian: Okay. I'm familiar. Yeah.

Neha: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense, since we're both from Florida. I was too young at the time. I think I was probably five or six, but my dad brought home a computer. What I'm assuming is that it was a computer that was no longer used, and so he got some permission to take it home. It was a black screen with I think a yellow colored font. I have no idea if that was controlled or not. But my dad could bring home a game every now and then. It was almost like every other week he had a game to bring home. I have no idea how he installed it or anything, but I got introduced to these random computer games.

And it was a very fascinating little black box that was able to bring me joy. I started to look forward to what my dad was bringing home. He was, I think, equally fascinated by this technology and potentially more familiar with it. He sparked my interest in it, and the computer became a staple in my house from then on. Usually, with hand-me-downs from the university until things became more affordable in our family to buy our own. I have no idea when that crossed over actually.

Brian: That's amazing.

Neha: That's my first one. Yeah. What about you? When was your first experience with a computer?

Brian: Honestly, we've asked this question so many different times to different guests, and I don't know if you'd call the Nintendo Entertainment System a computer. It definitely has-

Neha: That's legit.

Brian: It does have microchips in it. But I distinctly remember when I was four or five years old, we got a Nintendo for Christmas. My mom and dad, at the time they were still together. They've since separated, but it was right before they split up and got the Nintendo. And I distinctly remember that I rented a bunch of games from Blockbuster because you could do that back in the day.

Neha: Oh yes. I do.

Brian: They spent Christmas Eve playing games with each other the entire night, and the kids, me and my brothers, just watched. I know my older brother was a little annoyed, but I remember just watching Mario, the basic, the original Mario on the NES, and watching them play and being like, "Wow, this is so cool." Then eventually getting to try it myself and just not liking it because it was so frustrating because I didn't know how to do the games. But since then, a couple years later, after my parents split up we moved into an apartment complex. And the way it works in probably most apartment complexes in the south, maybe in Florida, but we had a pool in the central part of the apartment complex and then there would be a clubhouse. And inside the clubhouse they had a computer room for… I don't know why you would have a computer room back in the day, but it was a computer for anybody. You just had to have a key to get in. 

I distinctly remember older, middle school—they seemed huge back in the day because I was six or seven. But middle school or high schoolers would just play Wolfenstein, the original Wolfenstein on there. I was just so fascinated by it. They showed us how to do it ourselves. A couple times, we were able to go in there without supervision and would be able to go play Wolfenstein. The people who worked at the apartment complex were cool with it. Yeah, I learned how to go into DOS and type in “CD run Wolfenstein,” and that was my first interaction. I got really comfortable with that command line. Then after that, we eventually got a computer in the house years later and I was familiar with it. I guess games impacted me a lot because it was a pastime you have when you come home from school, when it's just you and your brothers. Yeah. It sums up my first interaction.

Neha: Yeah. I think for me too, schools had a big play in my impressions with computers as well, because I think that by the time I was in third grade, for sure, I have distinct memories of going into a room where we could go to computer lab. And it was not only for during the school time, but I was in after school care. So you'd have these rotations of different stations, and—afterschool care means school's out and your parents pick you up at 5:00 PM or something like that. It's in between time. Computer lab was the most coveted time, especially because sometimes during the school day, you could play games and you could even have an account, so you could have levels. I remember Mathstorm or this one where you're a fish and you're getting more fish or whatever. You can grow to be a bigger fish and you eventually become a shark and then you get eaten by a human or something.

Brian: I think I actually remember that. Yeah. Yeah. That was amazing. 

Neha: Yeah, in afterschool care, since we could just be unbridled without having to do any work ahead of time, we could play these games. You could get ahead of the other kids in the day class, and it was like a competition to see who could be on the highest level. I was a very competitive kid. I probably still am now. But getting ahead was just my first real love for computers. 

I feel like for me it was something that I grew up with, and it had just entered my life to a point that it wasn't something I questioned. I was like, "Oh yeah, computers are going to be around for the rest of my life." Did I ever predict that it would be as cool as it was one or two years later? Absolutely not. But I was in for the ride.

Brian: Yeah. It's amazing too as well. I guess I got lucky because my dad was always interested in computers and technology and just had interest in just general knowledge. That impacted me when we got Encarta 95 on the Windows PC..

Neha: Yes! 

Brian: Yeah. You remember that? This search random European facts.

Neha: Yeah. Was it Encarta that had also this random game where you could... I think there was one of these encyclopedia CDs that also had a game where you could go through trivia, which was fascinating. I wish I could remember what it was, but those were... I just have such positive memories associated with that, the ability to discover and not even know what's on that CD and then open it up and spelunk your way through.

