CodeNewbie With Saron Yitbarek, Part 1

CodeNewbie With Saron Yitbarek, Part 1

Welcome to 2018! It’s a new Year and with a new year many people make New Year’s Resolutions. Learning how to code is a frequent resolution choice, so Jessica Ingrassellino and Michael Larsen kick off the new year by talking with Saron Yitbarek, the founder of the CodeNewbie Podcast, CodeNewbie Community and the Codeland Conference, all initiatives based around helping and supporting people new to programming and helping hem navigate their way on their coding journey.

Saron shares her journey, the highs and lows, the excitement and the ever present frustrations, and the fact that programming is one of those areas where you are not penalized for not being 100% right all of the time right off the bat.

This is Part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 will be posted in two weeks.

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Transcript:

MICHAEL LARSEN:  Hello and welcome to the Testing Show, Episode… 51.

[Begin Intro Music]

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[End Intro]

MICHAEL LARSEN: Hello, and welcome to The Testing Show.  Happy New Year, everybody.  It is really great to see you in 2018.  I’m Michael Larsen, and I’d like to introduce Jessica Ingrassellino?

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Hello.  Happy New Year.

MICHAEL LARSEN: I hope this doesn’t come off too fan boyish, but I am super excited to have the guest—

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: —that we have for this Podcast.  It’s my pleasure to welcome Saron Yitbarek to our Podcast.  I hope I pronounced that right.

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].  I really appreciate the attempt.  [LAUGHTER].  Pretty close.  Okay.  The correct way is:  Saron Yitbarek.  The way I tell people to say it is:  Saron Yitbarek.

MICHAEL LARSEN: Okay.

SARON YITBAREK: So, take your pick.

MICHAEL LARSEN: All right.  So, let me try that again.  I’m super pleased to welcome to the show Saron Yitbarek.

SARON YITBAREK: Close enough.  Close enough.  That’s pretty good.

MICHAEL LARSEN: Okay.  Thank you.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: Anyway.  It’s a new year.  New Year’s resolutions.  One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions that we hear, especially in the software testing community, is, “Is this the year that I am going to learn how to code?”

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.

MICHAEL LARSEN: So very often, software testers feel sometimes like they’re under the gun for this.  There is an ongoing debate, “Should testers learn to code?  Is it important for testers to learn how to code?”  I jokingly say that, “The software tester and the programmer divide is kind of like the Northern California versus Southern California debate.”

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: You know?  Like there’s this raging rivalry, but Southern California doesn’t even know it exists.

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: Sometimes I really wonder about that, because we really want to be able to discuss this and talk about this from the perspective of not, “Should testers learn how to code?”  I think Jess and I and the rest of the panelists have beat that one into the ground.  That, “Yeah.  It’s probably a really good idea.”  [LAUGHTER].  But, the bigger challenge—and this is why we are really happy to have you on the show with us—is to talk about, “Okay.  I want to code.  I want to learn how to code.  What now?”

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.

MICHAEL LARSEN: You are probably the most excellent person to talk about this.  So, tell us a bit about yourself.  I mean, I know that those who listen to the CodeNewbie Podcast already know who you are, but maybe it’s a good possibility that a good chunk of our audience doesn’t know who you are.  So, let’s let you do that.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  Sure.  So, I am a developer.  I’m also founder of the CodeNewbie Community.  We are the most supportive community of programmers and people learning to code.  So, what that means is that we found that the hardest part of coding isn’t the actual coding.  It’s all of the emotional crap that comes with it.  It’s getting stuck and just not used to always being stuck and internalizing that and thinking, “Oh, man.  If I’m stuck this often, I must be really bad at this.”  It’s hitting a bug and not knowing how to squash it, how to get rid of it, and thinking, “It must be because I’m stupid.”  There are a lot of opportunities in software development where you take the failures that are very normal, that everyone experiences, but because you’re not used to it, you’re not used to the way things work, you flip that around and internalize it in a very, very unhealthy way.  If you don’t know a lot of developers in real life, if you don’t have a good community around you, a lot of times when you’re learning to code, your family has no idea what you’re doing.  You know, they think that you’re going to fix the Internet all the time.  So, it’s very lonely.

