Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

484: Ruby On Rails: The Podcast with Brittany Martin

July 20th, 2023

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Brittany Martin is an Engineering Manager at Shogun, where she manages a team of Ruby and React engineers and is the Co-host of The Ruby on Rails Podcast.

Victoria and Will talk to Brittany about the multitude of stuff she's interested in, including Roller Derby, and gives the story of how she found herself co-hosting the show. She says knowing what your brand is and what listeners should expect from listening to you is super important, and she gives her opinion on what it means to be in the Ruby on Rails Community.

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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 other host, Will Larry. And with us today is Brittany Martin, an Engineering Manager at Shogun, where she manages a team of Ruby and React engineers. She is the Co-host of The Ruby on Rails Podcast, almost five years running. And she plays roller derby for Steel City Roller Derby under the pseudonym, catch this, Merge Conflict. She is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brittany, thank you for joining us.

BRITTANY: I am so thrilled to be on here. I have been listening to Giant Robots for years. So it's an absolute honor to be on the show today.

VICTORIA: Yes, thank you so much for joining us. And I met you at RailsConf this year. And, at the time, you had a boot on your foot. So, I have to ask you, are you healed? Are you recovered? Are you walking around again?

BRITTANY: This is such a good question. When I was between jobs in March, I was, you know, having these two weeks, I had a whole list of things that I was going to be doing. You know, I was going to train, like, running and whatnot. And I had roller derby practice that first week, and I broke my ankle. And, you know, going into it, I had no idea what a blocker it was going to be. I was like, oh, this is minor. It'll just take a couple of weeks to heal. No, it's been a long process.

But I can gleefully tell the listeners that I am out of the boot. I am walking. I am hopefully getting into a sports program next week that will train me up to get back into CrossFit, running, and skating. Though the really funny part is that I currently have another injury which is golfer's elbow. [laughs]

WILL: Oh, wow.

BRITTANY: Yeah. So I have that from overusing my arms. So I'm a little bit of a mess, but, you know, getting myself back together physically so I can get back on my skates.

WILL: So I know it's called golfer's elbow. But did you actually hurt it doing golf, or was it another sport you were playing?

BRITTANY: It's so funny that you ask that, Will, because whenever people ask me how I broke my ankle, I can be glamorous and be like, "Oh, it was roller derby."

WILL: [laughs]

BRITTANY: Like, it's a sexy injury, you know. I have a friend who just broke their ankle because they were dancing down the stairs and broke it, not as glamorous of a story, right?

WILL: [laughs]

BRITTANY: Golfer's elbow. I literally have no idea how this happened. I've never golfed a day in my life. So [laughter] it's my non-glamorous injury at this point.

WILL: Yeah, that's my background, sports medicine.

BRITTANY: Oh, great.

WILL: So it's interesting. Yeah, golfer's elbow, and I'm like, it's usually not golf that does it. So...[laughs]

BRITTANY: Yeah. So I said something to my PT. I was like, "Am I the first person to ever get golfer's elbow from, like, you know, fixing another injury?" And she's like, "Yes. Yes, you are." [laughs] And I was like, oh. [laughter] I really was expecting to get some reassurance that it wasn't me. But hey, what are you going to do?

WILL: There you go.

BRITTANY: I love the fact that you do love my roller derby name. As you can imagine, it is a beacon for finding the other programmers out on the track because they find it very funny. Nobody else finds it funny whatsoever. And people call me Merge for short, and some people think it's Marge. And I just allow it at this point. [laughter] My number is 200, and its status code okay. When you hit me, I get up okay until, apparently, I break my ankle. So...[laughter]

WILL: I love it. Because if you're a programmer, you're like, oh, she means business.

BRITTANY: Exactly.

WILL: Because merge conflicts...yeah, never fun.

BRITTANY: Exactly.

VICTORIA: I love that. I love finding other people who work in tech in other random activities. Like, I've recruited people from the climbing gym. [laughs] I'm like, oh, we're climbing together, and, oh, you're an engineer. That's interesting. [laughs] So it's great to, like, be with your community in different settings, so...

And you're just so involved in the Ruby on Rails Community. And I'm curious what really got you started into podcasting.

BRITTANY: Yeah, that's a really good question. So I'm a former product manager former MBA. So I didn't know how to code. I moved out to San Francisco because I thought that's what everyone did. If you wanted to be in tech, you moved out to San Francisco, and so I did that.

And I realized very quickly that it was going to be hard for me to be a product manager without knowing how to code. And so I went to a bootcamp at night, and I became a Ruby on Rails developer. So I wish I had, like, just a really cool story for why I chose Rails. It's literally the framework that was being taught by the bootcamp.

WILL: [laughs]

BRITTANY: But I'm so glad that it was because I love this community so much. But, you know, when I moved out to San Francisco, I just had my current partner at the time and my dog. I didn't have any friends. And so it was really the perfect time to learn how to code just because I was really able to focus. And I ended up having a lot of long walks at night, like, getting to the train, getting to the bus, and that's really when I got into listening to podcasts. I'm not a huge music person, which is kind of weird. I really...I deeply love podcasts.

And so I just kind of glommed on to a bunch of podcasts like Giant Robots, CodeNewbie, Bike Shed. I figured if I listened to all the things that I wanted to be, like, osmosis would just happen, and I would just start learning the things because I was actively learning about how to code. And I thought just listening to those concepts would really help. And really what ended up happening is those people that I was listening to, like, to me, they became celebrities to me. Like, I don't care about regular celebrities. [laughter] I care about people within these communities that I care so much about.

