Brian Douglas is the CEO of OpenSauced which helps enterprises discover the best engineers in Open Source.
Victoria and Will talk to Brian about meeting as many developers as possible, setting goals, and keeping himself accountable, and what makes a successful open source project.
- Follow OpenSauced on Twitter, GitHub, Instagram, YouTube, Discord, and Dev.to.
- Follow Brian Douglas on LinkedIn, Twitter, or visit his website.
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VICTORIA: Hey there. It's your host Victoria. And I'm here today with Dawn Delatte and Jordyn Bonds from our Ignite team. We are thrilled to announce the summer 2023 session of our new incubator program. If you have a business idea that involves a web or mobile app, we encourage you to apply for our 8-week program.
We'll help you validate the market opportunity, experiment with messaging and product ideas, and move forward with confidence towards an MVP.
Learn more and apply at tbot.io/incubator. Dawn and Jordyn, thank you for joining and sharing the news with me today.
JORDYN: Thanks for having us.
DAWN: Yeah, glad to be here.
VICTORIA: So, tell me a little bit more about the incubator program. This will be your second session, right?
JORDYN: Indeed. We are just now wrapping up the first session. We had a really great 8 weeks, and we're excited to do it again.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. And I think we're going to have the person from your program on a Giant Robots episode soon.
VICTORIA: Maybe you can give us a little preview. What were some of your main takeaways from this first round?
JORDYN: You know, as ever with early-stage work, it's about identifying your best early adopter market and user persona, and then learning as much as you possibly can about them to inform a roadmap to a product.
VICTORIA: What made you decide to start this incubator program this year with thoughtbot?
DAWN: We had been doing work with early-stage products and founders, as well as some innovation leads or research and development leads in existing organizations. We had been applying a lot of these processes, like the customer discovery process, Product Design Sprint process to validate new product ideas. And we've been doing that for a really long time.
And we've also been noodling on this idea of exploring how we might offer value even sooner to clients that are maybe pre-software product idea. Like many of the initiatives at thoughtbot, it was a little bit experimental for us. We decided to sort of dig into better understanding that market, and seeing how the expertise that we had could be applied in the earlier stage.
It's also been a great opportunity for our team to learn and grow. We had Jordyn join our team as Director of Product Strategy. Their experience with having worked at startups and being an early-stage startup founder has been so wonderful for our team to engage with and learn from. And we've been able to offer that value to clients as well.
VICTORIA: I love that. So it's for people who have identified a problem, and they think they can come up with a software solution. But they're not quite at the point of being ready to actually build something yet. Is that right?
DAWN: Yeah. We've always championed the idea of doing your due diligence around validating the right thing to build. And so that's been a part of the process at thoughtbot for a really long time. But it's always been sort of in the context of building your MVP. So this is going slightly earlier with that idea and saying, what's the next right step for this business?
It's really about understanding if there is a market and product opportunity, and then moving into exploring what that opportunity looks like. And then validating that and doing that through user research, and talking to customers, and applying early product and business strategy thinking to the process.
VICTORIA: Great. So that probably sets you up for really building the right thing, keeping your overall investment costs lower because you're not wasting time building the wrong thing. And setting you up for that due diligence when you go to investors to say, here's how well I vetted out my idea. Here's the rigor that I applied to building the MVP.
JORDYN: Exactly. It's not just about convincing external stakeholders, so that's a key part. You know, maybe it's investors, maybe it's new team members you're looking to hire after the program. It could be anyone. But it's also about convincing yourself. Really, walking down the path of pursuing a startup is not a small undertaking. And we just want to make sure folks are starting with their best foot forward.
You know, like Dawn said, let's build the right thing. Let's figure out what that thing is, and then we can think about how to build it right. That's a little quote from a book I really enjoy, by the way. I cannot take credit for that. [laughs] There's this really great book about early-stage validation called The Right It by Alberto Savoia.
He was an engineer at Google, started a couple of startups himself, failed in some ways, failed to validate a market opportunity before marching off into building something. And the pain of that caused him to write this book about how to quickly and cheaply validate some market opportunity, market assumptions you might have when you're first starting out. The way he frames that is let's figure out if it's the right it before we build it right. And I just love that book, and I love that framing.
You know, if you don't have a market for what you're building, or if they don't understand that they have the pain point you're solving for, it doesn't matter what you build. You got to do that first. And that's really what the focus of this incubator program is. It's that phase of work. Is there a there there? Is there something worth the hard, arduous path of building some software? Is there something there worth walking that path for before you start walking it?
VICTORIA: Right. I love that. Well, thank you both so much for coming on and sharing a little bit more about the program. I'm super excited to see what comes out of the first round, and then who gets selected for the second round. So I'm happy to help promote. Any other final takeaways for our listeners today?
DAWN: If this sounds intriguing to you, maybe you're at the stage where you're thinking about this process, I definitely encourage people to follow along. We're trying to share as much as we can about this process and this journey for us and our founders.