MICHAEL LARSEN: [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: You know, it’s very frustrating.  So, I wanted to create a bunch of projects and initiatives to provide support for people who are on that journey.

MICHAEL LARSEN: Awesome.  I think I first discovered the CodeNewbie Community about 2-1/2 years ago.  I remember—

SARON YITBAREK: Oh, cool.

MICHAEL LARSEN: —sometime in 20—I want to say—15 or mid-2015.  Somehow I came across and I saw, “CodeNewbie.  Oh, this is really cool.  What’s this all about?”  Then, I started listening to the Podcast.  Then, you basically became my morning walk friend.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: Anytime I would go out for my—

SARON YITBAREK: Yay!

MICHAEL LARSEN: —walk in the morning, “Yeah.  I’ll listen to Saron.  I’ll listen to as many episodes as I can and understand it and try to get it?”  It was great, because I really appreciated the fact that you were not approaching it from the, “Well, everybody knows these obvious—

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.

MICHAEL LARSEN: —super-in-depth, you know, vector matrices” and other things.  Can I just say how absolutely adorable it was to hear you on the First BaseCS Podcast.

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: When they said, “Okay.  So, what comes after 10?”  You just said sheepishly, “Eleven?”  I just laughed, because I knew what you meant by that.  You were like, “Uh.”  You said, “No.  No.  It’s 011.”  “Oh, right.  Yes.”  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: It was just so comforting to me and maybe to a lot of other people.  Because it’s like, “Oh, yeah.”  Because, that was sort of, [LAUGHTER], my natural reaction to that.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

MICHAEL LARSEN: “Oh, wait.  No.  That’s not it.  I feel like a dummy.”  Then, when you said it like, “Hey.  We’re not alone here.”  [LAUGHTER].  That is so fantastic.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  That, to me, was really surprising how many people commented on that and also I’ve had people say, “You know, it’s really cool to hear your reaction to things that Vaidehi says.”  So, she’ll make some breakthrough comment of, “You know, this really means this,” and I’ll go, “Oh.”  People hear that and they appreciate that.  Those are, like I’m genuinely very excited about everything Vaidehi teaches me on the show, so you know, it’s very natural, but I didn’t expect that to connect with people.  It’s been really cool just to hear people say, “Oh, it’s really nice to hear that, you know, you don’t know everything.  But, it’s also really cool to hear that you’re genuinely excited and reacting as a student.”  So, it’s really cool.

MICHAEL LARSEN: So, I want to give Jess a chance to—

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  Sure.

MICHAEL LARSEN: —get a word in edgewise here.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: You know, I’m listening to this and as a person who has a really strange kind of background and relationship with learning to code.

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I did some stuff when I was a kid.  Like, I loved PC Logo.  I mean, I loved it.  I had 65-page programs that were just, [LAUGHTER], you know, and like, I thought I was doing all this big-deal stuff when I was, you know, 10.  Then, I came away from it for a while because I was really bad at math, and I felt stupid.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I convinced myself.  My math teacher actually said, “You’re so stupid, why are you wasting your life with music?”

SARON YITBAREK: [GASPS].  Wow!

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Yeah.  So, I kind of just completely—

SARON YITBAREK: Oh, my goodness.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: —broke away from it.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I said, “This is not for me.  Like, clearly, I’m too stupid for this.”  Then, “Time is a teacher,” and then back into software (by accident) and needing to learn to code and so just kind of finding out, “Oh, what do I do?  Like, how does this work?”  I can appreciate the kind of beginner’s mindset because it’s extremely hard for me.  Learning to code has not been easy, and also when I teach my code classes at the community college where I teach, I teach for kids.  When a parent of a younger child who wants to do text-based programming asks if they can do the class, because that class is text based, it’s not lab based, or anything, I say, “What is their frustration tolerance?”