And so, you know, a couple of years into that, I was still very much devoted to listening to podcasts. I trained for my first marathon listening to podcasts. And I was listening to The Ruby on Rails Podcast, and, at the time, Kyle Daigle had taken over the show. And he had decided, in order to spice things up on the show, he was going to bring co-hosts on that he was going to rotate through. So, every couple of weeks, you would come on as a co-host, and you would drive the conversation with things that were going on in your life.

And, at the time, you know, there wasn't a lot of women, female representation in podcasts. I felt that I was doing interesting things. I was working at a non-profit doing ticketing for the Broadway Symphony and opera, like, in Rails. So I felt like I was always working in Rails, and I thought I could provide some useful insight. So I reached out to Kyle. I must have been very ambitious that day because I reached out and I said, "Hey, how about bringing me on as a co-host?" And he said, "Yeah, absolutely. Like, that would be great."

And so I came on as one of the regular co-hosts on The Ruby on Rails Podcast, which I should have been flying high, right? Like, this is exactly what I wanted. I got to become like one of my own celebrities, right? Well, Kyle got really busy. At the time, I believe it's when Microsoft was acquiring GitHub. And Kyle still works at GitHub today. Kyle is amazing. He's their COO now.

But the podcast kind of went dormant for a couple of months. It was my big opportunity. I really loved, you know, being on a podcast. I had done a couple of episodes. So I reached out to Kyle and said, "Hey, is there any chance you would give me the podcast?" And he said, "Absolutely." And he signed over everything to me, [laughter] which was really scary because I was taking over a podcast that had been around, at that time, it had been around for at least ten years, hundreds of episodes deep. It was on its own network. It was on the 5by5 Network at the time. So it had sponsors and expectations.

And so, really, I had to learn everything from the get-go. Like, I made up my own episode plans. I made up my own questions, like, how to do ad reads, how to edit, how to upload to the hosting platform like; that was entirely on me. And, you know, we can talk more about how the podcast has evolved over those years. But yeah, long story now made short, that is how I got my start in podcasting.

WILL: That's actually really amazing that that's how it got started and everything. Let's go back to when you first started. What was your feelings like? You say it was a lot to take on. Can you dig deeper in that and tell us more about that? Because I think I felt the same way. I think we've been doing this for about a year now. It's scary, let's be honest. It's scary jumping on a podcast and sharing who you are and what you're doing. So, can you tell us more about that?

BRITTANY: Absolutely. I think one thing is just knowing what is your brand and, you know, what listeners should expect from listening to you because this is a podcast that had been around for ten years. You know, it had changed formats several times. It was an interview-style podcast at one point. At one point, it was a bunch of co-hosts that would just meet every week to talk out what was going on. And so I really needed to take a moment and kind of look over the metrics of the episodes.

Like, I have that marketing background. I have that product background. So I wanted to know, like, what's actually working? Like, what do listeners want to listen to? And I also, like, kind of pored through all the reviews of the podcast. I'm like, did people even notice that this podcast went offline? Like, what's the current ecosystem? How many podcasts are out there in the Ruby and Rails space?

And so what I started doing is I wanted to create, like, a safe environment in order to start the podcast over again. So what I did is I did interview-style podcasts with my friends, people that would tolerate me, you know, making mistakes, knowing that I was probably...I am a terrible editor. And so bringing those people on to have just genuine conversations with. And then really just tried to pick up the listenership of the podcast because I'm basically waving my arms saying, "Hey, folks. Like, The Ruby on Rails Podcast is back. I'm here as your host. And, like, we are here to stay. Like, I want this to be a mainstay in the community."

VICTORIA: That's great. So you started to apply those concepts from your product background. And I'm curious what you found in how the business of the podcast really works.

BRITTANY: Yeah, I learned a lot, and we can talk about the transition. So, when I came on to the 5by5 Ruby on Rails Podcast, at the time, this was back in 2018. The podcast was being managed by 5by5, which is, like, a long-standing podcast network. They're still around, but they're much smaller than they used to be.

So, like, all of the sponsorship and the episode management was being handled by them. And so I didn't have a lot of insight into that part of the podcast. What I did have insight into is, like, what content is performing well? And what is the audience reaction to what we're putting out there? Like, how is the listenership coming back and whatnot?

Now, one thing that did happen over the course of me managing The Ruby on Rails Podcast is we decided to take the podcast independent at one point, you know, 5by5 was starting to wind down. And so, back in 2021, I reached out to 5by5 and said, "Hey, I genuinely really love this podcast. I want to be able to take it to a different platform, you know, have it go independent. But it's really important to me that I'm able to hold on to the current subscribers that I have."

I think we all know that, like, if you rebrand something and it's a totally different RSS feed, it's really hard to get people to move over, especially if they're using something that makes podcast listening really easy like Apple Podcasts, you know, you subscribe. You get new episodes, and you just hit play. And so they were extremely willing to work with me.

