illustration for Heading Gatsby's Learning Experience and Bridging Gaps - with Marcy Sutton

episode 40

Heading Gatsby's Learning Experience and Bridging Gaps - with Marcy Sutton

Marcy Sutton is the Head of Learning at GatsbyJS, but what does that mean? One of Gatsby's core focuses is the community, and a part of that is making the experience with Gatsby as friendly as possible. A large part of making Gatsby friendly is having excellent documentation, so that learning and debugging experiences would be smooth.

So the learning experience is smooth but what is Gatsby's potential on the web? Marcy talks about how Gatsby has the potential to make a huge impact. Currently, WordPress is powering about a third of the internet, that's huge, but it has its issues. WordPress is centered around the authoring experience, but the front-end experience is not good. Gatsby is looking more towards the future, it doesn't use a database, it can build out static HTML, it's accessible, and it's also democratizing the experience with a themes ecosystem.

This brings up the point that JavaScript is eating the web and it's making it more difficult for folks who've had a different intro to web development. This is a real challenge and people are having their careers impacted, what can we do to reconcile this? The decisions made by tech teams aren't considering this when they pick the technologies that they use, they're choosing tech that's going to deliver a high-performance application, where do HTML and CSS fit into this? Marcy discusses how we can bridge the gap and find ways to include people with different skill sets.

Marcy also discusses the inclusive community that she has helped build, NW Tech Women, a small group out of Bellingham WA that hosts social events, but also volunteers and pairs with non-profits to make a community impact.


TRANSCRIPT

Marcy Sutton:

Links:

Transcript

Joel: Hi, Marcy.

Marcy: Hello.

Joel: So I'm pretty stoked to talk to you in general. You've had a lot of interesting circumstances in your life recently. But what I really wanna ask you first of all, 'cause this is what's important to me, and I'm curious if you could describe van life to me and what that is and how you use that as a kind of escape from these screens that we spend so much time with.

Marcy: Yes. So van life probably means different things to different people. To us, it is an escape and kind of a home away from home. Make it really comfortable, it's got a diesel heater in it, a diesel furnace. But, you know, we're pretty lucky that we have a really comfy home to go back to. I think for a lot of people that can't afford to live in big cities, van life is stability and a warm place to sleep at night. So, I remember walking around Seattle and being like, "Man, there's a lot of people sleeping on the streets here." And that's because people can't afford to live there.

Marcy: So, van life, in that circumstance, is very different than how we think of it in our household, which is a fun time and a privilege to get to go out and explore. Go wheeling and go camping, and then come back to our house. So, yeah, it's a big topic and I'm so excited that- you know, it took us two years to get our van up and running, and it enables some pretty great escapes. I can work remotely, which is really awesome. So, looking forward to more of that in our future.

Joel: I think that's a pretty good point, because there's the recreation. And we see a lot of that. So Marcy and I are both in the Pacific Northwest, that's where we live at, and it's just the paradise for outdoor recreation. So you have that side of it, but then you have the folks that, this is just a place that they can afford and it's how they live, in their vehicle. In that respect, a van's kind of a nice tiny house, probably, for a lot of folks, too and is even a step up.

Joel: My sister lives on a 26-foot boat on the Molalla River here in Portland. And I'm always impressed with folks that can achieve that, right? Like have a small space and their small footprint and make it work. It's not the easy route, I guess, when you're talking about that as your home.

Marcy: Yeah, I mean, it's not easy, but I think people make it work and find more affordable ways of living. And it's like, whatever you gotta do to have a warm place to sleep at night. It's been really cold here in the Pacific Northwest this week. I think we were in the low 20s Fahrenheit, down to 16 degrees, at one point, maybe colder. So that's pretty dangerous, to be sleeping literally on the street. So, if you've got, you know, a van or some sort of a vehicle that you could sleep in, that's a huge deal.

Marcy: So, yeah, I feel really lucky that we get to use it as a recreation thing, but when you asked me this question beforehand, I was like, "Wow, well, yeah. It certainly means different things to different people."

Joel: Yeah. I think that's a great point. 'Cause when I was thinking of it, I'm thinking of the fun time, four-wheeling in the woods with your conversion van, 'cause that's what springs to mind. But, yeah, there's definitely a deeper story there, for sure.