So you can follow along on our blog, on LinkedIn. We're doing a LinkedIn live weekly with the founder in the program. We'll continue to do that with the next founders. And we're really trying to build a community and extend the community, you know, that thoughtbot has built with early-stage founders, so please join us. We'd love to have you.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. That's amazing. Thank you both so much.
VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido.
WILL: And I'm your host, Will WILL. And with us today is Brian Douglas, CEO of OpenSauced, helping enterprises discover best engineers in open source. Brian, thank you for joining us today.
BRIAN: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me on the podcast.
VICTORIA: Just tell us a little bit more about OpenSauced.
BRIAN: Yeah, it's opensauced.pizza is the URL. So I always point that out because it's easy to found.
WILL: I love it.
BRIAN: And OpenSauced is a platform for engineers to find their next contributions and enterprises to discover the best engineers doing open-source, so...
VICTORIA: Right. So maybe tell me what led you to start this company?
BRIAN: Yeah, that's a great question. Actually, if you don't mind, I'll start further back. I graduated college in 2008 during the financial crisis with a finance degree. And what I learned pretty quickly is, like, if you don't know anybody in finance, it's a little hard to get a job in a bad market. So I took a sales role instead, mainly because I just wanted to learn. I was very much introverted. I wanted to learn how to talk to people, and have conversation, and communicate.
So I did that four years and then got my MBA. And then started learning how to code while building an app, which is...I mentioned before we hit record I learned about this podcast around that time, which is, like, very serendipitous to be on this podcast years later. But, fast forward, OpenSauced, like, because of the whole networking aspect of how I got my job in sales and how I was able to do sales when I learned how to engineer, I knew the connection to open source, or how I learned how to code was, like, a wealth of information.
So I made it my career goal to meet as many developers as possible. And then, I was working at this company called Netlify. I was employee number three there. And my role was to basically be a front-end engineer, but where I was actually getting more adoption to the product by doing open source. Like, every time I'd do an open-source contribution, I'd add a Netlify deploy preview manually in my PR. And that would give the maintainer enough juice to review the PR sooner.
And I was doing a lot of open-source contribution at the time. So I wanted to build a tool to maintain, like, all the PRs I had opened in-flight that I needed to respond back to or...because back in, like, 2016, notifications on GitHub they weren't the greatest.
BRIAN: So I built a tool just to keep up to date on what I had opened and how I can communicate back with the maintainer. And saw a need...actually, I didn't see the need. I used this thing myself, and then in 2020, I started live streaming myself, building more features on top of this, like, CRM tool, and had a few people ask, "Hey, can you add a login to this? I'd love to use this, too, with my own database and stuff like that."
So I did that. I added login. And I say database, like, we actually originally started with no database. We used GitHub Issues as a tracking mechanism for tracking repos and conversations. We've since moved away from that because, now, obviously, GitHub's got way more advanced in how notifications work. But the sort of ethos of the project still lives today, and what we have in the open-source platform. So that's, like, the long tale of how we got to where we are today.
And then, I spoke at GitHub Universe on OpenSauced back in 2017. And from that talk, I had GitHub employees reach out to me and ask me to work at GitHub. So I accepted, and I worked at GitHub for almost five years, sort of putting OpenSauced to the side up until last year, decided to go ahead and pursue it again. And at that point, decided to make it a company.
VICTORIA: What a cool story. There are so many things in there that I want to follow up on. I'm sure, Will, you also are like -- [laughs]
WILL: [laughs] Yes.
VICTORIA: I have so many questions. [laughs]
WILL: Wow, that's amazing just hearing the story from you [laughs] got a four-year degree in finance, 2008 happened, no job, very hard to get a job because of who you know. And then you go and changed directions to start learning to code. And I love how it's kind of guided your path to where you are here right now. Like, who knows? But would you have been the CEO of OpenSauced if 2008 would have never happened? So it's amazing to see it.
So, I guess, because I love the idea of OpenSauced...because I am that developer that wants to get into open source, but it is hard. It is hard to find the issues that you can work on. It's hard to get into the community to do that. So, if you can just explain to me a little bit more as from there, and we can do it from the enterprise portion later. But, as far as a user: a developer, what does it look like for me to use OpenSauced as a developer?
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah. And that's a great question, too, as well. It's funny how serendipitous the story is today, but when I was living it, it was like, oh, man, I'm never going to get a job. [laughter] Or I'm never going to learn how to code. And I think anybody listening who might be where I was ten years ago, I just want to preface, like, your story is like a guided path through experiences. And every experience is like an opportunity for that sort of one piece of, like, the sort of stepping stone to move on to, like, CEO of whatever your next startup is or senior engineer, or staff engineer, whatever it is.
But, to answer your question, Will, we built a Discord, and the Discord itself is how we sort of discovered this sort of onboard ramp into open source. So today, if you sign up to OpenSauced, again, opensauced.pizza, you connect to your GitHub account, and you get on-boarded into a flow to ask a couple questions. So, like, what languages are you interested in? And then, what time zone are you in?