Brian: Yeah. I mean I don't want to age both of us since I've already announced that we're both similar ages. But back in the day, people remark about getting the CD or the album and looking at the songs on the back and discovering the album art and having tangible stuff. Similar to an Encarta, just going through random facts. I remember actually going through the encyclopedia just randomly, because for whatever reason, we inherited an entire A to Z encyclopedia and-

Neha: Like on your bookshelf?

Brian: On the bookshelf. Yes.

Neha: Yes. Okay. Yeah.

Brian: I think we moved, at one time we moved and my mom was just fed up enough of like, "We don't need these anymore. I'm getting rid of them." Because at that point, Encarta and everything else, it had all the knowledge of the internet at your fingertips, which is... I don't know, it's pretty mind blowing to think about. Because I remember back in middle school we had broadband in our house, being able to do reports in Google, because we just got good at copy and pasting. This is-

Neha: Yes. 

Brian: ...pre all the plagiarism technology that's out now. But yeah, learning how to Google or at that time, Lycos, I don't know, Ask Jeeves or whatever.

Neha: Ask Jeeves, yeah.

Brian: Yeah. Getting to learn how to do that and just knowing the tools at your fingertips and be able to get that information, get your report done the night before and then go on with your merry middle school life.

Neha: Yeah, absolutely. I think a skill that I learned at that time that I still take with me today is that all this information’s at your fingertips. But even before I understood how information was indexed and how you could traverse the web to get to the right place, it really felt like if you're trying to get the right information If you could just phrase the question in the right way, that you might get the information at your fingertips. If you could just try the right path to get to what you need to do, you could get that. 

Since I've done that so many times when I was growing up, I knew how perseverance is a very important part of this, and sometimes it's just the right combo of words that get you there, and I feel like that's still very important and pertinent today, right? Sometimes it's just a matter of asking the right question or phrasing the question the right way for you to ge the information you need to do, and that happens a lot in coding. Right? Coding can be hard and it's just a matter of understanding the core concepts and then figuring out the right way to word something to get the output that you're looking for.

Brian: Yeah. Speaking of coding, I'm curious, what got you into coding? Because not everybody makes a jump from magical internet at your fingertips and Google to writing codes. What got you to this point?

Neha: I actually had so many brushes before I pursued it as a career. When I was in high school, I was on a robotics team. I am a very strategic person so I was like, "How do we win these competitions?" We did not have a huge lab or have a lot of funding to get the best robot or the best quality materials. We were building it ourselves, little high school students doing it on our own. So, where are all the points coming from? The points are coming from the programming period at the beginning, the autonomous period, or from the notebook or from the essays that you have to do or the presentation. I started specializing in all those random areas. And one of them was programming.

I still remember, to this day, that first moment where I was downloading all of the libraries that are available for us to program this camera to detect a green square, and then if it detects the green square above the equivalent of a basketball hoop, then you can shoot the balls in there and then they're worth way more. You could get a leg up on the competition before you go into the controlled mode. I did not do well. I was very overwhelmed by all the libraries, and I was very confused as to… I knew what to do with respect to pseudocode, how do I make that happen? That was one of my first few brushes of it. I had mentioned this on a previous podcast episode, but I was doing a science project around the future of nanotechnology and what would it look if you were to optimize the detecting bots and the doing bots, and how would that look and how can you do that simulation?

I took a computer course in it in high school and still I was like, "This could be fun." But at the time I was like, "The career is probably like sitting in a cubicle with a computer just trying to solve a problem, it's going to be really boring." Went through college, taking another computer course, but still sticking to my mechanical engineering major and going into energy consulting. I was really fascinated with energy efficiency and what our impending energy crisis might be in the U.S. and what I can do about it. Did some consulting. Eventually, I was just interested in having ... I wanted to get into the startup world. I was like, "What if things can be a little bit faster?" 

Looking at the skills that I had, right? After graduating, after going into consulting, I was like, "Okay, cool. I should do operations, or I should do marketing strategy or biz dev or something." And I was asking a friend, I asked her, "What is the most lucrative way..." Actually, there was one big moment for me. When we were doing our career fair in college, for mechanical engineering, there were maybe two companies or two booths. I went to MIT. There were a lot of people who were graduating from computer science. There were hundreds of career booths for software engineers, and I was like... It was too late for me at the time, but I was like, "Did I make the wrong decision?" 

Brian: You picked the wrong one?