SARON YITBAREK: Ooh.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Because they’re going to be frustrated a lot.

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].  Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: So, you know.  I said, “So, if your daughter can easily tolerate being frustrated and doesn’t mind looking through a lot of things and struggling with a problem, she’s probably ready.  But, if she gets very frustrated very easily, throws tantrums, has a lot of trouble, this class is going to be a frustrating experience for her.”  Because there isn’t one kind of right way.  So, I think that (when you said that), I was just like, “That’s the question I ask.”  It’s not about age.  It’s about frustration tolerance.  Sometimes I have 10-year-olds that can and 14-year-olds that can’t.  So, you know, that kind of experience of the beginner’s mind and also the fundamental kind of realization that, “You’re going to be frustrated all the time and it actually means you’re doing something right.”  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: Absolutely.  Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: But, those are the two kinds of things that I carry with me.  I have to say, I’ve listened to CodeNewbie.  I’m on the Slack.  I follow that stuff, because I feel like I’m always in a learning space.  I don’t even consider myself.  It’s weird to say, but my colleagues who are in the engineering team are like, “Jessica, stop staying you’re not a programmer.  Why do you say that?”

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].  Yep.  Yeah.  I mean, you teach it.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: “Why do you even do that?”  Yeah.  I still feel, like, inadequate.  So, I totally understand everything you’re saying, and I much appreciate the community that you’ve built because I think that’s really helpful.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  I love what you said about the “frustration” part, because for me, that has been a huge thing.  I get very easily frustrated all the time.  Like, I feel like my default emotion is just being frustrated, and for when I was learning to code, I had to learn that I can’t afford to do that.  If I was serious about coding and if I wanted to build things and build beautiful, powerful things, I had to learn to sit with the fact that things are always going to be broken and understand that’s normal.  That is not a sign that I suck or the computer sucks.  You know, it’s not the computer’s fault.  Just understanding that is a natural part of the process.  I think, for me, what made that really difficult to accept is the fact that before coding, if you think about the way most other jobs work, you’re not allowed to be wrong that often.  You know, like when I was a journalist, I remember making one pretty minor mistake on a number, and we had to air a public apology for that little mistake that no one probably even noticed was there.  So coming from the world of, “You have to be right 100 percent of the time, on the first try.  You cannot publically fail.  You have to know what you’re talking about.  You have to do thorough researching and be 100 percent sure of yourself,” to “Let me put out this kind of messy, hacky MVP and the users will tell me what’s wrong and report bugs.”  I mean, that is a huge mind shift.  It’s terrifying.  It’s uncomfortable.  It feels really gross.  So, I think that people can learn to be frustrated, but I think it takes time.  So, being not frustrated, [LAUGHTER], with the fact that you are always frustrated.  I mean, I also think that it takes an understanding that, “This is a very unique field and that failure is totally, totally normal and expected.”

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I agree so, so much with this.  Often, I spend a lot of time with my students telling them that, “That’s okay.”  With myself, coming from a classical music background where it’s literally, “Did you play every note perfectly all the time?”

SARON YITBAREK: Right.  Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: That’s so much of what you do in classical music performance too.

SARON YITBAREK: Yep.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: It’s like you prepare for this moment, and then it’s a live performance.

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.  Yes.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: If it happens and you screw it up, it’s over.

SARON YITBAREK: That’s it.  [LAUGHTER].

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Yeah.  [LAUGHTER].  You know, there’s really (I think) a lot to overcome for people like me who come from backgrounds, like you said, “It’s either a job or a career or something where perfection is required.”  It makes it hard for already-perfectionist kind of people to let go.  But, it’s also one of my favorite things.  Because, with my students, I don’t drill best practices into their heads.  I kind of like to see, “Okay.  What do you come up with first?  How are you solving the problem?”  Then, “Okay.  You solved the problem this way.  Now what would happen if instead of writing this big-long list of things, you used a conditional?”  They’re like, “What?”  You know?