And so, we ended up taking the podcast independent. 5by5 created the hosting platform Fireside. And so we moved the podcast over to Fireside, and that was, like, a very seamless transition. But it was a moment in time where, you know, I was kind of questioning. We're no longer 5by5. It was the 5by5 Ruby on Rails Podcast. What do we call it? And so I genuinely had that moment where I was like, I could be really clever with the name. But then I stepped back, and I was like, no, everyone already refers to it as The Ruby on Rails Podcast. I'm just going to go with it. And so I think that ended up being a good decision.

We did change the logo of the show. We kept the same feed. And we had, like, the first episode on the new...we're not even on a network now; we're independent. The first episode of, like, the V2 of The Ruby on Rails Podcast is really what we called it. We just kind of explained the whole move. And I'm just deeply grateful all of our listeners just kind of followed along.

And I will say the biggest boon to us moving is that we did get a professional editor. And so, like, the quality of the episodes went up, which is the best money that you can spend. Get yourself a professional editor. I cannot stress that enough. Or you get really good at it yourself. But I know my own skills, and it was never going to be that way.

And so we took it independent. And I also decided to do a format change as well because it was a lot to do years of a podcast by myself. It was a lot. So I'm really glad Victoria and Will that you have each other. I think it's really great to have co-hosts. So I ended up moving the podcast. I now have a producing partner, and that's Mirror Placement. They do recruiting for Ruby on Rails, and they are wonderful partners.

But I also have three co-hosts that rotate through. I have Brian Mariani, who's a recruiter and founder of Mirror Placement. I have Jemma Issroff, who works on Ruby at Shopify. And I have Nick Schwaderer, who works on Rails infrastructure at Shopify. And that's been great because I rotate through those co-hosts. And I always have fresh content from them. But I also do the interview-style episodes as well, which Victoria was on recently.

VICTORIA: Yes. I agree 100%. Having a co-host like Will makes it so much more fun. And I cannot appreciate our editor Mandy Moore enough. And I agree on that advice. And I actually would add when people ask me if they should start a podcast, recommend having at least one other person [laughs] who you want to talk with about that topic for every week. But I wonder, if someone's thinking about starting a podcast, what would you have them consider as to whether or not it's worth it for them?

BRITTANY: I recently joined the podcasting subreddit on Reddit just because I was interested to see what kind of questions there were out there. Because when I got into podcasting, I was, like, oh, you just need to have a microphone and a way to record, and you just put it out there, and people are going to listen. It feels very, you remember when, you know, the iPhone came out, and the App Store was empty? And then any app that you made was, like, amazing. Everybody would download it because there was nothing to download. We're now getting to a point with podcasts; there's just a lot out there.

My first bit of advice is, something that I said earlier, is make sure that you have an identity around your podcasts. Like, make sure that you are targeting a niche. It's fine if there are other people doing it, but do something that is uniquely you and do something that brings you joy. I really love talking to people in the Ruby on Rails Community. I have a special affinity for people who have never been on a podcast before. It's a lot of work.

So it's definitely worth it. I've gotten to meet a lot of my programming heroes because of it. And there are times where I've been very tempted to take a break and be able to step away from it. But, as of right now, it has been a good experience.

And what I often say whenever I open up my conference talks is the Ruby on Rails Community is my community contribution because I'm not someone who regularly contributes to open source. And so this is kind of, like, how I give back, and I get to meet a lot of amazing people.

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VICTORIA: And with me here, I have Richard Newman, who's the Development Director on our Boost Team, to talk to me a little bit more about what maintenance actually looks like once you've built your software application, right?

RICHARD: Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA: Hi, Richard. You have experience building applications. I wonder if you could describe to a founder who's considering to build an application, like, what should they consider for their long-term maintenance?

RICHARD: Well, like you said earlier, part of what you're going for with that long-term maintenance is making sure the health of your project, of your application, is always there. And you don't want to be surprised as you're continuing to work with your users and so forth.

And so a number of things that we pay attention to in maintenance are we're paying attention to keeping the application secure, providing security updates. We want to make sure that the ecosystem, basically, all of the tools and third-party services that are tied to your application, we're responding to those sorts of changes as we go along.

And then part of it is, occasionally, you're going to find some smaller issues or bugs or so forth as your user group continues to grow or as needs continue to change. You want to be able to respond to those quickly as well. And so a lot of what goes into maintenance is making sure that you're paying attention and you're ahead of those things before they surprise you.

VICTORIA: Because what can happen? Like, what are the consequences if you don't do that ongoing maintenance?

RICHARD: Well, the security updates those happen across gems and in the platform sort of tools that are there. And so, if you're not keeping those up to date, your exposure, your vulnerability to being hacked, or having a bad actor come into your application start growing on you if you're not doing the maintenance.

The other ones that can come up is there's new interfaces that these third-party services...they may be updating their APIs. They may be updating how you're supposed to work with their tool. And so those can occasionally break if you're not paying attention to what's going on or you're suddenly surprised by an upgrade that you have to make.

And then, finally, there's this long-term sort of code change that just builds up over time if you're not keeping it refactored for the changes that are upcoming in a language or the gems that you work with. And then, suddenly, after a while, it suddenly gets to the point where you have a lot of work that you might have to do to rehabilitate the application to take on some of the newer features that are being released. And so that makes it that much more difficult, that much more friction about being able to deliver updates for your users or to be able to respond to changes that are happening out there in your application.

VICTORIA: Right. So, if you don't have that ongoing maintenance, you could run into a situation where suddenly, you need to make a very large investment and fixing whatever is broken.