Neha: Yeah, exactly. I had this in the back of my head and I was like, "Who are the people in these startups who don't need to have 10 years of experience to go have a good paying job?"

I was living in New York at the time, so I had to have a good salary and they were like, "Oh yeah, you need to go into software," and I was like, "Okay, cool. What does that mean?" They were like, "Well, you need to program." I was like, "I've taken AP Computer Science. I've taken that Python course in college. Is that enough?" The answer is no. It's definitely not enough. Thus began my journey. I quit my job and I looked through a bunch of free online courses to figure out how am I going to gain these skills so that I can get a cool, fun job at a very fast-paced company and get treated like royalty? I started to put these courses together. I applied a bunch of times to The Recurse Center, which is previously known as Hacker School, which is a writer retreat for programmers, and got rejected twice.

Got in on my third time when I had finally basically picked up on all of these tiny things that are required, all of these learning curves that are required to learn how to program, and got into Recurse Center. Had some fantastic facilitators that helped me understand how to teach myself in this new world, and then got my first software job shortly after that. That was my journey. I taught myself. I think the part that I gloss over and I just want to make sure that we mention is that, in those nine months where I was teaching myself, it was a lot of crying and being really frustrated and trying to understand what the documentation means in terms of what I understood at the time. I have so much respect for anyone who's tried to teach themself because it is a practice of patience with yourself and with the resources that are in front of you. Well, that's my journey. Yeah.

Brian: Yeah, that's awesome. What was the place you landed a job after that process of self-teaching?

Neha: My first full-time job was at Rent the Runway. It's a fashion e-commerce company where you can rent designer dresses. I got to touch a lot of the code, I got to build the first, first, first rendition of favoriting a dress and adding it to a list, which is funny full circle because GitHub just released Lists yesterday. 

Brian: That is true.

Neha: I got to work on short lists for dresses and I got to work on a little bit of the warehouse technology and what it means to receive a dress and turn it around the next day and ship it out to the person that's expecting that dress. It was really fun. It was a really fun job. I got to work on really cool, more difficult than you would imagine problems.

Brian: Wow. Yeah. Did you rub shoulders with the fashion industry as well? Some notable people? Or did you sit in a lab somewhere typing away?

Neha: There was maybe... I think there were two floors. One time I was using the restroom and a model was next to me, and I was like, "Oh my God, it's the model who's in all of the photos, who is absolutely cool and amazing." I was too starstruck to say anything. That was probably the closest we got. But because I was working on the front end for the majority of it, I was constantly refreshing the page and testing my features and the work that I was doing. I got very familiar with all of the designers, just as a matter of going through that dropdown and going and testing through all our pages. And as an employee, we got free rentals at the time. Maybe they still do that. But because of that, I got to understand which designer dresses fit my body, a world that I would've never been privy to otherwise. It's helped me be very informed, that's for sure. It's fun. I also will never look at a product page on e-commerce the same way ever again. 

Brian: Yeah. That's an interesting problem. Now so many different designers, but also just like H&M and the Gap all have all their stuff on the internet ready to click, and e-commerce feels similar in a way. I'm sure all those patterns you had to figure out years ago, you're now like, "Oh, this is now common practice."

Neha: Yeah. It's so funny. A lot of it is now more industry known and a lot of it is constantly rediscovered. You know if you're working in fashion e-commerce, we were very lucky at the time, it was 30% women in our eng team. I remember we were coding through bra sizes. A natural engineer would just pattern match and they're like, "Cool. There is a size A, B, C, D, and there's a double A, and there's a double D."

That makes sense that there would be a double B and a double C as well. And me having the industry knowledge of what is actually true or not had to be like, "Okay, cool. I totally understand why you would want to pattern match, but there are ..." It's just a double A, A, B, C, D, and double D, and then there's a few sizes after that. I had to explain to them how these sizes worked. It's funny how you still rediscover some things and it's natural to only want to pattern match and make things make sense in the programming world.

Brian: Yep. All I can say is today I learned. 

Neha: Yeah. Well, I couldn't turn the page on you, or do you want to dig deeper?

Brian: On bras sizes?

Neha: No. I wanted to ask you about your first interaction with programming. Unless you wanted to dig in deeper?

Brian: Yeah. No, you've exposed the extent of my knowledge, so we don't have to dig deeper on that. I had mentioned in the past, on other episodes, but I got into programming, not knowing I was programming type of stuff. GeoCities is probably the earliest thing I remember. Actually, taking a step back, I mentioned AOL CDs. That was my gateway into the Web, was through AOL. `Sircutswift` on AIM. I don't use it anymore, but that was my handle back in the day. We eventually migrated to Netscape. I think a lot of people, if you're a Gen Z, maybe you missed out on this, but the internet was a paid... You paid for dial-up, but then you had to pay to have some gateway. So like AOL or Netscape, you paid monthly. There was a limitation. Every now and then, our internet was just... My mom would basically have to cut it off because that's a bill, that it's more of like an extra thing. 