Marcy: Yeah, I mean, I feel like it's a privilege to go out on these trips and just have the best time and not wanna come home and be like, "Why do we have a home, anyway?" And then we come back to it and I'm like, "Oh, yeah." Nice to have a little more space.

Joel: What's the longest trip you've managed doing with your van in the backwoods?

Marcy: We went out for a month in September, October, for our honeymoon. And we came home in between to drop the dog off, so we could go mountain biking, and that was pretty awesome. I really liked Montana and there's some spots in Idaho that are really neat. And yeah, just getting out there. We were pretty glad to have a diesel furnace by the end of it, but it was super fun.

Joel: Yeah. To go from the escape back to, I think, our general reality ... You recently moved your entire blog from WordPress to Gatsby, and I talk about it all the time with anybody that'll listen, because I personally love Gatsby as a product and a company. But I was wondering like the technical experience of converting your space on the internet from WordPress, which is kind of traditionally the leader in that space, to this kind of new platform with Gatsby.

Marcy: Yeah, I told my husband it's like a once in 10 year affair to make that big of a move, for me at least. I don't have a ton of content, but, going back to I think my ... I originally moved onto WordPress in 2010. So, that's a long time to kind of get used to a way of working, and I just kinda got tired of all of the server maintenance. I was always worried about the vulnerabilities on my server. It's like, I'm not a full time ops person. So, I really like Digital Ocean, but I found once Gatsby came along, it was just a totally different way of working with ...

Marcy: You know, instead of having a database, you do a build, and then you push ... I mean now I'm using Git and Netlify, so I think it only really deploys changes, so you're not having to copy all of the files over, as if you were doing it manually. But I found it was a really awesome experience going from WordPress to Gatsby with the plug-in that they've made. So, it took some getting used to, for sure, and I just had to, I don't know, do some error debugging and it was really great kind of source material for my new job, which is the Head of Learning at Gatsby.

Marcy: Ultimately, I ended up completely detaching from WordPress. Like, the plug-in made it possible for me to ... It kinda built out my pages and pulled in all my content so I could at least bring my design vision to life. And then, ultimately, I detached from WordPress and moved all of my content into Markdown, and that was ... It could have gone smoother. I think I need to write a postmortem of like, "Don't do what I did." But it was good, and I'm really psyched that I have a new site that uses CSS Grid and you can save stuff offline and it's like, the future is here.

Joel: Yeah. It's nice. So you mentioned in there, and it was probably one of the highlights of that, is ... So you're now the Head of Learning at Gatsby. Did the site migration happen- was that occurring before the job or was that as a result of the new position?

Marcy: It was occurring before the job and I mean, when I'm excited about something, I'm usually shouting it from the rooftops. So I think they had seen that I was working with Gatsby and Jason Lengstorf reached out to me and was like, "Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you, actually. We have this role that you would be perfect for." And, at the time, I had taken all that time off for honeymoon and I felt like I really owed DQ, my former employer, some quality time. So at first I was like, "Ah, I don't know if I'm ready yet." And then I took a closer look at what he was saying. I'm like, "Wait, head of something? Good pay, benefits." I mean, DQ has great benefits, but every time you move jobs ... I mean, having to deal with health insurance and pay. It's a bigger decision than just the work alone when you have a family and a household.

Marcy: So, for us, this was just a really smart career move and it turns out that I'm really psyched about Gatsby. So, it's a perfect fit.

Joel: Yeah, it's definitely a bigger change than, say, moving your website from WordPress to Gatsby. Like uprooting your entire self and moving into a new position.

Marcy: My entire life. Yeah.

Joel: So, I know at this point in time, you've only been doing this job for, what, a couple weeks? But what is the Head of Learning? What is that position and what's your role there at Gatsby?

Marcy: I am in charge of the learning experience at Gatsby. And that's pretty broad. So, because the nature of Gatsby is that they are really putting a focus on community and making sure that the experience of using Gatsby is positive and, you know, if there's bugs and problems, that we're working through those. And so, documentation plays a huge role in that. Error handling, that's a big project I'm about to start. Just making sure that if people are stumbling on stuff that we're not just like, "Whatever, it's not our problem." That things are getting fixed and addressed and documented.