RICHARD: Absolutely. It's going to be very tough to plan for if you weren't keeping up all the way along and, yes, absolutely ends up being much slower if you have to remediate it.

VICTORIA: That makes sense. I wonder if you have any examples of a project you've walked into and said, "Wow, I wish we had been doing a little bit more maintenance." [laughs] And maybe you can share some details.

RICHARD: Yeah. We had a fairly large application that involved a number of clinic services. So we had an application that users were going in every day and counting on our fast response. And, over time, we've got surprised by a database upgrade that had to happen. Basically, the database was going to be changed by our third-party hosting service, and that hadn't been tested. There hadn't been procedures in place when we discovered this need. And there was a very hard date that that change had to be done or else the entire application was going to go down.

And it came at a very inconvenient time, at the end of the year around Christmas, that we had to respond to all of that. And had we been in front of it and just updated it every quarter and staying current with it, it wouldn't have been nearly the lift that it turned out to be. We were facing a pretty hard deadline [laughs] there to keep things going. It was very, very stressful and disruptive for the team and potentially for the clinics.

VICTORIA: Right. And it always happens around a big holiday or something like that, right? When it all comes to a head.


RICHARD: Absolutely. You want to be in control of the timeframe and not have the timeframe be in control of you.

VICTORIA: Right. And if you have a team like thoughtbot supporting you, you can go on your vacation with a little bit more knowledge that if something breaks, there's someone there who can respond and fix things, and you don't have to interrupt your very valuable time off. So...

RICHARD: [chuckles] Absolutely.

VICTORIA: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Richard, for joining me today. I appreciate you coming here to talk with us. And we'll talk to you again soon.

RICHARD: Yeah, it was a pleasure. Thank you.

WILL: I have a question around your listeners. I just want to take a second and just thank everyone who listens to the podcast. We really appreciate you so much, so just thank you, thank you, thank you. Because if you don't have listeners, you don't have a podcast, like you said a second ago. And you went through so many changes. What's been your biggest win, and how do you continue winning with your listeners? And how do you engage with them?

BRITTANY: This is a fun answer because, actually, thoughtbot comes into play there. They did not pay me to say this. But one thing that The Bike Shed used to do is they used to go to RailsConf and RubyConf, and they would record episodes during the conference with various Ruby heroes in the community. This is going back to me seeing these people as celebrities. I just thought that was, like, the coolest thing. And, at the time, I couldn't afford to go to conferences like that. So being able to listen to those podcasts and get to hear that kind of content was really important to me.

And so, you know, eventually, that stopped being a thing at RubyConf and RailsConf. And two years ago, I reached out and said, "Hey, I really love those kinds of sessions. Is there any way that I could take the lead on bringing those sessions back?" And we did. So it took in the form of a podcast panel at these different conferences where we would bring in different podcasts in the community. And we would have a panel. We would answer listener questions. It was genuinely a lot of fun.

So that is a proud moment for me. But it's a proud moment for me because it gave me the opportunity to reach out to podcasts in the community and say, "Hey, we're not competing here. We're friends. I want to record content with you. Like, please be part of my podcast community." And we have never been tighter.

So, like, we guest on each other's podcasts. We promote each other's podcasts on like Mastodon and Twitter. And it is just the most lovely thing ever because now we say things like, oh, yeah, like, this podcast, like, that's our, like, sister podcast, or that's our brother podcast. Like, it's so cool that we, you know, rising tide raises all ships. That's exactly what's happening here in the Ruby podcast community.

VICTORIA: I like that familial sense within the different Ruby on Rails podcasts, and maybe even Giant Robots is a part of that. Like, are we a cousin or an uncle? [laughter] Who knows? But I was actually there when you recorded the episode live at RailsConf in Atlanta this year. Was that your favorite moment at RailsConf, or was it something else?

BRITTANY: Yeah, I would say that was my favorite moment at RailsConf. No matter how many times I meet Aaron Patterson, I am always, like, deeply intimidated by just how funny and intelligent he is. So having that excuse of reaching out to him and saying like, "Hey, will you please be on this podcast panel?" was so fun.

I deeply adore Irina Nazarova, and so having her on the panel as well was fun. And then just doing the wildcard of having the audience, like, vote in who was going to be the third panel was truly a risky move, Victoria. [laughs] But it ended up paying off, and it ended up generating some really fun content for us.

VICTORIA: That's awesome. And I'm curious, you know, to talk a little bit more about the Ruby on Rails Community. And what do you see is the biggest challenge that it's facing right now?

BRITTANY: Oh, I have so many opinions on this. What a great question. [laughs] So I recently put together a talk proposal. It's currently waitlisted at a conference, but it is a talk that I very much want to give.

But one project that I would really like to work on is...between, I would say, 2013 and 2015, Ruby on Rails was definitely the number one framework that was being taught in bootcamps. And I'm really curious about what happened to all those people. I'm one of them. I learned Ruby on Rails in 2014. I still believe that I'm in the Ruby on Rails Community, not only for the podcast, but I'm an engineering manager for a company that writes Rails. So I believe I'm very much in the community. I'm so curious. Those people had so much potential of being seniors, principals, staff engineers, founders, engineering managers, architects. What happened to them? And did they stay in our community?