And the reason for those two things is, one because we're going to do recommendations for projects pretty soon. Everything is open source, so you can literally see the issues that are open about recommendations; happy to take contributions and feedback on it. And then time zone is because communication is pretty key. So, like, if someone is not awake when I see their PR, I have an expectation of, like, cool, I'll write a response, and I'll wait for them to wake up and respond back to that.
So the goal there is there's a lot of projects on GitHub, like, 372 million repos is the number off the top of my head. They literally announce this stuff, and they share the data. But of those repos, only 225,000 have more than five contributors. Understanding what you're looking to accomplish first out of doing open source to either share knowledge, or gain knowledge, to get exposure, to get a job, or just to enhance your current job by go try something that's not in the roadmap of what you're working on.
Eventually, we'll start asking those questions around, like, what type of contributor that you want to be, so we can start recommending those types of projects. But I mentioned that 225,000 repo number because there are a lot of projects that don't have five contributors that could use their second contributor, or third, fourth. And my recommendation is always find up-and-coming, like, growth-stage projects.
A lot of people want to contribute to React. You had mentioned you did React, Will. That's a really big lift to go contribute upstream to a project maintained and supported by millions of enterprises around the world. But there are tons of projects that go trending every week that have no documentation, that have no README, that have no structure and are just getting off the ground. Like, those are the best projects that we try to showcase. So, like, that's hot.opensauced.pizza is our sort of up-and-coming project list.
And the way that works is like projects that are trending based on our open-source community; we surface those there. There's a lot of work we have to do on that project. That was, like, a Hack Week project we did a couple of years ago as a community. But the basis of that is they're looking to build our recommendation engine off that.
So, step one is find a project that is welcoming, that needs some work done, and then find the path in. So the path usually is going to be your CONTRIBUTING.md, which is like established projects will have this. But if you don't find a CONTRIBUTING.md, but you find a project you want to use, chances are you could build that CONTRIBUTING.md and ask the question, so, like, hey, how would I contribute? Like, how can I be supportive?
Actually, I did this talk a couple of years ago at Juneteenth Conf. It was a remote conference on Juneteenth, which a bunch of Black Engineers we all gave our technical expertise sponsored by Microsoft. And I was talking about the idea of open-source hospitality. The best thing you could do is be that sort of hospitable person, either you're a maintainer or a first-time contributor. Like, be that person to set it up for the next person behind you.
And the idea of hospitality, you go to a hotel. Like, you know where the towels are. Like, you know where the soaps are. Like, you know exactly where everything is all the time. And, in open source, like, if we could set up our projects in a very similar fashion, like, not franchise them in a way like the Hilton or Marriott, but set the expectation that there is a way to source information and to interact and operate, so...
VICTORIA: Yeah, I mean, I love, [laughs] like, hot.opensauced.pizza. That's hilarious. And I love how you have used humor to...even though it's a very serious product, we're making it more friendly and more hospitable like you're saying. And I like how you said, you know, the journey is cool looking back on it, but it was really hard to go through it. And now you're this wonderful speaker and a CEO.
But you said that you weren't actually good at talking to people at first. And you specifically sought to get better at that skill. So I wonder if you would share more about that, how that's impacted your career, and why that's important as a developer to have those communication skills.
BRIAN: Yeah, it's like...I have a twin brother since birth, basically. And my twin brother is very extroverted. Like, he actually used to wait tables in college. It was like he was the person that would make you feel very special as a server. Like, he's the type of person that kind of lights up the room when you walk in. His name is Brock. My entire life growing up, I was always Brock's brother. And it's like, oh, you're Brock's brother. And it's like, yeah, I'm Brock's brother.
And I'm more of a person, like, if you meet me in person, like, I'm very much reserved. I'm sort of reading the room, waiting for my point to jump in. And I made it a point for me to, like, have enough comfort to speak on a podcast or speak at a conference because I knew that skill set would be valuable. Because I definitely had, in my sales career, definitely got overlooked for a lot of opportunity because folks thought, oh, I don't think Brian could do it.
So coming into tech and seeing that when every time I went to a meet up...because meetups also are places where I cut my teeth and got to learn about the industry and the community. They always needed someone to speak. So I was, like, oh, there's an opportunity. I can leverage this opportunity of them always looking for speakers and me always wanting to share knowledge and learn something new to do talks.
So my first-ever conference talk was in San Francisco. And I had learned React Native, but prior to React Native, I had learned Objective-C. And then, in between Objective-C and React Native, I learned Swift because React Native and Swift came out the same year. Well, React Native went public, open source, the same year as Swift. So it was like a really interesting year back in; I think it was 2017 where...actually, it might have been 2016.
But, anyway, everything came out at the same time. And I was learning iOS development. So I made it a point for me to give a talk. But my pet peeve for giving talks is, a lot of times, people just go directly into the code, and there's, like, no connection to a story, or why do I care about this?