Neha: It's a luxury. Yeah.

Brian: Yeah, very much a luxury. Then eventually our cable company got cable internet, we begged our mom to say, "Hey, we'll do this and this and this around the house if we get cable internet," and that unlocked everything for us, because no longer were you just paying for the month, it was built in the cable bill. It was out of sight, out of mind.

Neha: Yeah, it wasn’t blocking the telephone.

Brian: Yeah, unblocking the telephone. We were the first on the block to get that as well so not only were we the house with the Nintendo, we were the house with the internet too as well. As much as we can get into, we got into on the internet. I have a twin brother, and he had discovered how to get free licenses to software, things like Dreamweaver and early versions of Photoshops and all the other knock-offs that were pre-Photoshop as well. Through these concepts called Wears. If anybody knows things like peer-to-peer file sharing before LimeWire and before Kazaa and even Napster, you had these Wear sites and you'd find how to crack codes as well.

Pretty much what we did is find the coolest games, get versions of those on the Wear sites, play the newest Rainbow Six games. And from there, we started learning how to hack the games themselves like Rainbow Six. Just like all teenage, preteen kids would do these days with Minecraft, we were doing the same thing with all these other games, with all the hacks and the cracks to be better. It's like we are always hacking literate and computer literate and would find scripts on random sites like SourceForge. But find those scripts so  was knowledgeable in the space and knew how to copy and paste, and my brother got into action scripts as well to do flash games.

I never got into that, but I always more of like the “right click, inspect, copy and paste the HTML.” Honestly, I keep focusing on my brother because he was the one leading the effort. I was going on for the ride. In middle school, he built this site, which at the time, it was Carwise Middle School. He created this site called carwisemiddleschoolhell.com, and it was essentially a forum where anybody anonymously could talk about anything about the school. It blew up to the point where it wasn't just about Carwise, which Carwise is the last name of the person it was named after. It was about all the other middle schools like Palm Harbor Middle, Clearwater Middle. They all did. All the local middle schools-

Neha: Oh my God. 

Brian: ... got on the site as well, to the point where they eventually figured out because someone narked and said, "Hey, it's Brian's brother who did this." He got pulled in. He's like, "Hey, this is pretty cool you made this thing, but you need to change the name." So he changed it to CMS, which is a Carwise Middle School so cmshell.com. At that point, it just took off. By the time he got to high school, he just let it go, just let it keep going. Never shut it down. Eventually, things changed, hosting and stuff like that, or maybe the domain wasn't paid and it just died. But yeah, the entire middle school—we were the kids that had the house with the broadband internet. But also I was the brother of the kid who built a site that got a lot of attention. We actually met quite a few friends that didn't go to our school through that site too as well, because-

Neha: Really?

Brian: Yeah. Essentially, it was pre-MySpace. By the time it got to the end years of high school, MySpace, essentially that was what we used it for, is to meet local people and hang out and find bands and stuff like that. Yeah, it was a very naive project that he basically threw together through HTML, but I got a lot of knowledge and if you Google enough, you can figure it out. I spent college basically getting a finance degree, not really doing anything with the internet. Still looking for how to find free sounds and music and stuff like that. While in college, I was still adjacent and all that. 

I remember even looking at my degree thinking, “You know what?”—we didn't have a very big CS program at University of South Florida, but they had a management information system. A lot of folks use that as getting an IT job and stuff like that. I looked at it and I was like, "Ah, I don't know if I ever want to do that," because I was so focused on trying to get a job that would pay me money and get a finance degree. Then graduating in 2008 during the housing debacle and everything like that, there were no jobs left over for me. I didn't really have a network or anything like that. Fast forward, I eventually got an IT consultant role, actually an admin role. I would support the sales staff.

I was doing my job, and at the time I had an iPhone and was watching Netflix. Netflix had just got an iPhone app and had streaming started. I would watch Netflix and do my job, which was basically adding stuff to data entry and Excel. I automated with VBScript because years ago I knew how to script stuff, I knew how to find-

Neha: Right. 

Brian: … so I Googled enough and then found, I think eventually a stack exchange article of how to do this in VBScript, how to basically take access tables and then make it fill out an Excel form. From that point, I just automated my—a portion of my job—that would take hours to do, I was doing in five minutes just by running a script.