Marcy: And so, I think they have done a really great job already of getting good docs, and they have a great infrastructure for it, great community. They just need somebody dedicated to it full time, 'cause there's lots of things to do and it's a startup. And at some point, you grow to a point where you need to create new roles for a certain amount of work, because it's too much for the founders to do, or whoever was doing it before. Currently, the woman who was doing Head of Learning before, Shannon, she is also a UX designer, a UX person, researcher, so she was doing two jobs and that's not super sustainable.

Marcy: So, I stepped into this role, and it's really cool being technical and so ... Like, this morning, we had a meeting on caching to talk about how to smooth out that experience, and so I got this core insight into what the team is doing so I can kind of look longer term at, "Okay, well maybe we'll document this fix now, and then long-term, we'll have some other tool to make that easier." So, yeah, lots of things. It's sort of like I have to prioritize and pick the most important things because there's so much we could do but we only have so many hours in a day.

Joel: Yeah, it's like the eternal challenge, trying to figure out what's most important and what's next. Like, there's a lot of complex projects that you can do, and then there's a lot of relatively simple things.

Marcy: Yeah. And the relatively simple things could eat up your whole week. You gotta get those bigger goals in mind so that you can kind of move the needle further forward, rather than just these little things alone.

Joel: I've realized recently, with a lot of this. 'Cause I spent a lot of time thinking about how to teach people as well and I tend to try to turn everything into a software project when, a lot of times, it's more of a human need like a communication issue. Whether it's some sort of direct communication versus building some sort of software tool or robot to shield me from that communication, which has just been interesting to me.

Marcy: Yeah, yep. Yeah, sometimes the answer is just writing a good doc on it. But maybe you write the doc and you're like, "Ah, this could be better." That's when, maybe long-term, there's more thinking around a technical solution that prevents the user from having to do what you documented in the first place. Or maybe there's an easier way.

Marcy: So, yeah, it's a really interesting role, because I'm the Head of Learning and Documentation, but they consider that pretty core to the product, so rather than just kind of being off in marketing or being off on the side, I'm on the product leadership team. So that for me, professionally, was a huge step forward, to be the head of something and to be in the conversations where we're talking about where we wanna go instead of being further down the chain and being like, "Okay, yeah, sure. I'll go present at this conference but I don't really know how it's helping further the business goals of the company I'm with." So, I'm pretty excited.

Joel: I mean, it can. That's an extension too, right? Those presentations can and should be important and part of the overall strategy and messaging for a company.

Marcy: Absolutely, yeah. But what I think about is, you're kind of presenting on what's there now and not looking too far forward. Like, maybe there's some new technologies you're being exposed to, but what happens when you bring that information back to the team? You're like, "Hey, there's this really cool thing going on. We should be thinking about this." If that stuff never ends up happening, you're kind of ... It's like, okay. I don't know where we're going.

Marcy: So, yeah, to be in those conversations where decisions are being made of which direction we're going in is ... I personally felt ready to take on more responsibility like that, so it was great timing.

Joel: Overall, what you kind of see is the potential for Gatsby in terms of a platform, like what kind of impact can it have on the internet and how people communicate.

Marcy: I think it could have a huge impact. I mean, WordPress has dominated for a long time. What's the stat? It's like 33% of the internet or something. And I don't necessarily think that's going away, but the thing with WordPress is that it's really centered around the authoring experience. And I could go off into that, but I'm not. I will spare you my personal opinions of that.

Marcy: But what I wanna drive home is that the front-end development experience for that is like, you're writing PHP, you're kind of writing sites in a way that used to work very well. But if you have a lot of traffic, you gotta cache it, you gotta add a plug-in for that. If you are doing a lot of stuff in developing markets and on low-powered mobile devices, you're gonna have to do a lot of extra work to make that content render quickly and work in all these scenarios.

Marcy: So, Gatsby presents a way of developing front-end code that really looks forward, looks way more to the future. So no database, no PHP. You know, it builds out static HTML, which as an accessibility person, I really love. I'm kind of in this position where I care a lot about JavaScript, but I also care about accessibility. And so, yeah, Gatsby just gives you this new way of developing that outputs static files but you have this rich interactivity opportunity at the same time.