But, anyway, what I'm getting at is, I just wanted to bring story to this because usually what happens is like, you see cool things, but you never remember what the name is. You try to find that REPL again, or you try to figure out who that speaker is. And it's usually hard to find it after the fact. So, like, my goal was always to make it memorable, which is why I go by Bdougie because Bdougie is easier to Google than Brian Douglas. Shout out to Brian Douglas, who's based in Ireland who does system engineering, and has a great YouTube channel. Like, I want to be memorable. And I want to make it easy for folks to find me after.
So, while at GitHub, when I was developing all this sort of like Kanye West-type speaking and stuff like that, well, literally, I would use Kanye West years ago as the example to understand storytelling. I no longer use Kanye West. I'm now a Beyoncé advocate. [laughter] So I use Beyoncé instead.
But I guess what I'm getting at is, like, I just had a goal. And I knew if I could teach myself to code...and it was about 17 weeks it took me from zero to ship a Ruby on Rails app. And I felt confident enough to talk about it. I knew basically anything I could just accomplish just by putting some effort and consistency behind it. So that's the...sorry, that was a little more long-winded than expected. But I just keep accountable and set goals for myself and try to achieve enough to feel proud about at the end of the year.
WILL: Yeah. It's so funny because I recently had a similar situation. At thoughtbot, we try to engage with the community, and one of the ways was writing a blog post. I've never been a writer. It just hasn't been my thing. But I was telling my boss, I was like, I'm going to do that to get outside my comfort zone and to really stretch myself. And at the same time, I was like, why a blog post? Like, I don't know, it doesn't really make sense why a blog post.
Well, when I started writing the blog post, I was like, oh, you have to really know, one, what you're talking about in order to write about it. And so I had to really do some research, really had to study it. And I finished it last week. And then, now, looking back over the last couple of months it took me to write that blog post, I'm like, wow, I feel stretched. But I feel really good, and I feel really good about the topic that I did.
So that's interesting that you went through that process to stretch yourself and to grow and even learning to code and get to that point. So talking about...you were at Netlify, and then you worked at GitHub. And then you're at your current one OpenSauced. How have Netlify and GitHub, the work that you did there, how has it prepared you for your position right now?
BRIAN: You know, actually, that's a great question. I don't know how much thought I put into that. Like, Netlify prepared me because it gave me an opportunity. So I was employee number three, but I had a sales background. And so I got to be an engineer, but they kept always trying to ask me like, you know, business questions and strategy. And, like, I pitched them a 30-60-90 in my interview of, like, what's the growth strategy of Netlify, like day zero when I start?
And I go into way more detail in other content. But that prepared me because I got to see how startups work, being so early. I got to see that startup go from seed-funded, just closed their seed round to get their series B is when I left. At GitHub, I got to see what it looked like at a bigger company, which, like, it doesn't matter how big or small you are, like, there's always chaos.
Like, GitHub was, like, so much chaos, and there was a lot of good that was happening but a lot of uncertainty at the time I joined in 2018. And then, nine months later, Microsoft acquired GitHub. So then I got to learn stability and what it looks like to...for personal reasons, I always had a budget but never had extra money, even years into my engineering career. And that taught me what it looks like when success meets career.
With that being said, like, the problem that I'm solving, I got to learn firsthand while being at Netlify and getting adoption and traction through open source. And then going to GitHub and seeing every single other company that looked at GitHub as a solution to their open-source collaborations and interactions. And then also seeing that there was a hole in just understanding, like, how do you survive? How do you sustain yourself as your career but also your open-source project?
Like, a lot of folks want to know, like, what success looks like for open source. Like, how do you get on the trending algorithm? Like, how do you get noticed? It's more than just pushing to GitHub and hoping for the best. There are, like, other things that happen for projects to be successful. And for us to choose the next in the future technologies, it really comes down to community, marketing, and then resources. And those three things end up making projects successful. With OpenSauced, we're working to help inflate some storytelling and add some of those resources to open-source projects.
VICTORIA: Great. So you were able to really get, like, the full vision of what it could be if you had a product that became successful and stable, and you knew you wanted to build it on open source. So I love that you really just...you had this problem, and that's what you built the product around. And that ended up becoming the business. What was surprising for you in those early discovery phases with OpenSauced when you were first thinking of building it?
BRIAN: I guess what's really surprising is we're not, like, crazy traction today. But we've done a pretty good job of getting, like, 2,000 developers to sign up to it since December. And then the conversations with enterprises so far just by the sheer...like, basically, what was surprising is if you use proper sales technique and you're early stage as a startup, so, like, not necessarily hire salespeople, but as a founder or as a stakeholder, just go talk to your future customers and your users. Everyone says it, but that's actually super valuable.