And then my second part of that is, what does it mean to be in the Ruby on Rails Community? Like, can you just listen to podcasts and be in the community? Do you need to actively write Ruby? I just find that whole thing very interesting. We're very obsessed with bringing new programmers into the Rails community, which I think is important. But what about the people who we taught Rails and left us? Like, is there an opportunity to bring them back?

WILL: It's funny you say that because I wasn't in that year range. I was a little later, like, 2017. And I learned Ruby on Rails, and then I went to JavaScript, you know, React, React Native, but I'm slowly inching back towards Ruby on Rails. My current project, I'm actually able to do some Ruby on Rails. And I'm really excited about it because, like you, that was my first language style that I learned, and I still love it. It is weird, but you always love your first language; I do, at least. So it's interesting that you said that because, yeah, I can say, for me, I'm slowly coming back towards it.

BRITTANY: Well, welcome back, Will. We're excited to have you.

I know that Node was such a heavy hitter when it came out, and it made a lot of sense. Like, we're going to teach you JavaScript on the front end. Oh, hey, we're going to also teach you JavaScript on the back end. You know, from the business side, I'm so curious whether or not Rails is still, like, one of the top three solutions in order to get an MVP off the ground. I don't have my thumb on that, so I'm very curious whether or not that's true or not.

VICTORIA: We certainly still tend to default to it at thoughtbot and to get MVPs off the ground. And we're still building a bunch of products every year with it. [laughs] So, Ruby on Rails and React together, especially if you're trying to iterate very quickly and test your assumptions about what you're building, I think that it's still a really fast and high-performing framework to use.

And it's interesting because there's a coding school in San Diego, Codecademy, which is really heavily involved, [chuckles] of course, in the Ruby on Rails Community, and they still teach it in their bootcamp. And one of the reasons they said to me was because it's one of the frameworks that gives you that holistic view of how everything works. [laughs]

Like, if you're new to tech, new to programming, in general, it's a very easy entry point to understanding. And I think that, of itself, when you're talking, like, the long-term viability of a framework, being able to hire people who can step in and understand what's going on in your codebase, that framework gives you a higher chance of that. [laughs] You know, that might point to your long-term success, too.

BRITTANY: Now, that's a really good point. Going back to the podcast as well, I think one thing that is not very well solved is just being able to make it sustainable as well because there are only so many sponsors out there. And it's really hard to prove ROI from sponsoring a podcast, right? Like, you can put links in the show notes. And you can hope people click on them and they convert. And you can be able to say, "Hey, this podcast is the reason."

But I've seen a lot of people start podcasts, and they think, well, if I put a bunch of episodes out and some people listen, then sponsors are going to knock down my door. I'm very lucky that I've had some long-term sponsors that have been able to keep the show sustainable. And I love seeing podcasts that come out of companies, you know, like thoughtbot, where you are being sustained by the company that, you know, is producing it. It's really hard to justify a podcast as a business unless you are already a major celebrity already, right?

VICTORIA: Yeah, we certainly don't do it for the money it makes us directly off the podcast. We do not.


BRITTANY: We do not.

VICTORIA: Yeah, I agree with that. And yeah, and even it's interesting as an advertising vehicle or marketing for your company. It can be great because, like, I feel with Giant Robots, we have so many listeners, like, loyal listeners over the years that we have this, like, direct way of communicating with a community that we care about. [laughs] But if you don't have...trying to, like, create that market and create that group of people from the ground up can be really tough. [laughs] And it takes a lot of time, a lot of investment, and a lot of effort, especially if you can't afford a professional editor. [laughs]

BRITTANY: Agreed. There's just some cost that I believe, like, the longer I do this, that are just, like, non-negotiable. There are some things that you can definitely have as optional. You know, for me, like, you have to have a good microphone. You have to have a professional editor. I pay for, like, my calendar scheduling software because I want to make that really, like, slick for my guests. Like, I used to...oh, I used to do the emails back and forth of, like, I'm available at Thursday at 2:00 or Friday at 3:00. Like, would one of these work for you? No. [laughs] It's just...that's a rotten experience.

For us, we do send, like, a thank you gift after being on the show, which has been, like, a nice add with having a producing partner that will back me on that. And I try to get to as many conferences as possible because I think it's a great vehicle to promote the podcast, but those end up all being optional. And all those things they do cost money.

VICTORIA: They do. And it's funny, like, yeah, getting out to the conferences, it's still the number one way to grow things is by meeting people in person [laughs], like, being real and human.

BRITTANY: Shocking, right? [laughs]

VICTORIA: Yeah. And I'm just kind of curious, like, in terms of how you picture what success means for your podcast. Like, what does that look like in the next six months or even, like, five years of hosting this podcast for you?

BRITTANY: Ooh, this is, like, the existential crisis question because I've been doing it for nearly five years. And I think the question is always going to be, you know, like, how long do I want to keep hosting the podcast? I will say the podcast is a positive influence on me in terms of making sure that I stay connected to people, that I keep writing code on the side so that way, I know what I'm talking about.

I have this whole imposter thing of, like, what if someone finds out I'm not a Ruby on Rails developer day to day and that I'm, like, actually thinking about business problems; I was, like, an engineering manager? You know, I'm going to get found out, and people are going to unsubscribe.

But in all seriousness, I think the success for this podcast is that it can go on without me. It's been around for that long already. And eventually, like, I want to have a succession plan where someones, I will say, like, multiple co-hosts to be able to take it over from there. It'll be rough to watch because, like, I really enjoy, you know, my current era because I feel like the podcast has gone through different eras. I really do enjoy it. But, at some point, it's just not going to make sense in terms of my professional goals. Do you feel the same?