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: They’re more interested because it’s somebody said, “Oh, do this thing.”  It’s that they built it, so they’re really invested in making it better.  So, that’s so neat to me.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  There was this study.  I don’t remember who did it, but it was a study that looked at (I think it was) undergrads who started their CS Degree and who finished and saw it through and who dropped out, and they were trying to figure out, “What are the variables?  What is the thing that made this group of people really stick through it and see it through and this other group kind of say, ‘I’m out of here.’”  What they found was the level of frustration that people were able to tolerate and that people who saw that degree all the way through had a much, much higher tolerance for things that don’t make sense, bringing it back to testing.  But, for me, when I discovered Behavior Driven Development, that changed everything.  All of a sudden, this messy thing called “My Rails App” had a story to it.  It wasn’t just, “Let’s put buttons on this page and hopefully the buttons work.  Well, let’s start at this view and allow the user to see these things.  Now, the user sees these things.  So, let’s press this button.  When they press this button, let’s have these things happen.  Once these things happen, let’s show them a new page.”  Like, all of a sudden, there was organization to my world.  There was a story to the chaos.  The moment that I found BDD and understood it and started using it I was like, “I can make sense of this.  I can put this in a narrative.”  I’m very much like story oriented.  The way I think about the world is entirely in stories.  I think that’s true for most of us.  Once I discovered that, it made me be more patient in a very organic way.

MICHAEL LARSEN: One of the challenges that I think that software testers face—and Jess might be able to appreciate this because I think we’ve discussed this a few times—is that for many software testers, when the idea of needing to learn how to code comes up, it’s almost always in the sense of, “We need automation, and we need to be able to automate our tests.”  That’s the starting point for a lot of people that suddenly say, “Hey.  You know, I want to learn how to program.”  The first thing that we’re asking them to do is we’re saying, “Okay.  Great.  So, go download, you know, IntelliJ IDEA.”

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].  Yeah.

MICHAEL LARSEN: “Download the Selenium JAR, and start writing tests so you can automate your webpage.”  I just want to like throw my head against the desk and go, “That is the most horrible place to have somebody start learning how to program!”  Because the first thing they have to do is learn how to drive this.  I mean, it’s a cool API and there’s some cool things you can do with it.  But, “That’s your starting point for programming?  Oye.  Ouch.”

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Yeah.  Also, I feel like it’s a really disingenuous place to start programming because it’s almost like asking somebody to learn to read music or play an instrument by handing them something from Anna Magdalena’s notebook.  Easy enough for someone who can program, but you don’t know the form or the function.  You don’t necessarily—my first test suite did not—have any page object modeling at all.  Everything was written into the test.  Now, fortunately, it was a really small product.  So, that did not hinder the progress.  But, how much more clean would it have been had I even known, [LAUGHTER], what that page object modeling was and known how to use it and kind of understood classes and objects and, you know, all of these things.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: The way that software testers are asked to use code is not at all in sync with the way that code works in development applications.  It’s just definitely one of the idiosyncrasies of it.  I think the other thing is that (as Michael said), “Many software testers are learning or digging in because of automation.”  If it’s not a choice, that means that you’re under duress.  Right?

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].  Yeah.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: Like, you’re learning to think that there’s a reason you might not have dug into or learned it before that moment.  Maybe when you try it, you’re like, “This is so interesting.  I love it.”  Maybe when you try it, you’re like, “Wow.  I hate this.  I’m terrible at it.”  But, you don’t know until you try.  But, trying something under duress seems like a really good way to get to hate it.

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.  [LAUGHTER].  Absolutely.