And I think in the same vein of open source, folks they see projects die on the vine, but then you see projects succeed. And I think it also comes down to how often the maintainer of the project is talking to the contributors and the users and also that distinction as well. There are folks who want to contribute code to the codebase, but then there are folks who want to use the codebase. And, like, how do you interact between the two? And how do you cross the chasm for those folks as well?
And, a lot of times, it's just fascinating just, like, just by trying, and just by showing up, that's half. It's all cliché stuff, like, I could say, but it's all true. Like, showing up is, like, it's, like, step one. Just show up, do the thing, do the work. And then talk to people is, like, step two. And it's hard to say, like, okay, yeah, because we are not a multibillion-dollar company, like, we're just getting started. So I can't say, like, yeah, we're super successful. But we've survived the year.
And we've survived the year based on those two steps, the showing up and then talking to people. Because a lot of times, we could get lost in the sauce, per se, of just shipping code and never talking to anybody and never coming up for air. And I think what I learned, going back to what I learned from GitHub and Netlify, is talking to people and getting that feedback loop going is the best thing you could do for any product. Any early project, any feature you're working on, talk to people about it and see if it's actually valuable for somebody that after you ship it, something will happen.
WILL: You're talking about communication is a big thing for a successful project. Have you noticed any other trends that make a successful open-source project?
BRIAN: Yeah, that's...Any other trends? Yeah. I mean, AI, [laughs] just kidding.
BRIAN: No, I mean, but it also it is true, like, having a trend not sort of following the herd, but catching the herd earlier is extremely valuable. Like, at Netlify, we caught the trend of React. So, basically, Netlify built essentially GitHub Pages but a product and a company. And that was, like, the original project of Netlify. It's expanded so much further from that. But at that time, when I joined, I joined three months before Create React App was developed. So, like, it was a CLI tool to build React apps easy.
And, prior to that, React was, like, super complicated to get up and running. Like, you had to know Webpack. You had to know, Babel. You had to make all that glue happen together. And then there wasn't an easy process to go host it somewhere. So the prevalence of build tools like Grunt, and Gulp, and Browserify, they all made it easier to build a static output from React. And that trend is what took Netlify to where it is today.
It's like, people needed a place to deploy these static applications. GitHub Pages was like the solution for a lot of folks. Because Heroku, like, why pay $7 for something you could host on S3 for free? But the challenge was S3 it requires way more thought in how you host and take it down and deploy, and then it becomes like a Kubernetes nightmare. So the trend there was, like, people just wanted to have a better developer experience.
By seeing the sheer number of RSVPs to the React meetup, it made me confident that React would be something I should pay attention to. When you look at the RSVPs of now all these AI meetups that are happening in San Francisco, like, every single weekend is a hackathon. Highly confident that if you're engineering today, you probably want to know what embeddings are and know how OpenAI works. Not that you necessarily have to build AI stuff, but it is going to be the thing that people are going to be using.
So just like we had to learn build tools, and servers, and CDNs prior, now it's all trivial stuff that you can sort of use Cloudflare for free. Like, AI is going to be very similar, and it's probably going to happen much quicker. But, in the time being, the trend right now is, like, you should probably understand whatever the players are in that space so that way you're able to talk confidently about it.
WILL: That's really good advice, yep.
VICTORIA: Absolutely. And, you know, in my role as Managing Director of Mission Control, or, like, DevOps, SRE platform, I spend a lot of time looking at trends, more on the engineering side. So I think my question is, [laughs] as someone who hires people to work on open-source projects, and who actively maintains and contributes to open-source projects, what should I be thinking about how to use OpenSauced as in my role?
BRIAN: For hiring and sourcing skilled folks, we're actually working on a tool right now to make it more discoverable. So, today, when you onboard as an individual developer, you can check a box in your settings to say, like, if you want to collaborate with other folks, you have to opt into it. So if you want to be discovered on OpenSauced, it's in the settings. We'll probably expose that and share more about that in the future, like, in the next month or so.
But for, in particular, our user flow today for folks looking to find other people to contribute alongside their project is, you add your project to what we call an Insight Page. You click on the tab on the top and create a page with your project. And then, you can see contributions in your project in the last 30 days. And then you can also add other projects like your project, so you can see who else is contributing.
So, that way, you can start discovering folks who are making contributions consistently and start to get some stories of, like, if they're interested in collaborating, they'll check that box; if they're not, the box won't be checked. But at least you know the sort of scope of the ecosystem.
As an individual developer, we have the onboarding flow, but then we also have highlights. So, eventually, we'll do recommendations to get you to make contributions. But, for now, if you're already making contributions, you can highlight the contributions you've made so that way, you're more discoverable on the platform. And the highlights are very much like a LinkedIn post or a tweet. You just drop in a PR, and then we'll either generate that description for you, or you write a description: I did a thing. This is what it was. This was the experience.
And then, now you're attached to the project through not just a code contribution but also a discovery mechanism, which is a highlight. And then, eventually, we'll start doing blog posts, and guides, and stuff like that, as they're written. Like, if you want to attribute your career, and your journey to your participation to, like, documentation updates and stuff like that, those will also be highlights coming soon.