VICTORIA: Yes. But we're only a year in. So I feel like I'm still...[laughter] I feel like I'm still new to hosting. And I'm like, oh, I've already recorded, like, 30 episodes or something. [laughs]

There's been a lot of change. And we're always thinking about, like, how do we make it better? What do we do? And trying to figure out how do we really get the most out of it for ourselves. But I feel the same way that it's just one of the more fun things that I do at thoughtbot [laughs]. And it gives me that chance to reach out to people and start conversations that I otherwise would not have had. So I really appreciate it. I don't know what you think, Will.

WILL: No, I totally agree with you. I love meeting new people. And I love meeting the diverse group of people that we have on the podcast. I love that just, like, how did you get here? Like, what makes you keep at it? Like, you've been at it for five years. What makes you keep at it? Just those questions like that I really love.

For me personally, I think that I'm still in the growing phase of podcast hosting. Like, I can get better at this. I can get better at that. What else can I get better at? So I think that's where I'm at in this phase. But, like Victoria said, that's only a year in. It's a different story when you're five years in.

BRITTANY: [laughs] It is. And one thing that I will do to make it more sustainable is, you know, like when you're running, you can either be sprinting, or you can be doing, like, a long endurance race. So with the podcast, I will book a bunch of podcasts in one week and say, this is my week to be recording. Like, I'm going to be very heads down on the podcast. I have other things going on in my life, but I'm like, this is a podcast week for me. And so I will record a bunch of episodes.

And that essentially gives me a couple of weeks where I can essentially take a break from the podcast. But guess what, listeners? Like, you're still getting new episodes. So you have no idea that I'm secretly taking a break. And I think that has also been a huge help.

Odd fact is that the five years that I've been hosting The Ruby on Rails Podcast, I am only missing from one episode. And the reason for that is that when I broke my ankle, [laughs] I called my co-host and was like, "Hey, I'm going into surgery tomorrow. We have this great episode being recorded tomorrow. I need you to take it." [laughs] And so that is the one episode that I am missing from, but I think it was a good lesson for me to know that I can step away and good content can still happen.

WILL: That's amazing. That's a pretty good record. [laughs]

BRITTANY: Or it might be obsessive, Will. I don't know.


WILL: Let me ask you this, what does success look like for you personally - roller derby, your full-time job? What does success look like for you in those areas in six months or a couple of years?

BRITTANY: Oh, that's a really great question. So I had stepped away from roller derby during the pandemic. And so I absolutely love fitness. I do CrossFit. I have a peloton. I have my own little home gym that I built during the pandemic that I absolutely adore.

So, you know, success for me is continuing to invest in that self-care. I want to keep skating just because I'm that person. Everyone came to me, and they're like, "Oh, you broke your ankle. I bet you won't go back to a roller derby." And I was like, oh, you think I won't? You think I won't go back? [laughs] So I'm headed back, but I'm going to be very careful about it. Because I've seen that, you know, your body can break, and you need to give yourself some rest.

But to answer, overall, like, I am an engineering manager now, and, you know, my goal is to eventually to get to that director level. And, in some ways, like, I can justify the podcast just because I do get the excuse to talk to people that have the job that I eventually want to have in my career. And so it helps in that regard as well.

VICTORIA: I think that's great, and I agree. That's also why I started getting involved in my community a lot, maybe 5 or 10 years ago. I was just like, here's opportunities to show my leadership and see how connected I am with other leaders. [laughs] It helps in that way. And on blading, I actually bought rollerblades recently just to go around the neighborhood.

BRITTANY: Yeesssss!

VICTORIA: And I got heckled by a woman [laughs] who said...I think she was being sincere, but she was like, "Bend your knees, and it's going to be okay." [laughter] Like, "Wear wrist guards next time." [laughter] I was like, maybe just my face was very try-hard in that moment. Because I have a lot of respect for people who can roller derby and get around on skates that fast. [laughs]

BRITTANY: Well, you know what's really funny? (I haven't even talked about this on my own podcast.) is that you know, I'm involved in the Roller Derby League. Obviously, I can't skate right now. And so I needed to find a committee so that I was able to still, you know, provide value to the league. And so, for some reason, I decided that skater resources would be a good idea.

So I'm essentially one of the people who is, you know, human resources within the Roller Derby League. And so when there are disputes or questions, or people have hurt feelings, like, they're coming to me, which is, you know, really funny because I do some of that as an engineering manager. So, like, to your point, Victoria, like, you know, I can do growth because they're way more extreme through roller derby, as you can imagine. And, in some ways, it ends up being good practice.

VICTORIA: Yes, that does sound like practice for higher-level management decisions, [laughs] so get ready. You're going to have issues and problems, and you're the one to solve it. So...

BRITTANY: Yeah. It's not like their problems don't matter. But, in some ways, it's almost like playing with monopoly money because, like, you know, you're not dealing with somebody's, like, livelihood. You're dealing with a sport that they do for fun. Like, trust me, no one is being paid to play roller derby. [laughs] It's a very expensive sport. There's a lot of equipment involved. And, Victoria, yes, you want to wear wristguards.


VICTORIA: Yes. I learned my lesson.

