Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Time for a change, part 2

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

This the 2nd part in a series of posts about improving the dev culture in the Milwaukee and surrounding area. See all the post in this series under the community tag.

In the previous post, I told a story of Sally. She is a passionate developer that is getting frustrated with the status quo in Milwaukee. The post was mainly aimed at companies in the area. This post is aimed more at the developers in the area. The overall feedback from the previous post was pretty positive however there was one common comment that come up from story of Sally. The common comment was “how did Sally attempt to change her company?” This question is what we are going to explore in this post.


Change is very hard for most people. In fact, I would argue that change is a fear that is right with public speaking and death for many people but different in that many don’t know they are fearful of change. Change can be risky, Change is unknown, Change can move you from your comfy safe box.

The first question from the story of Sally that should be asked is did she have the support from the business for the changes she wanted to make? Any change is easier with support from others. The higher up the organization the support goes, the easier it gets to affect change in an organization. The best case scenario here is if c-level execs are leading and/or cheerleading the effort. Since Sally was thinking of moving out of Wisconsin, it is safe to assume she didn’t have much support in this way.

The next question is then what has she done to drum up support? More importantly, how? Many developers’ first instinct is to try to win others over by using the thing they know best: their technical knowledge. Which is great when talking to other technically minded people. Most of the time. It falls flat if you are trying to convince non-technical people.

Let’s assume that the change(s) Sally wanted to make were valid and would in fact be beneficial to the team and company. What would she need to do? She would need to get her ducks in a row. When she presents her ideas to her audience, she needs to be able to show them these changes will positively affect the things her audience cares about. She needs to show that she has thought through changes and be willing to get answers for the questions that come up. Even better, know her audience well enough to know the questions they will want answered and have them answered ahead of time.

There are 3 outcomes to this. The change is agreed to, flat our refused, or declined/deferred with reason.

If the change is agreed to. Make sure it succeeds. There will be trust and credibility to be gained. This can be used for further changes down the road.

If the change is flat our refused, well that sucks. These are hard to take. Many devs crave to have answers to the question of “why”. Not having reasons will likely irritate a dev. If you get too many of these answers, it may be a sign to move on (which is a totally different topic).

If the change was refused or deferred with reasoning provided. This is where understanding is needed. Many developers don’t like to be told they can’t do they thing they wanted to do. I know it is more fun to be upset then to find understanding. However, there are lots of reasons why a suggested change would get shot down. Many of them are very valid. A solid example is software licensing. You can’t just take some piece of software or code off the internet and use it if it is licensed wrong. No matter how much it would help. Hell, tons of companies shy away from Reactjs because of the inclusion of a patent grant. But I digress. Point being there is a lot to be learned here. A lot that can be used in further discussions either on this change or future changes down the road.

The story of Sally is just made up but has its roots in truth. I have been the developer that just spews technical lingo at a director only to be frustrated when he or she says no. I have watched my peers do the same thing. I have even seen a few of them get so frustrated they moved out of Wisconsin. On the flip side, I have seen great changes happen and it is exciting.

Look, none of this is easy. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this. And this has everything to do with making Milwaukee and Wisconsin a better place for developers. It is going to take work on our part to do this. It is going to take stepping out of our comfort zones and making the places we work better. I know there is a ton of nuance here and there have been whole books on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” written. This is just a start. Just me saying that we need more developers to stop accepting the status quo and work to make our hometown a better place for everyone.

Time for a change

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Most of the people who know me and are reading this probably know me from my work with the Milwaukee JS meetup. Anyone that has had a conversation with me at the meetup has probably heard me talk about making Milwaukee and Wisconsin better. Specifically for tech but overall as well. This is a subject that I am passionate about and is one of the key reasons I continue to put effort into Milwaukee JS.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter who I am. The only thing that matters is that you read this and start to give a damn. It is time for the people here care. For the companies here to care. It is time for real change not just saying words but actually doing something that will better all of us.

Time for a story. Sally is a software developer that works for you or with you. She is a good developer, gets her work done and is currently contemplating moving out of the state to pursue better jobs. This seems crazy right? I mean Sally’s job pays decent. Her company is stable. Why would she risk everything to move 2,000 miles?

The answer? Many people and companies don’t want to hear the answer. Or they don’t want to believe the answer. The answer is because Sally’s job consists of writing code that is outdated, boring, and is the bare minimum the company needs. She spends her nights learning whatever she can to become a better developer but all attempts to use what she has learned at her company have failed. So she is willing to risk everything, move 2,000 miles just for a chance to use more of the skills she has accumulated.

Many of you are thinking this story is just that; A story. Well, I hate to break the news to you it isn’t. I have at least 8 friends and acquaintances that have moved for this very reason. And more that are considering a move and they probably work for you or with you right now. Most them could have been considered “community leaders”. They ran/run meetups and tried to make an impact at their respective places of employment only to have it not go anywhere.

Need more proof there is an issue? Go to a meetup. Any meetup. Talk to the developers that are there. They will tell you the struggles are real. They will tell you that it is hard to find places to work in the area that actually give a damn about development. They will tell you that it has crossed their mind at least once to move 2,000 miles to a place where more people give a damn.

Still need more? Fine. Walk down to your HR/talent acquisition people and ask them. Ask them how much work they have to do to find a hireable person. They will tell you, that in Milwaukee it is really hard to attract talent.

Ok so there is a problem. So What can I do about it?

As a company let your developers participate in the developer community of Milwaukee and Wisconsin. On company time. Developers have lives outside of work but many of us would love the chance to show off what they do at work. They should not be expected to do this on their time. They should be doing it on yours as it will benefit you. So let them. Not only will this net more engaged developers but it will allow your company to shine in the community which in turn will help attract more talent.

I bet the majority of our small community in Milwaukee don’t know the cool and interesting problems that are being solved in your four walls. Hell, I would bet some of the employees inside your four walls don’t know the extent of interesting problems that are being worked on within your four walls.

So I beg you. Let them speak. Let them blog. Let them be more open on the awesome you are doing and the problems you are solving.

As a developer in this community, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and push your employer to allow you to contribute to the community. This can be blogging, speaking, tweeting or whatever. I for one believe that we, as developers, are the best advocates for our employers to other developers.

At this point you maybe asking yourself why does this person care so much about a company he doesn’t work for. Why does he care about what I do?

The answer is simple. I am selfish. As the quality of developer jobs in Milwaukee improves, we will attract more talent. As more talent comes to Milwaukee, I (we) can all learn more from our peers. The more I (we) learn from our peers, the better I (we) become. To put it another way, I want smart people around me because it motivates me to be smarter, better, faster.


Full disclosure: I organize the speakers for the Milwaukee JavaScript Meetup. MKEJS has over 1100 members. It is very hard to find speakers. After a fear of public speaking, the next top excuses are “I am not doing anything interesting”, “I don’t do anything on the side to talk about” and “My company won’t ok me speaking” All of these point to a problem in our community. All of these are fixable.

So this post is just one step in my work to make an impact. I need more and different speakers to keep MKEJS going. To keep it interesting. I want speakers from every company, every background, race, and gender. I am asking for help in making this happen not only for MKEJS but for every meetup in Milwaukee.