WILL: I love, love, love that.
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WILL: I hear you saying that you have some things that's coming soon. In a high, high level, what are some of the things that you have coming? And what does success look like, six months, a year? What does that look like? Because it sounds like you have some really good ideas that you're working on.
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah. So, like, six months to the end of the year, what we want to do is actually start getting more deeper insights to what's happening in open source. What we're doing right now is building the individual developer profile and experience so that way, they're able to be discovered, find projects to work on. And then what's next is there are tons of enterprises and companies that are maintaining open-source projects, SDKs.
And what we're seeing right now is we're seeing massive layoffs happening currently in the industry. So like, as of today, I think Facebook laid off 4,000 people, ESPN laid off, like, 7,000 Disney employees as well. And some of those employees are around the Disney+ place. It's a lot of technical engineering stuff. So I guess what I'm getting at is there...we want to be able to see the trends of places that activity is happening and start recommending people to that.
But also, we want to give an opportunity for folks who...companies...sorry, I'm avoiding trying to name specific companies because nothing is in contract yet. But certain companies, like, you, don't think of as an open-source powerhouse. So, like, a company we're now talking to right now is walgreens.com. And Walgreens they have tech. They've got open source that they participated. But they're not thought of as a place like, oh, I want to go work at Walgreens and go work on some cloud infrastructure stuff.
So, how does Walgreens get exposure? And, like, hey, we're involved in the kubectl, and the Kubernetes platform and stuff like that, like, be aware that there's opportunity here. So we're going to start driving that connection to folks. So, as you develop your career doing open source, you can also be noticed, and folks can reach out to you.
And also, I want to stand on the notion of open source is not for everybody. But I also want to point out, like, my entire career in open source has not been nights and weekends. It's always been finding a company that supports my interest to do open-source at work.
Part of my story is, like, I was getting an MBA. My first kid, who's nine years old now he, was born 11 weeks early. And he's the reason why I built an app because I wanted to build an app to solve a pain point that I had, and ended up building that in 17 weeks. And that turned into opportunity.
So I guess what I'm getting at is, like, folks being laid off right now, you might have some extra free time. You might be submitting like 100 applications a day. Consider taking that down to 50 applications a day, and then try to contribute to a couple of open-source projects a month. So that way, there's some more story to be shared as you're in the job market.
VICTORIA: I love that you created that app when you had your son and you had that need. And for developers wanting to get noticed and wanting to get their next leg up or maybe even negotiate for higher salaries, what's the traditional way people do that now to kind of highlight themselves?
BRIAN: The traditional way what people are doing is they're tweeting. They're speaking at conferences. They're sharing their stories. It's like zero to I'm an influencer in the open-source space. There's no real clear guide and steps to get to that point, which is why we have highlights today. Like, we want to make it low effort for folks to write 200 characters about something they contributed to.
We're actually working on something to generate pull request descriptions because I think that's another missed opportunity. Like, when you open a PR in an open-source project, and it says no description added, like, that's a missed opportunity. Like, there's an opportunity for you to share what you've learned, what Stack Overflow questions you looked at, like, how you got to the problem, and why this is the right solution. All should be in the pull request description.
And then that pull request should be in your cover letter for your resume so that people can go back and say, "Oh, wow, you did some real work." I can go see the history of your contributions because perhaps the job you got let go from you only worked in private repos. You couldn't really showcase your skills. That now gives you a competitive edge.
And I guess when I look into this, like, going back to my original onboard ramp into engineering, I graduated with a finance degree with no network. I had one internship at an insurance company, but that wasn't enough. Like, everyone who I interned with, like, the guy who got a job at the internship, like, his dad was a client, was a big client at that firm. And another guy he worked at a golf course, and he'd be the caddy for all these big finance folks where I went to school.
So, once I learned that there's an opportunity to get a job by just knowing people, that changed my entire path. Like, when I got to sales, like, oh, or when I got to engineering, I just knew go and meet people. Go have conversations. Go to meetups.
What I'm trying to do with OpenSauced is make that step closer for folks, so they could look up and be like, you know, I've made all these contributions, or I don't know where to start. Let me just look at people who I know and follow in the industry and see where they're contributing, and make that connection. So, like, we've kind of closed that gap without the need of, again, you don't need 100,000 Twitter followers to get noticed. Just make some contributions or show up and ask questions. And, hopefully, that's the first step to establishing your career.
VICTORIA: Well, that sounds great for both people who are looking to get hired, but also, as someone who hires people, [laughter] I know that there's a lot of amazing developers who are never going to do a conference talk, or they're not going to post on Twitter. So I love that that's available, and that's something you're working on.