MICHAEL LARSEN: It explains my false starts over many years.  Seriously, my background with programming has been hit-and-miss for decades.  You know, having that initial rush of a successful interaction can be huge.  On the flipside of it, at the same time Cisco was starting to put in their automation suite using TCL and Expect, and that’s where I hit a wall.  I struggled to understand how that all fit together in object-oriented programming stuff.  I was like, “Oh, geez.  This is frustrating.”  That was my first experience with just realizing, “Oh, my gosh.  I have to somehow produce this.  I have to somehow make this work.  But, maybe I’m just not cut out for this.”  So, I found ways to still be effective and I realized that I could do stuff with Shell Scripts.  I could do stuff in the Unix World and that felt natural.  For some reason, programming languages, I just struggled with, and I carried that for a good couple of decades where I just said, “Hey.  I can do this neat stuff in the Shell, and I can make scripts like that.”  For some reason, I never put two and two together and said, “Dude, you are programming.”

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.

MICHAEL LARSEN: You are programming.  If you are taking commands and you are stringing them together and you’re figuring out how to make a condition work one way or if it doesn’t go, doing the other, that’s programming.  Yes, it’s a scripting language.  Yes, it’s the Bash Shell.  But, you’re learning from that.  That’s an important thing to realize.  I went into testing ultimately because I didn’t have to learn how to program really.  I could be the tester.  I could be the top-down, break everything apart, and figure stuff out.  Then, over time, it was like, “Well, I guess I could program.”  I learned a little bit.  I got a Unix Programming Certificate from UC Santa Cruz, which I was really excited about.  But, at the same time, it was a struggle to get that, and if you’re not actively using stuff like this every single day, it does not take long for it to leave your brain.  Then, it’s like you’re starting from square one over and over and over again.  So, how can we encourage those new interactions?  How can we say, “What is somebody who is making that commitment yet again to say, ‘I really want to actually slay this dragon, just really get into this, really understand it?’  How can we do this?”  Yes, CodeNewbie, I’m certain, has a really good angle at doing that.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  I mean, there is this, um.  I think it was, maybe, just like an Instagram video.  I don’t know if you’re community knows who Cardi B is, but she is amazing.  She is a rapper, and she, [LAUGHTER], had a video on Instagram, I think, reacting to all of the media attention that she’s gotten where people were saying, you know, “Oh, she was born to do this.  She was born to do that.”  Blah, blah, blah, and all this stuff.  She has this Instagram video where she’s very angry and she said, “I was born to be whatever I decide to be.”  I love that quote so much, because I think that far too often we have this story of ourselves.  We have this idea of who we are, of who we’re meant to be, and we look at our past and we say, “Well, there’s nothing up to this point that says, ‘I would be a great programmer.’  There’s nothing up to this point that says that, ‘We would be amazing testers,’” or you know whatever the career is.  “Therefore, I must not be the kind of person who would do this.  I must not be the kind of person who would be good at this, and we self-select out.  What I love about that quote, what I try to remember, just you know, when I get scared and when I get intimidated about doing something new is that, “Even if you don’t have a history of doing it, you can create one.  You can take steps.  You can act on it now.”  When you look back on it a year from now, you can look back and go, “Oh, look at all that stuff I did.  Maybe I am coding.  Maybe I am a developer.”  My number-one advice is, “Don’t let your past dictate your future.”  Don’t let the fact that you haven’t done it yet mean that, “Oh.  That means I can’t or that I shouldn’t.”  It just means that you haven’t.  You literally haven’t done it, and that’s fine.  Because, now you can do it.  That’s the best part of having a new day, a new week, a new year.  Right, 2018?  The whole point is that we can start over and start fresh.  What is so interesting to me is when I first decided to learn to code, I had my own starts and stops as well, but when I stuck with it, I remember sitting on the couch with my husband—my husband is very, very technical—and I was explaining to him how AJAX worked.  In the middle of my explanation, I literally burst into tears, because I was so shocked hearing myself explain something that was more technical than anything I ever thought that I would be able to understand, let alone explain to someone, you know, who was technical.  It was just an emotional experience for me hearing myself say words and putting together sentence that I never ever thought I would be able to do.  That’s what I try to remember.  When I look at something and I go, “Uh, I’m not the kind of person to do this, or there’s nothing in my past that says I would be good at this,” I try to remember that the moment I can acknowledge that feeling, accept that feeling, but also put that feeling aside and take the steps anyway and just start.  That’s number one, “Just start.”  You’re feelings are annoying.  They’re fine.  They’re there.  I’m not going to tell you to get rid of them, because you probably can’t.  Acknowledge them, put them aside, and just start.  You’ll soon realize that if you just start and you take the next step and the next one and the next one, sooner or later you’ll look back and go, “I did it.”