Neha: Just to be clear, you automated your job so you could watch more Netflix?

Brian: Yes. I was watching Netflix.

Neha: I love this. Okay. Go on.

Brian: In particular, I was watching The Last Airbender on the Nickelodeon show.

Neha: It's a great show. Yes. 

Brian: Yeah. Because I was in college when that came out. I was in college and I missed that show when I was in college. I was like, "You know what? I've got a full-time job. I've scripted myself out of a job, basically. I'm just going to watch this show," and I watched the entire show. I binge so much content on Netflix. At the time, it was just unfeathered entertainment, eight hours a day. I got to the point where I got promoted a couple times at the job, and I eventually took a sales role and stopped automating myself out of job—I had to actually pick up the phone and call. But I don't think I would've got noticed if I didn't actually build that script and then pitched out to everybody else on the team to the point that everybody on the team was using the script I wrote.

Neha: Were you just all watching Netflix together?

Brian: No. I cannot confirm or deny.

Neha: Okay. Got it. Got it.

Brian: This story's actually on the ReadME Project. My son was at 29 weeks, and at the age of 27, I decided to build an app and I did. From a bunch of Googling I figured out actually you can build a full-on app and you're good to go. From there I found out people were actually getting paid full-time money for this. Basically, I took a full-time role in Orlando working for a social media company. This is pre FyreFest, but literally the companies that connected dog food brands to stay-at-home moms or dog owners and send them to events. That was the company I worked for and learned tons about influencing and social media. Ironically, I don't really make that connection a lot, but that's literally what I do at GitHub today, is connect influencers with our platform.

Neha: Yeah, absolutely.  Wait, you said you made an app when you're 27? What was the app?

Brian: Yeah. This app, it was called Chuych. It was C-H-U-Y-C-H, and the tagline was we put the Y in church. That's literally what it was. It was just like, while being in the hospital for a micro preemie, my wife and I, we wanted to go to a church to feel spiritually uplifted and just do something besides stare at an incubator for 11 weeks. 

Neha: Yeah, absolutely.

Brian: But at the time we were in Tampa, Florida, and Googling churches in Tampa, it's like a mixed bag. Today it's much better. I think SEO and churches, they figured it out. But if I wanted to find a church, it was like, you know... All I wanted is a church that I could walk in, go listen to some music, maybe hear a sermon and go home. If I just wanted to check a bunch of boxes, I couldn't do that just by Googling. You get a bunch of... Back-end… at this time, it was 2013, 2012 actually. You’d get a bunch of just random stuff. Maybe the church has a website. Maybe they have a phone number. Maybe their address is on there. It's a common problem that you probably have seen in the fashion industry back when you were working there. 

It's like you just want to answer a couple questions when you find the website. At the time, for churches, it was super hard. So I built this app to basically do… it was essentially Yelp for churches. You have a church page just like any other standard MySpace page, and they can add all their detailed information. It was all geolocation based, using the Google Maps API, which at that time was super open and easy to use. And I shipped the app and then found that there was a portion of it that was for reviews. So I could give a one star or five star review on a church. Churches weren't really cool with having reviews from random people on the internet.

Neha: I would imagine.

Brian: Which makes a lot of sense. At the time I found out I can get paid more working as a junior engineer at a company in Orlando than working at sales doing my job with my eyes closed. I took the engineering role and continued down this path.

Neha: Did the app that you build help find the church that you were looking for?

Brian: No. 

Neha: Or the support that you were looking for?

Brian: No, not at all because I needed to source the data. The reviews is the way I can sort of build a growth model. Mind you, I was doing the entrepreneur tract, and I was getting my MBA at the same time. That's a whole other side note. So I was looking to build a business, a company. I was going to basically growth hack my way into getting people excited using this. But it just was a lot of leg work, and at the time I had a newborn son that needed to grow a lot. So I just focused on that and just took the stable engineering job at the marketing company.

Neha: What took you from that first job to when you got into open source?

Brian: Yeah. That's a good question. The entire time I learned how to code, I was actually writing a blog. And this is mainly because I've always done the scripting. I actually tried to build an Android app the summer before this all happened, and I fell off. Bought a book, never read it that type of stuff. I wanted to stay accountable. So the way I did that was to write a blog post, and then while doing that, I found eventually people were reading my blog. I had no expectations that anybody would read this blog. It was just more of if I solved a problem, I wanted to write it down. Then eventually I started tweeting out my blog just to the three people that followed me, and then it got to the point where eventually some people in the Ruby Engineers found it and started reaching out to me and I would follow them.