Marcy: So, I think it's really pushing the needle on the innovation of front-end development. And where I see it growing in the future is to kind of democratize that experience with themes and have an ecosystem so that, if someone isn't a hard-core React developer, or even a JavaScript developer at all, that they could still use Gatsby. I think we're pretty early in that part of the story right now and it's definitely positioned more at developers, but I think long-term, there'll be more of an ecosystem to support more collaboration with your colleagues. So, there's definitely more to come on that.

Joel: And right now, it feels like a very strong opensource development project with a huge upside potential going forward. You mentioned your experience. On the internet, I see you a lot, you're a champion for accessibility and empathy-driven development, and I'm wondering how your experience and perspective is going to help Gatsby along the way in reaching that potential?

Marcy: It helps that they're super open to that stuff already. I know I was sold when I did my kind of initial test of Gatsby and I did a build and I'm like, "Does this work without JavaScript?" And it does. I mean, depending on how you build your app, but ... I didn't use client-side routing in mine, because I wanted actual static pages and I'm not doing a ton of interactivity. I have some longer-term vision for my home page that GraphQL really makes a lot of sense. So that's why I chose this technology.

Marcy: But, we can't leave people behind, so that's something I'm thinking about a lot. Maybe this will dovetail into ... I think I saw you had a question about the kind of CSS versus JavaScript debate. So, I definitely am excited to have an impact, to ask hard questions like, "Are we doing enough for this group of people?" You know, "Is this as accessible as it can be?" But they're already proving to be such an open-minded, caring team that I think I'll be in good company there.

Joel: Yeah, they really do. And it's not just paying lip service to everybody in the organization. It's truly something they're behind and wanna effect change and push forward in a positive way.

Marcy: Yeah.

Joel: So you mentioned JS, JS, JS. Which has been something that's kind of blown up, you know. There's lots of rants on, I think, both sides of this idea. But I think the general premise is that JavaScript is eating the web and it's making it more and more difficult for folks that have traditionally had a different direction into web development through HTML and CSS, or other kind of maybe more accessible approaches.

Joel: How do we reconcile that and how do we be more inclusive, as people with experience that understand these things more completely? How do we make space for newcomers in our industry?

Marcy: Well I think it starts by recognizing that HTML and CSS are still here.

Joel: They are?

Marcy: I have definitely seen hot takes on both sides. And one from Kevin Wheeler that's like, "You could still save a HTML file, right?" Yeah, you can. I think the challenge is in jobs where people are having ... it's impacting their career. And I think it's totally understandable that there would be a lot of fear and uncertainty from folks who feel like, "Well, crap. How am I gonna make a living?"

Marcy: And the decisions being made on tech teams don't consider that, necessarily. Where this is really challenging is, sometimes that might be the right technology for building out a web application. And what I'm wondering is, maybe there's other, supplementary work that would make it possible for folks to contribute, like UI prototyping. Before you write your application in React or whatever technology you've chosen, building out your UI with static files first to just ... Prototype things, making sure they work.

Marcy: So I think there's definitely room for that role, it's just where it's tricky is like, if you're building an application. I don't know, it's these choices in tech stacks. There isn't a good choice sometimes. You're picking the thing that'll make a high-quality, well-performing web application. Where does HTML and CSS fit into that? It comes down to the individual tech stack decisions. And I think there's maybe some smaller decisions we could make, like, maybe don't use CSS in JS. I don't know. That's a really controversial one.

Marcy: I personally like a static CSS file. That's what I did for my site. I think maybe you could use CSS includes instead of ... So what I'm talking about is, you know, style components or something, where you have in-line CSS in your templates. And some people really like it.

Joel: I'm raising my hand, actually. So I'm on the other side. My relationship with CSS has improved so much over the last, say, year and a half or so, since we started ... We use InMotion, which is styled components and same kind of principle. But this idea that my styles are really close to the elements and I'm not having to give them- like conjure up names for things, and everything's just kind of right there, for me has been a huge ...