BRIAN: Yeah, it's just coming out of my own pain of, like, I was saying, like, looking at the story now, it sounds great. [laughs] But part of that story was like, hey, I was getting severely underpaid as an engineer in San Francisco, living in a one-bedroom apartment with two kids. Like, all that part of the story is like nothing I dwell on. But it's like, all that opportunity and knowledge-sharing that I ended up benefiting from, it's like what I constantly try to give. I pay it forward with folks.
And I'm more than happy to talk with folks on Twitter and in OpenSauced Discord and other places because I think there's a lot of opportunity in open source. And if anybody's willing to listen, I'm willing to show them the path.
WILL: I'm so glad you brought that up because this is one of my favorite questions I ask on the podcast: So, knowing where you're at right now and your story, you've gone the ups, the downs, all of it. If you can go back in time and know what you know now, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning?
BRIAN: Honestly, I would say write it down. Like, one thing that I did is I did a blog post, and that's part of the reason why I was able to find my first job in engineering is I started a blog, which was really for myself to learn what I did yesterday. I tell everyone who I mentor it takes two hours every time you want to sit and learn something new because one hour is to remember what you did yesterday, and then one hour is to do something new. And so, I usually write it down and then make it a blog post just to solve that problem.
I wish I did more with that, like, you know, wrote a book, or created a YouTube channel, or something because all that knowledge and that sort of sharing is actually what got me to level up faster. I was asked by one of my close friends, like, "Hey, how do you do it? How do you accomplish everything you've done in the last, like, 9-10 years?" And I didn't know what the answer was then. But the answer today for my friend, and I'll share this with them, is it's because I wrote it down.
I was able to go back and see what I did. And then, at the end of six months, I was able to go back six months and see what I did. It's like the idea of relativity with, like, Einstein. Relativity is the idea of motion and the perception. Like, if you're in a train, it feels like you're just going slow. But you might be going 100 miles per hour, but you don't feel that. And when you're going on your journey, you could be going 100 miles per hour, but you're thinking, oh, man, I failed yesterday. I could have solved a problem. But yeah, you solved six problems while trying to solve for one. It's that situation.
So advice for myself, in the beginning, write it down and then share it way more than I did when I started. Because a lot of the stuff I'm like, even in this conversation, I'm thinking, oh yeah, this, this, and this. And I never shared that before, and I wish I did. So yeah.
WILL: I love that. Because yeah, I feel like that's development, like, you have some weeks that you're shipping out multiple features. And then other weeks, you're like, I barely got one out, or I barely fixed this one bug that I've been trying to...struggling with the last couple of weeks. So yeah, I like that advice. Write it down.
And remember where you've been, remember. I just love the example you used, too, because it does seem like I haven't made any movement. But when you look back, you're like, no, you actually made a lot of movement. And you were very successful with what you did. So that's great advice.
VICTORIA: I sometimes write things, and then I go back maybe six months later and read them. And I'm like, who wrote this? [laughter] I don't remember learning this stuff. Oh yeah, I guess I did, right, yeah. [laughs] No, that's so cool. What questions do you have for us, Brian?
BRIAN: I'm curious in, like, how do thoughtbot folks stay up to date? Like, what does your involvement in open source look like today?
VICTORIA: Yeah, so we are known for being active maintainers of a lot of very popular Ruby on Rails gems. So we're a consulting agency. So we're able to structure our time with our clients so that we can build in what we call investment days, which is typically Fridays, so that people can contribute to open-source projects. They can write blog posts. They can do trainings. And so that gives us the structure to be able to actually allow our employees to contribute to open source, and it's a huge part of our business as well.
So if you have a Ruby on Rails project, you're probably using one of our gems. [laughs] And so, when there's other crises or other things happening in an organization, and they want to bring in an expert, they know that that's who thoughtbot is. Of course, we've expanded, and we do React, and now we're doing platform engineering. And we have some open-source TerraForm modules that we use to migrate people onto AWS and operate at that enterprise level with a mix of managed products from AWS as well.
And that continues to be, like, how we talk to people [laughs] and get that buzzword out there is, like, okay, there's this cool open-source project. Like, one I'm excited about now is OpenTelemetry. And so we're digging into that and figuring out how we can contribute. And can we make a big impact here? And that just opens the door to conversations in a way that is less salesy, right? [laughs]
And people know us as the contributors and maintainers, and that creates a level of trust that goes a long way. And also, it really speaks to how we operate as a company as well, where the code is open and when we give it back to the customers, it's not. Some organizations will build stuff and then never give it to you. [laughs]
BRIAN: Yeah. So it sounds like folks at thoughtbot could probably benefit from things like OpenSauced for discoverability. And I get a lot of conversation around in OpenSauced as like, how do I get connected to maintainer of X or maintainer of Y? And the first step is like, how do I even know who the maintainer is? Because when you go to GitHub, you could sort this by last commit date, which not a lot of people know. You can sort the contributors by most frequently and stuff like that.
But it's challenging to find out who to reach out to when it comes to packages, especially when people move on. Like, someone created a thing. They have tons of commits. And then they look like they're the number one committer for the past ten years, but they left five years ago. Those are things that we're trying to make more discoverable to solve that problem.