Then I eventually followed a bunch of Ruby folks and found out there was this whole world of people just doing stuff for free on the internet. There were names attached to the scripts that I was copying and pasting. I got connected eventually through a conference I went to in St. Augustine and met people face to face. 

I just got enamored and just head first, dove super deep into the open source world, and mostly as a consumer, up until the last couple years when I actually started building my own stuff and sharing it. But yeah, it's just mind boggling that I spent all this time adjacent to the space, not really knowing there was community and spaces you could actually grow and learn and collaborate. But curious about yourself, your path into self-learning, did you brush shoulders amongst open source folks in community?

Neha: Not quite. For the most part, the world of open source and I grew in parallel. A few times when I was at my last job at Pivotal, we would be reliant on these open source frameworks, and sometimes we would find a bug. I would be pairing with someone who was much more familiar with that area. Because I was at Pivotal Lab, you pair all day. I got a lot of access to information that way. They were pairing and they're like, "Oh, why don't we just file an issue?" And I was like, "File an issue? On someone else's project? Can you even do that?" They're like, "Yeah, it's totally normal." They would take me to the issues page and we'd file it together, and I was very nervous. I just didn't know what was going to happen, and people responded really well. I think we got to do our first PR that way.

It's probably not even on my account because we were probably using some company account or whatever when we were working with our clients. So those were my first brushes with open source, and I don't have a normal story as an open source maintainer because I've never spent too much time in that role. When I came to GitHub, I got to manage an open source team. I got to manage GitHub Desktop and I got to have my biggest exposure to the open source world as managing the engineers who were working on that open source project, and then eventually CLI, and now I get to full-time solve problems for open source maintainers, which is an absolute privilege. I've gotten to see it a little bit and had a few more experiences through Write/Speak/Code. We did code days and we'd have open source maintainers come in and people could do their first contributions and I got to do mine with Linda Pang for the CodeBuddies repo, and she-

Brian: Oh, nice.

Neha: ... handheld me through a lot of it when I was really nervous, and she was incredibly patient and encouraging. So I had very positive memories and I was always intrigued. When I got the chance to manage an open source team, I totally took advantage of it. It was very eye opening. I have nothing but respect for folks who are open source contributors and maintainers because I get to see what it's like to want to get work done, want to solve problems for people, and also want to focus and figure out how to balance all of those things out in the open.

Brian: Yeah. That's interesting. You mentioned Pivotal and even Linda with CodeBuddies and Write/Speak/Code. The one thing that I noticed during the course of the season is the folks that we chatted with, there were distinct mentors-

Neha: Yes. 

Brian: ... in their story that they shouted out and mentioned that showed them the ropes, like with Fred at his first job or when he was actually interning at Google as well. They eventually showed him, “Hey, you could do a thing.” Or “Hey, you're doing too much, slow down.” Even though maybe that was a negative experience for him, he was able to turn that in into a positive, and Anthony also had a mentor, Salma had a mentor at the job where he sat and paired with her for all that time. I think that's so paramount. You don't know what you don't know, and when someone shows you that, hey, it's more than just copy and paste grips, there's a human behind there-

Neha: Yes. Yes. 

Brian: ... where you could take that. I hope that the listeners will be able to get that revelation, that… take some time and say hello to the person that you just copied their code from. Which sounds weird to say out loud, but that's literally open source. You're just installing stuff on the internet on GitHub and there's an opportunity to have a contribution. 

I just wanted to mention real quick, that first conference I went to in St. Augustine, I had an opportunity to meet a ton of folks like Katrina Owen as well, and also Richard Schneeman, who's worked at Heroku and prolific in Ruby contributions and stuff like that. I happened to sit at a table at breakfast, the second day at the conference. I didn't know anybody. I was just sitting there just minding my own business.

I come from a sales background, so I know how to network, but I'm just like, "I don't know. They're going to figure out that I don't know how to write code." Mind you, I didn't know how to write code. I sat at that table and he's like, "Oh, hey. I'm Richard, and this is my friend." I completely forgot his ... I want to say Paul, the guy next to him he introduced was a digital nomad nerd from New Zealand. Him and his wife were traveling, writing code across the US and Canada. I was like, "Wow, that's so fascinating. Do you have a blog or whatever?" Because I was writing a blog every week about my coding experience. He was like, "Yeah, but it's not public." He just documents stuff that he encounters and people he meets.