Joel: I've traditionally said I hate CSS. And that's a mindset, right? But, I actually really enjoy what it does for the internet and I think it's a great tool. But moving it closer to the elements has been great for me. But there's two sides to the argument, just like you said. It's hard to pick a winner and it's really kind of almost team and project and organization-based at that point.

Marcy: Yeah, I mean, there's so many ways to build things. I think a good intermediate step would be, let people write static CSS and then import it. That would be a good compromise. I personally started with a static CSS file because I share styles across components. And, at least for my initial build, the refactoring required, like if I changed something in one place ... I just didn't have a good system for that. And I'm a team of one on this project, so I think that works. It doesn't exactly scale though.

Marcy: If you're working on a big team, you can't all be working in the same giant CSS file, nor do you wanna load a giant CSS file.

Joel: I think we literally use like every way that you can possibly use CSS on our primary inaudible 00:19:25. Literally every single approach to CSS is in use, from tacking ons to static files, to SAS, to importing, to CSS modules, to InMotion. Like, "Oh, it's just 'cause it's a five-year project, right?" So as it's evolved over those five years, we end up with just this stack of ... It's a mess.

Marcy: Yeah. I mean, sometimes you need a good in-line style. And if you are writing a React component, doing it in-line makes sense. Like I do some of that, but if I want things to be reusable, I usually will put them in CSS and then I just use the CSS class. So I'm kind of like a bridge between the static CSS side and the JavaScript side.

Marcy: I wrote a thing on Twitter that got a lot of commentary, and I was just like, "Can we focus on making stuff that works for people regardless of what the tech is?" Because I see so many inaccessible projects, and we only have so much energy. Can we focus our energy on just making stuff that works for people instead of so much on our own fear.

Marcy: And I felt like I was coming from kind of a wholesome place, but getting all those responses of people of how worried they are and there is a genuine concern. And I ended up writing about leadership in that I think it's a failure to not listen to people around you and not give them some empathy. So, it's a really challenging situation to find solutions for quickly. But I think the first start is just listening to people and hearing their genuine concerns about things and not just shrugging it off like, "Ah, whatever." Because a lot of us, as we get more senior in our careers, are making decisions about products and about teams that can impact the people around us. It would be a real shame to not pay attention to those around you in your industry and just kind of, I don't know, look out for number one.

Joel: Yeah, it's kind of like the got mine attitude, right? Like we need to not have that, in my opinion, right? We've made it, we broke through, we understand how to code and can write JavaScript and software and do all this fun stuff, but not everybody can. And just because we have reached that point doesn't mean we have to stop thinking about those folks that are still trying to get to where maybe we're at.

Marcy: Totally, yeah. You might really miss out on some innovative, front-end engineering by going straight to a JSX and stuff. Whereas maybe in your organization, there is room to hire someone who really kicks ass at CSS, and they could create something so innovative in the way of working that they can really be successful, and then maybe you convert that into the UI for your application. You make sure it works, you validate it in CSS and HTML, and then you divide it up into components later.

Marcy: So I think the UI prototyping role is super important, especially for products that live on. So I think just recognizing that that's a skillset that can be super valuable to your organization is a really good start, whereas I think some of the fears around like, "Ah, we don't need that. We're just gonna have a full stack grad do this," but they didn't learn that part of the job, so ... Yeah, I think there's room for lots of different ways of working and I think our goal should be to make the most successful products we can. And sometimes having people whose expertise is making a really solid UI, they might be better in HTML and CSS. We should embrace that.

Joel: For egghead, we'd done that, actually. And it's been really great for us. The way we approach things is different. We're not a high-stress organization in general, just 'cause I can't handle that and I don't want that. We have two folks that started with us. One as a pure designer, just doing comps and layouts in respect, who has learned CSS and JavaScript and development over the last several years. And then somebody that just did CSS and HTML and would just do static comps. It was just me and him for a long time. He would do static comps, I would implement them, in Rails, at the time, or React going forward.

Joel: But over the years of working with these folks, they have those fundamental skills and are really good at that, but then can also implement these things as React components now at this point, because we've done code reviews and talked about it and learned over time. And it's really been actually pretty great and now we have a working relationship and this really, truly full stack of skills. Which to me, if you're really talking full stack, it goes ... design and comps is part of that, to me, through all the way back to the database or wherever you draw the line at a full stack.