But then, going into that thoughtbot thing, is like being able to reach out to thoughtbot and be like, oh, who can I reach out to about this gem? And, say, I have an idea, or we have an issue; how can we get unblocked because we're using this in our product? And I imagine with consulting, there's an opportunity to say, hey thoughtbot...which, honestly, at Netlify, we used thoughtbot to solve some harder problems for us. We were just like, yeah, we don't have the bandwidth to go down this path. Let's go to consulting to unblock us in this arena.
VICTORIA: Right. And that was really important to me in making the decision to join thoughtbot last year is that it was built around open source. And that ethos really spoke to me as, like, this is a place where I want to work. [laughs] And you can think of, like, if you're looking for vendors, like, oh, I want to work with people who have that same ethos. So yeah, OpenSauced seems like a really cool product. I'd be curious about how we can leverage it more at thoughtbot.
BRIAN: We just shipped a feature called Teams, which it's self-explanatory. But, basically, when you build an insight page, you're able to build a team to help the discover process of what's happening in contributions. You get details and reporting on OpenSauced. The goal is basically to unblock teams who are involved in open source together and make it more discoverable for folks who want to find maintainers and collaborate with them.
VICTORIA: Will, I know we're running close on time. But I had one more question about what you said around making open source more hospitable. And, you know, you mentioned going to Juneteenth Conf. And I'm curious if you have a perspective on if open source is equitably accessible to everyone or if there are things we can be doing as a community to be more inclusive.
BRIAN: Yeah, it's a great question. So the first answer is quick, it's no. The reason why it's no is because we have to admit [laughs] where there are inequitable situations. And as much as we want to set this up of, like, I want to say that there's opportunity for everyone to contribute based on no matter where their background, but just by your time zone, makes it inequitable of, like, whether you can contribute to open source. Because if you look at the data and zoom out, most open source happens in the West Coast U.S., so from San Francisco to Seattle. Like, majority of contributions are there. There are reasons for that.
Like, California has a very, very expressive clause of like where you can contribute. And, technically, your employer can block you on doing open-source contributions. Unless you sign...like, at Apple, you sign away your rights to be able to do that in your employee offer letter. Sorry, [laughs] not to be a dig against Apple. Apple buy lots of open source. But what I'm getting at is that the opportunity is there, but it's the awareness thing.
I'm part of an organization called DevColor. It's an organization of Black engineers in tech. We have squads and monthly meetings where we just talk about our career, and growth, and stuff like that. And I attribute a lot of that interactions to my success is, like, talking to other folks who are years ahead of me and have a lot more experience.
But I say this because the majority of the folks that I interact with at DevColor they don't do open source because they all...to be a Black engineer at a level of like senior engineer at Netlify, or a staff engineer, or a manager...sorry, I meant, like, Netflix but Netlify too. You basically had a career path of, like, you probably went to school at a decent engineering school, or you figured out how to get a job at Facebook or Google. And, like, that's pretty much it.
And, like, this is a blanket statement. I totally understand there are outliers. But the majority of the folks I interact with at DevColor they have a job. They have a great job. And they're doing the thing, and they're being very successful. But there's less community interaction. And that's what DevColor exists for is to encourage that community interaction and participation.
So, at the end of the day, like, there's opportunity to make it more equitable. So things like, every time there's a release cut for a major open-source project, why not go to Black Girls CODE and have them build something with it?
And, again, very specific, like, React 19 that's currently being tested, why not go to all these other underrepresented organizations and partner with them to show them how to use this project? Because the assumption is everyone in open source, you got to be senior enough to participate, or if it's too hot, get out of the kitchen. But if we set up a place for people to interact and level up, in three or four years from now, you'll see the open-source ecosystem of that project be completely different as far as diversity.
But it takes that investment to have that onboard ramp to even have that connection or conversation about testing early releases with underrepresented groups in engineering. That's where we have to start, and that's what we're trying to do at OpenSauced. We want to make that connection. I have a whole plan for it. I'll share in a blog post. I also mentioned that a lot of these thoughts are on our blog as well. I've been writing blog posts around these conversations. So opensauced.pizza/blog if you're interested.
VICTORIA: Very cool. Thank you for that.
WILL: I'm just processing on the whole conversation. It has just been great.
VICTORIA: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing with us. And I wonder, do you have any final takeaways for our listeners today, Brian?
BRIAN: Yeah, final takeaways. Like, if anything at all resonated in this conversation, please reach out, bdougie on GitHub. I'm pretty active with my notifications. So if you @ mention me in a random project, I'll probably jump back in and respond to you. But also Twitter @bdougieYO. And then, I mentioned our blog. We also have a newsletter. So, if you're interested in any of this OpenSauced journey, please join us there, and keep in touch.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your story.
You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at email@example.com. And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.
WILL: And you could find me @will23larry
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thank you.
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