BRITTANY: You write code. You want to wear wrist guards.


VICTORIA: Right. And yeah, it's funny about things like that. Like, it's still very meaningful to people. Like, when I used to coach kids' climbing competitions, it's, like, the same thing. Like, it's rock climbing, everybody, but some people take it very seriously. [laughs] There's a lot of feelings involved. But, at the end of the day, it's nice to have that practice outside of the pressure of it being someone's livelihood and all of those details.


VICTORIA: Well, let me ask you this question. It's one of our favorite ones. But if you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would you say? And maybe it's at the beginning of the podcast or some other inflection point in your career.

BRITTANY: That is...oh, what a gift because hindsight is 20/20, isn't it? When I was going through school, I ended up getting a marketing degree because I really enjoyed business. I really liked, you know, the mechanics behind marketing. But, at the time, I had taken a couple of computer classes, and this was back in 2006. And, you know, I thought about double majoring in computer science and marketing. And someone gave me the terrible advice that computer programming was going to go away [laughs], and so it would be a waste of time to get that double degree in computer science. And so, you know, I'm very much a second career developer.

Like I noted earlier, you know, I was a PM. I was a non-technical product manager before I learned how to code, and so I learned how to code in my 30s. So I wish I could go back and get into programming way earlier. It would have changed the entire trajectory of my life. But part of me always wants to live out, like, that Black Mirror, like, what it would have been like if I had learned to code so much earlier. Would I have found Ruby? Maybe not.

WILL: I totally agree with that because the same story. I remember growing up, and I had a cousin that lived next door. He used to program, and I was just, like, he was a celebrity because I was like, whoa, look what he's doing, and how can you do that? And then I went off to college.

Well, I grew up in a small town, so we didn't really have many computer programs. I went to a college, and they said, "Hey, we have this one computer course you can either take it or test out." I was like; I'm not taking it; test out. I want to save that money. And I didn't realize how much I'll love computers and programming until later in life, late 20s, early 30s. And I wish I could have started early, so I totally agree with you about that.

VICTORIA: Like, I wish I would have time now to learn how to code. [laughs] Like, I still need to learn it. No, I think that...oh, would I advise? I don't know. You know what's funny? A recent guest said that if that had happened, they still wouldn't have believed themselves [laughs], right? Like, would you really believe someone telling you what to do? Like, you know, you try to make the best decision that you can at the time.

BRITTANY: I think it's fun to look back and see all the little things that happened that got you to where you are. So, like, two of, like, crucial things that happened for me. I was in school to become a genetic counselor, and I hated it. And so I had gotten an internship, and, like, that internship changed everything because it was like a day in the life as a genetic counselor, and I really did not like it at all. And so, I ended up dropping all my classes and moving into the business school. And so that was one thing that happened.

And then the second thing is, you know, I was working at a cowboy restaurant. [laughs] It was ridiculous. And I was getting ready to graduate school and just absolutely terrified about not having a job. I ended up getting this table of this company that was, like, having a business meeting, and we ended up chatting, and they were so wonderful. And they left me their business card, and, like, that ended up being my first job.

It's just the little micro-decisions that you make that, like, change your entire trajectory, which is really so cool. So you end up not really regretting anything, but you always just kind of look back and reflect, and you're like, what if I had given that table away? Or what if I hadn't been ambitious and, like, tried to get that internship? So just everything's an opportunity, right?

WILL: Yeah, I totally, totally agree with that. So you do roller derby, CrossFit, marathons, coding, your podcast. So you do a lot of self-care, which I don't think, especially in the tech world, we do enough self-care. I know I don't. I am horrible at it, trying to get better. What's your wind in your sails for that? Like, how do you keep going? Like, how do you stay disciplined with that?

BRITTANY: I think, for me, I feel better when I move my body. I make better decisions. I am more patient. I need to work out earlier in the day. Like, I am a morning person, and so it makes me feel good. And so then I go into work in a good mood. And I deal with people day to day, right? Like, I manage ten developers. And so it's also something that I can use to connect with my team as well. A lot of them also like to do physical things, and so that works out nicely.

In terms of nutrition, I definitely could be better. But I will say my partner and I take turns meal prepping our lunches. We both work from home. And so being able to, like, in between meetings run over and grab a box of actually good food to be able to eat lunch. We do, like, a meal service at night as well.

I don't know, like, you need to look out for you. Because while the belief is that other people are also looking out, nobody's going to look out for you like you are. And so you have to prioritize self-care and just making sure that you're getting those moments. And I agree with you, Will; sometimes, I'm absolutely terrible at setting up those processes so that way you don't fall through.

VICTORIA: I think there's a book that makes me think of it called, like, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. [laughs]




VICTORIA: Yep. And I think that's part of it, too. Like, there's a lot of pressure to be so high-performing and to do all the things for your family, and for your work and your personal life. But, at the end of the day, it's also okay to just sit around and do nothing [laughs] and, like, relax.

BRITTANY: Yeah, I've watched a lot of Drag Race, a lot. [laughs]

VICTORIA: Oh, awesome. Yes. What's your favorite season?

BRITTANY: Oh, season six, I would say. Season six is just so good. Are you watching All-Stars?

VICTORIA: I'm not right now. I'm actually...I usually binge-watch it at random times. So I'm not really caught up. But I have met a few of them at drag shows. I think I've met Milk. Is that [inaudible 44:27]

BRITTANY: Oh, wow. What a queen to have met.