Marcy: Yeah. Man, that's a lot of skills to have to be a master at.

Joel: Isn't it? It's a lifetime.

Marcy: Yeah, it is a lifetime. Well and, not everyone's gonna be passionate about all of that stuff.

Joel: No, no. And you can stop at any point in that line. I don't know Sequel at all, really. I'm like a two-finger, look up, stack overflows Sequel person. I can do it if I have to, but it's gonna take all day.

Marcy: Yeah. Well, I think it's worth reminding everyone that we've kind of always had this problem, like with databases and server-side languages that you didn't wanna write in. So, it's like, this isn't exactly a new problem, it's just that now, CSS, you can write it in JavaScript.

Marcy: But if you were writing stuff for CMS or ... I mean, I remember doing stuff for Target where stuff was written in Java. And you kind of had this front-end stuff sprinkled in there. And yeah, getting me to write Java in that circumstance was like, no way.

Marcy: So I would definitely prototype outside of the real environment. And I don't think that's really changed, necessarily. It's just that now, with JavaScript, a lot more of us can write in the front-end. So it feels like it's swallowing the world because now we can do more. But I kinda think that this problem has existed in some ways the whole time.

Joel: There's a lot of interesting solutions being done, too. 'Cause there's like Webflow and Figma and these other tools that feel like bridge tools, to me. To bridge those worlds and help ease the pain and do integrations and exports and different things to take the design side and move that forward.

Joel: So I think there's hope, and I actually personally believe that we're in the best place that the web has ever been. But it's still not great and we have to work to improve it over time.

Marcy: Yeah, definitely. And yeah, that's the thing is we have to keep working at it to improve. And the web is more complex than it used to be. It's also kind of bad for humanity at the same time.

Joel: It's so weird. It's like, the phones ... It's like the worst best thing. I don't know. The whole is just weird to me at the end of the day.

Marcy: The comment section.

Joel: Man. Is shaming and scolding the way forward?

Marcy: No.

Joel: Like should we be calling people out more and doing that sort of thing? What's another approach? We won't even talk about shaming and scolding, but if we wanted to choose something different, how can we be more inclusive in our encouragement to folks that we think are doing the wrong thing?

Marcy: Well, I think it starts with listening, and I definitely try to do my share of that. Someone called me aggressive recently, or they were like, "I think you're being too aggressive." And I'm like, "Me? Really?" But even then, I'm still really taking that to heart. So I think it starts by, yeah, listening to people around you and trying to be someone that people wanna work with.

Marcy: I saw this a lot with accessibility, with the kind of carrot and stick conversation. Yeah, it really doesn't work too well most of the time to jab people with a stick and shame them into doing something. I've found that if you're excited and forgiving and encouraging, then they're like, "Oh, cool. Yeah, I can do this." And they feel like, "Oh," you know, they're not mad at me. So yeah, I think the encouragement is definitely the way forward, but it can be hard, because we're humans and we get frustrated and we have valid points sometimes. I bend over backwards trying to be as nice as I can sometimes and I know for a lot of women, that's true. Especially for a lot of women of color, as well, where you have to be endlessly nice or people will call you aggressive.

Marcy: And yeah, so women I think innately know this very well. But in general, I think we do the best we can. I would like to see the thought leaders, with their hot takes, maybe cool it sometimes.

Joel: It's always people just demanding that people do what they want them to do. It's, "Hey, you need to do this right now." Instead of starting a conversation or listening. Like you personally giving us feedback, like egghead, 'cause I'm the first to admit, we're not the most accessible site in the world. For one, we're delivering video but we weren't ... our transcripts weren't great, we didn't have close captions, and you gave me feedback and it really made me think. And the way you delivered it, actually, I didn't feel defensive, I just wanted to participate and be better. And it was much appreciated. So, all of that feedback you've given us over the years has been much appreciated, just to let you know that.

Marcy: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I see or hear from colleagues with disabilities, like the trouble they have, and I can hear the frustration in their voice. The situation for people with disabilities on the web is pretty horrible sometimes. And so, if I can hear them and try to take their concern and the barriers that they're hitting and then try to, I don't know, use my power and influence to make it better for them somehow, I think I've done a good job.