I was like, "Oh, that's cool." He gave me a password to be able to read it and look at it. I was like, "Oh, that's so awesome." I was like, "Okay, cool." Eventually, I put some of my stuff on GitHub and that guy who was traveling the world, he actually did a contribution to one of my projects. It was the first six months into the game of professional development and I've got a contribution to one of my projects that I had no idea anybody paid attention to.

Neha: Oh my God.

Brian: And I was like, "Whoa, you can do that? Just give me code for free? I don't have to pay for this?" He is like, "Yeah, it's called open source, dude," and I was like, "Wow, that's so amazing." That's what really unlocked this whole world of people just giving help for free, bettering other people around them, and that just blew me away. I definitely needed to find him and say what's up, now that I just thought about him, just now.

Neha: I think there's something really interesting here because I had alluded to it in my story and you did too. There's a little bit of an imposter syndrome, right?

Brian: Yeah. 

Neha: It's so easy to feel like, I don't want to bother this person, this person's so busy, to like, "What do I know? I'm just on my journey. Maybe I haven't reached the right level," and there is absolutely something to be said about boundaries and giving people the space and time. Maintainers are doing a lot of these projects in their free time. But these people just want to help and they want to grow and they want to let something out there into the world and grow on its own and if you want to be part of that journey. It's been so heartwarming to meet a bunch of people who are in open source and see how committed they are to that philosophy and how open they are to contributions and meeting new people, and that serendipity, it takes a little bit of access to meet those first few people. But once you do that, it unlocks an entire door.

Brian: Yeah. That's what I love about what your team's working on. It's like access is freely given to those who want it. On GitHub, if you want to follow the commit history or you want to follow the dependency graph, you're able to discover who are the owners of these contributions, where do they speak? Where are the conversations that they have, where are they located? Yeah. It's just wild knowing that my first interaction with the computer, your first interaction with the computer, so much is at your fingertips. If you just have somebody or something to nudge you in the right way, to know what to search for or how to interact, that's the only blocking… There's probably other things blocking, but that's a big hurdle that people can overcome once you just know, “Oh yeah, you know what? This is approachable. Let me go ahead and try this out.”

Neha: In the spirit of connection and getting to know the people behind the code, I thought we’d do a little rapid fire Q&A. Pulling out all the big, juicy questions. 

Neha: Okay, cool. Brian, how many Slack notifications do you have at a given time?

Brian: Unlimited. Because I turn off notifications, unless you mention me. I have zero mention notifications, but everything else, I don't pay attention to.

Neha: That's genius. Favorite sticker on your laptop?

Brian: Favorite sticker? I've got a pizza sticker I got from Pizza de Dados, which I pronounced that wrong. It's a Brazilian podcast for tech, and it's a great looking sticker.

Neha: What about your keyboard shortcut that you use the most?

Brian: Oh, that's a good one. Probably Command Option Escape so I can force close something that's spinning too long. I don't know why. Maybe because my Mac's five years old.

Neha: What's something new added to your workspace in the last year?

Brian: In the last year. Ooh, everything. Well, because working from home, I've got way more cameras at this point and as well as mixers. For whatever reason, I do a lot of live streaming. Yeah. Two cameras, two mixers.

Neha: Coffee or tea?

Brian: Definitely coffee.

Neha: Light, dark or dimmed mode?

Brian: I've been doing dark mode. I can't get off of it now. I was indifferent for the longest time, and now I'm stuck on dark mode.

Neha: Finally, Merge, Squash, Rebase?

Brian: Squash. Don't at me.

Neha: All right. 

Brian: How many Slack notifications do you have at a given time, Neha?

Neha: Right now, I have 11. That goes up and down depending on how long I've been away from notifications. This is in the last hour.

Brian: Oh, that's not bad. Favorite sticker on your laptop.

Neha: I think it would either be the... It'd probably be the I Voted sticker. I'm very proud that I voted.

Brian: Actually, I have I Coded sticker on mine.

Neha: Woo-hoo. 

Brian: What about a keyboard shortcut you use the most?

Neha: I hotkey my Caps Lock to my Escape key, just getting out of things as quickly as possible.

Brian: Same. 

Neha: Is it hotkey? I don't know. I've rewired the shortcut. 

Brian: Yeah, key bindings.

Neha: Key bindings. There you go. Escape.

Brian: Yes. Number one thing I do when I get a new machine. Something new you added to your workspace in the last year.

Neha: Probably a lot of things, but I always have these stickies on my monitors to remind me of something important that's going on. I have one that says, "Take them at their word," which is when people say things that are nice to me, instead of me rejecting the praise, I should just take them at their word. I have another one that says, "Have fun with it." It's a way to remind me that no matter what's happening, there's always a way to have fun. I take things seriously, but they don't have to go too far.