BRITTANY: That's amazing. [laughs]

VICTORIA: That was actually a very funny story. I'll tell you another time. [laughs] But yes.

BRITTANY: But honestly, like, Drag Race actually relates to engineering management for me because, you know, at my last job, I had two developers that I was struggling to connect with. And I realized that after stand-up, they were staying behind to talk about Drag Race, and I wanted to connect with them. And I was like, oh, I'll check out a couple of episodes and became so deeply addicted [laughs] that, like, I surpassed them in how much I loved it.

So, like, it is a fun, like, I've always thought about giving a conference talk where, like, each report that I have, like, one crazy thing that they do...well, not crazy but, like, one, you know, passion that they have and, like, trying it just to have something to relate to. Though I will say, I did manage somebody who really liked to jump out of planes, and that is just not in the cards for me.

VICTORIA: I love that too. I like when someone is really passionate about something. I'm like, okay, I'll give it a chance, at least once, you know. But I have some friends right now who are into freediving, and I'm not convinced [laughs] that I want to go try to hold my breath underwater.

BRITTANY: What in the world is freediving?

VICTORIA: It's diving underwater without oxygen.


VICTORIA: Yeah. Yeah.

BRITTANY: That's a big nope for me.

VICTORIA: And, like, hunting fish. So, like, they catch tuna and stuff. They're down there pew-pew and making sushi when they get back.

BRITTANY: Well, that actually sounds wonderful. But --

VICTORIA: Yeah, I'm like, I will eat this. I will eat [laughs] whatever you catch.

BRITTANY: Yes, that's fair.

VICTORIA: Yeah. Like, I'm into the results but not...I might try some of the, like... a lot of it is, like, training your breath and being able to hold your breath and to stay calm because that's really the biggest problem. [laughs] I do rock climbing. I think that's enough. Like, that's --

WILL: [laughs]

BRITTANY: That's pretty badass.

VICTORIA: Yeah. [laughs]

WILL: Yes.

BRITTANY: That is a very cool sport.

VICTORIA: Yeah. And, actually, you're mentioning how it was, like, you worked at a cowboy restaurant, and that was how you got your first connection to your job. And, like, I would go up to, like, my college climbing wall and be, like, I'm a rock climber; you should hire me. And [laughs] through that connection, I got my first referral to my first job in DC. And so, basically, my whole life revolves around it. [laughs] Nothing would happen without these little connections that you make.

I'm curious, Will, if you had a pivot point like that you can tell us about.

WILL: It was probably getting to tech because it was more of a hobby, and sometimes it's still a big hobby for me. So I will say either getting into tech or working out. So I try to work out with friends. So I used to play football. Everything was a group workout. So after football, it was very hard for me to work out because it was always a group workout. So after many, many years of finally realizing that, I try to work out in groups, with friends, and stuff like that. So that's probably the biggest thing for me is, like, working out in a group and having someone to hold me accountable.

BRITTANY: I love that. That's one I used to be a fitness instructor. I should reveal that as well. I used to be a BODYPUMP instructor. And the reason for that is just, like, again, I thought people that were fitness instructors were just, like, celebrities and absolute badasses. And so, I used to only go to group fitness class as well because I needed that accountability. And so, yeah, there's definitely days I wake up where I absolutely do not want to do anything. But having that accountability, it's just really awesome, and really, it makes sure that you follow through.

VICTORIA: That makes sense how you've practiced your voice and why your podcasting voice is so strong [laughter] because you're a fitness instructor. That's what is starting to add up for me. [laughter]

BRITTANY: You know what? The biggest challenge of being a fitness instructor is that they would send me the routines, and I would have to memorize them. And being able to memorize like, oh, I'm going to squat on the fourth count. And I'm going to do a clean and press on the eighth count. Oh my God, is that an algorithm --

WILL: Yes.

BRITTANY: You know, for a pro...and I was like, is there any way that I could somehow automate? Like, part of me wanted to game it. I'm like, how do I game this so I don't have to spend so much time trying to memorize it? I mean, it was truly, truly challenging. And it was probably, like, the best brain teaser that I could have been doing because you're essentially putting on a live performance while working out. And everyone needs to be able to follow you and feel encouraged by you. It was was a wild time.

WILL: [laughs]

VICTORIA: That sounds very demanding. Well, coming up to the end of our time here, is there anything else you would like to promote today?

BRITTANY: Ooh, no. We're currently not hiring at my job. Normally, that is something that I would promote. I would say if you are interested in checking out my podcast, it is The Ruby on Rails Podcast. We have plenty of things on there that are not Rails-specific. We've had conversations about, like, what's it like to get stock options at a company? What does the recruiting landscape currently look like? And then we also have, like, deep topics about, like, what's currently being merged into Ruby Core? So, really, we have a wide variety of topics.

So, if you find my voice somewhat pleasant, come on over; we'd be happy to have you. And, of course, you can listen to Victoria's episode, that will be linked up in the show notes. But this was such a pleasure. It was great spending time with you both, Will and Victoria.

WILL: Yeah, it was great. Loved chatting with you.

VICTORIA: Yes, thank you so much for joining. This was super fun.

You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at

WILL: If you have any questions or comments, email us at And you could find me on Twitter @will23larry.

VICTORIA: And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

Thanks for listening. See you next time.

ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at

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