Marcy: So, yeah. And it's always a work in progress, too. Nobody expects you to fix it in the next release. You chip away at it, do what you can, get more feedback, and it's always a process. So, I think knowing that, as long as people are starting to do the work and then keeping on it over time, we'll gradually make things better. And educating people of it is the most important thing. And we kind of rag on full stack boot camps and stuff, just because there's so many that don't even really touch on accessibility or front-end fundamentals. If you go through one of those and you don't learn about HTML semantics and CSS, they should beef up their curriculum for sure.

Marcy: Because this stuff impacts real people. It's like, your choice in tech stack, to the end user, as long as it renders and they can use it, they don't really care that you used Redux or whatever thing it is that you picked. They care whether they can use it. So that's what I was trying to convey with this conversation and trying to corral our energy back to making stuff work for users, but what I ended up learning was I should listen more to the people around me and really try to ... I don't know. Just because I'm comfortable with it doesn't mean that I should just brush off everybody's concerns.

Marcy: I don't really have good answers other than listening more. Trying to use our power for good. It's tricky.

Joel: Listen more, try to improve things one step at a time. Build community versus building silos and being aggressive to one another. I think that's super great advice in general. Like it's a good lifestyle choice in my opinion.

Marcy: My stress level is way lower. Any time I get in any kind of a conversation that's a little heated, I'm just so distracted for the rest of the day 'cause I'm just like, "Did I say something wrong? Could I be better?" And it eats me up until I feel like I've grown and listened enough to, I don't know, not make the same mistakes and to do better next time.

Joel: Something that you've done recently that I thought was really interesting. You started your own local group, Northwest's Tech Women. And I was wondering if you could tell me about that organization that you started in Bellingham and what it's all about.

Marcy: Yeah, so it's a super small group, 'cause Bellingham is a small city. It grew out of the closure of Girl Develop It Bellingham, which was a one-off group. I intended to make it a full Girl Develop It chapter, but two, three years ago, that organization ... It's a national nonprofit encouraging women and non-binary adults in software. Unfortunately, I think they scaled too big, didn't have good processes, and maybe the wrong- not maybe. They do have the wrong leaders in charge. And I think it's really been disappointing.

Marcy: But, in the end, if we make better opportunities and we've learned, then it's not all bad. So, with Northwest Tech Women, I started a new group kind of with no constraints of a nonprofit that GDI had, and we can have social events. Once I kind of recover from the new job fire hose I wanna have more of a focus on volunteering. So, you could come meet with the group and say, "Hey, I've got a little extra time and I wanna donate my time to a good cause, so we're gonna pair with some nonprofits and just have some little side projects that we can say we've done things in our community and tried to make an impact there." Whereas like, that never fit in the Girl Develop It model, really.

Marcy: They were always trying to fit into their model, but we were not a full chapter at the same time. So between that format mismatch and what I've learned about that organization ... There's some really hard-learned life lessons there about leadership. And I think we're all ... You know, we make mistakes. That's not unusual. It's what you do after you've learned you've made a mistake. Like, what do you do then? And I think it's that that pushed me to get away from Girl Develop It and create something new. Just knowing that we can do better in our community.

Marcy: I've been really grateful to be a part of a Girl Develop It alumni network. Lots of conversations about how much more we can do for women of color in our communities. Bellingham is super white. But I think I can still do more. And so, that's kind of how this new group was born, was having those tough conversations and making a commitment to do more for our community.

Joel: So if folks wanted to start a group like this in their own city ... Maybe they don't have one or maybe they're not happy with what's available. Do you have any advice for how to get that started?

Marcy: Yeah, well I think it really helps to partner with an organization that exists, as long as their values align with you. There is another effort spinning up, it's called We Pivot, and that, for women in tech, really is a values-aligned thing. 'Cause the problem with Girl Develop It is like, they said it in their mission. They literally said all of these values in their mission, but they didn't live up to it. And so, all of us, we're just tired of waiting.