Brian: Nice. Coffee or tea?

Neha: Coffee, for sure.

Brian: How about light mode, dark mode or dimmed mode?

Neha: I used to be a big dark fan, and then when we were working on GitHub Desktop for a while, it was only in light mode and it helped me see the light, if we want to make that joke. But right now, I just use whatever the default is. Sometimes I'll notice that it is dark mode, but because it goes ... The default mode is usually that it switches over when you hit nighttime. It's working well, but it definitely exposes ... There's a lot more bugs in visual interfaces in dark mode than there is in light mode. Sometimes that bugs me a bit.

Brian: Okay. Important question. Merge, Squash or Rebase?

Neha: I'm a Rebase, sir. That's my favorite. Yeah. 

Brian: All right.

Neha: Nothing like a clean history.

Brian: Why do you like doing this podcast, Neha?

Neha: I love talking to people, I have nothing but respect for open source maintainers, and I'm actually just genuinely curious about what makes them tick, why they're excited about working on this, and especially because I'm trying to make the maintainers lives better. There's nothing cooler than getting to speak to these people firsthand and keeping them in mind when I'm trying to solve problems for them. Why do you enjoy being on this podcast, Brian?

Brian: A couple years ago, I realized that it doesn't matter how hard the coding problem is. It's written by humans. What I love about this podcast is that I get to actually meet those humans and realize that we all eventually stumble onto these solutions, and you continuously fail until you succeed and then you move on to the next failure. I love exposing those stories and sharing those, and I love making that connection and making friends through this podcast, which I've made a couple of since we've interviewed some people.

Neha: Yeah, I can hard relate. I think it's a fantastic answer. I've become a fan of way more people than I ever thought I could become fans of, and I'm really excited about what the next season might hold and who I get to meet. 

Brian: Rebase, huh. This season has been a lot of fun. Thank you all for joining and listening along. I am Brian Douglas, aka bdougie.

Neha: And I am Neha Batra aka nerdneha. 

Brian: And we are the hosts of The ReadME Podcast.

Neha: The ReadME Podcast is a GitHub podcast that dives into the challenges our guests faced and how they overcame those hurdles. In sharing these stories, we hope to provide a spotlight on what you don’t always see in the lines of code, and what it took to build the technology that inspires us all. 

Brian:  It’s been really great spending time with you. The ReadME Podcast is part of the ReadME Project at GitHub, a space that amplifies the voices of the developer community: The maintainers, leaders, and the teams whose contributions move the world forward every day. Visit GitHub.com/readme to learn more and sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

Our theme music has been produced on GitHub by Dan Gorelick with Tidal Cycles. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. 

The ReadME Podcast is produced by Sound Made Public for GitHub.

Thanks so much for joining us for Season 2 of The ReadME Podcast. Follow us on Twitter for updates on Season 3—coming in the new year—and all other GitHub news.

Thanks for listening!

Meet the hosts

Neha Batra

Growing up in South Florida, Neha Batra has always loved building things. She dug into robotics in high school and earned a mechanical engineering degree with a concentration in energy from MIT, then jumped into a role as an energy consultant—but craved an even faster pace of life. She taught herself to program and worked as a software engineer at several companies, including Pivotal Labs and Recurse Center. She was also instrumental in helping make the world of open source more inclusive for marginalized genders on the board for Write/Speak/Code. Neha now lives in San Francisco, where she’s an Engineering Director at GitHub designing products to improve the world of OSS. She’s also a foodie who’s into planning trips, and has a thing for national park magnets.

Brian Douglas

Brian grew up in Florida, and was in full-time sales before the birth of his son inspired him to build an app—and he saw an opportunity for a new career. He taught himself how to code, and started blogging. His content caught the eye of a San Francisco tech company, and he never looked back. Now living in Oakland with his family, Brian is a developer advocate at GitHub, where he creates space for other developers to find their voice. He’s passionate about open source and loves mentoring new contributors. He’s also the host of the Jamstack Radio podcast and created the Open Sauced community.

About The
ReadME Project

Coding is usually seen as a solitary activity, but it’s actually the world’s largest community effort led by open source maintainers, contributors, and teams. These unsung heroes put in long hours to build software, fix issues, field questions, and manage communities.

The ReadME Project is part of GitHub’s ongoing effort to amplify the voices of the developer community. It’s an evolving space to engage with the community and explore the stories, challenges, technology, and culture that surround the world of open source.

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