Marcy: And so, doing something where you really put your values first and act on those, a group like We Pivot, that'll be a new nonprofit that you could partner with. If there's other groups in your organization, maybe go to an event and see if you wanna be a part of it. Knowing from running a chapter of a group, it's always really helpful to get help. For Northwest Tech Women, we kept it pretty low-pressure. So, it's just social, and that alone is such a value add in our community. 'Cause we get women showing up who are new faces from neighboring communities, maybe they work remotely in Sedro-Woolley or Anacortes or wherever nearby, and they come to the group and they're like, "Yes, I found community." And we network and ...

Marcy: So I think you could even just have Code and Coffees. Maybe find a sponsor to cover your meetup fee. I just took that on 'cause that's my ... I can give back to my community by paying for a meetup group. So yeah, I think there's lots you can do just by starting small. I think it's easier to do that in a small city. Thinking somewhere like Seattle, there's just so many people that-

Joel: So much going on.

Marcy: Yeah, there's a lot going on and that can grow pretty unwieldy. So, having something established, like this new We Pivot group, could help. I mean, there's lots of other groups as well, like Black Girls Code and lots of different formats. So yeah, I think just finding one that aligns with your values and what you wanna do, and finding some time to contribute.

Marcy: I know it's given me a lot back in my life. So, I highly recommend it.

Joel: I think it's interesting too, the more casual approach where it's not about tech presentations, it's really more about sitting down and having conversations and talking to one another and just kind of interacting. I really appreciate that, 'cause I don't necessarily ... One, you don't have the pressure of always organizing and finding people to speak or whatever. But then you also just are there to hang out and kind of be a part of a community.

Marcy: Yeah, I think it helps to see people ... For women, it helps to see other women that are doing it. And we're all in different stages of our careers, so we can help each other network and talk about tech and just have our own environment where we feel comfortable. And we are a part of another group here in Bellingham called Bellingham Codes, and they have monthly meetups. So, we have a joint Slack, so there's definitely some crossover.

Marcy: But when I closed GDI Bellingham, I thought, "Should we just roll into Bellingham Codes?" And then ultimately I thought, "No, I think this women's group that-" we're gender inclusive, but just having a dedicated group for these type of conversations and for people to come in ... women and non-binary people, gender-fluid people to come in. It's like, it's just a different environment and there's something really special and magical about it. So yeah, it's super inaudible 00:36:46.

Joel: I love that it's explicit, too. It's not like, "Maybe I'm gonna be welcome here." You know, it's like, your values and your message is telling people that yes, regardless of whom you are, you're welcome here and this is a space for you. And we need more of that. There's lots of spaces for white dudes to go hang out and feel like they belong, but not as many that are explicitly expressing that in terms of core values. And I think that's important work and I appreciate that you're participating.

Marcy: Yeah, I mean, I think there's just lots of groups in general and for white guys and even white women, it just like ... We're just the default. You're welcome everywhere. I think it's for people of color and for women like, maybe you don't always feel comfortable. And so, that's where these spaces are born. It's not that white guys aren't allowed in this group, it's just that, I don't know, you wanna have a different vibe at the place. And so I think there's lots of room for different kinds of things. And we explicitly say, "All are welcome, including your partner, or your friend that's a guy." It's not that you're excluded, and I've made that really explicit just because I get that question a lot, and I think a lot of women's groups get that a lot.

Marcy: Like, "Am I welcome here?" It's like, "Heck yeah, you're welcome." As long as you know that you're signing up for a space where all questions are valued and we just wanna be together and network, yeah, it's totally fine.

Joel: It's a filter, and the good kind, in my opinion. Right? Like, "You're welcome here as long as you can accept this is our core values," and "You don't have a problem with that then this is a space for you too. But if you do, then maybe don't show up."

Marcy: Yeah. Yeah. Well and then the people who do show up, because they're like, "Yeah, that sounds cool," they add to the conversation and it ends up being great. But I do think it takes good leadership and moderation to kind of walk that balance and know like, "Maybe they shouldn't come back."

Marcy: So, having leaders that kind of recognize the vibe of the thing and the balance is important. But yeah, making it inclusive is also very important.

Joel: Well, Marcy, I really appreciate you coming and talking to me today.

Marcy: Well, I'll have to come and buzz by you in the van sometime.

Joel: Yeah, that'd be fun. Thank you so much. Cheers.

Marcy: Yeah, cheers to you.

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