MICHAEL LARSEN: I’m going to take that to heart.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: I appreciate that.  Seriously, I’m just sitting here, I’m listening, and the delay is just my basically going, “Okay.  That applies to me.”

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: Sorry if I’m not responding. I’m too busy writing this down.

SARON YITBAREK: Oh, that’s fine.

MICHAEL LARSEN: [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: [LAUGHTER].

MICHAEL LARSEN: I am using this formula!  This is actually a really good point to segue.  As we said earlier, you have a CodeNewbie Community.  Now, if I understand this correctly, CodeNewbie didn’t actually start as a Podcast, didn’t actually start—

SARON YITBAREK: No.

MICHAEL LARSEN: —as a website.  It started as a Twitter Chat.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

MICHAEL LARSEN: What brought you into deciding that was something you wanted to spearhead and—

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.

MICHAEL LARSEN: —make this whole thing happen and say, “I’m going to start a Twitter Chat for Code Newbies?”

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  Sure.  So, when I first learned to code, I did it on my own for a few months.  I quit my job.  I learned to code full time.  I used all of the free and really cheap resources online.  So, a lot of Code School, Codecademy, Treehouse, you know, those kinds of things.  I learned to code to for anywhere from 12-to-16 hours a day for a few months, and it was so hard and so frustrating and so really just demoralizing, [LAUGHTER], and kind of sad, because it’s just you and the computer.  You know, it’s you and the computer, and the computer is always right.  So, after a while of that—

MICHAEL LARSEN: [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: —you know, [LAUGHTER], you internalize a lot of that frustration.  Then, I decided to go to a Bootcamp.  So, I attended a Bootcamp, graduated from that three months later, and the best part of that Bootcamp wasn’t just the curriculum and the direction.  It was the other people.  It was being able to sit with, you know, 44 other people who understood the highs and understood the lows.  It was people who were trying to make this transition the same way that I was, and just having that community made everything so much more tolerable and so much more doable.  That, to me, was huge.  It made me sad, because I spent $11,000.00 on my Bootcamp and, you know, a total of 3-to-6 months without a job—right?—without any income, and not everyone can afford to do that.  I would say, most people cannot afford to do that.  So, “How do you find a community if you can’t go to a Bootcamp?”  So that’s the problem that I mulled over for a while.  At that time—I feel like Twitter Chats aren’t as popular now—back then, everybody was doing a Twitter Chat.  There was a Twitter Chat for every topic, and I thought, “Wow.  This is a really good tool.”  All you need is the Internet, and you know, you need to be on Twitter.  But, besides that, you can be anywhere in the world.  You don’t have to go to a specific Meetup or a specific location.  So, I thought, “Twitter Chats are much, much more accessible, [LAUGHTER], way of finding community, and so let’s see how that goes.”  So, I started a CodeNewbie Twitter Chat, and the idea was every Wednesday night for 1 hour, from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, I would tweet questions based on a topic.  So, it might be, “What were your most frustrating bugs that you had this week?  What was a win that you had that you’re really excited about?”  So, I picked little topics and I asked people to tweet answers and responses using the #codenewbie, and that was really an excuse to have people talk to each other.  You know, it really wasn’t about the Q&A.  It really wasn’t about me getting answers.  It was about other people seeing your answers and you being able to see theirs and you saying, “Oh.  You have this problem too, so do I.  Maybe, let’s go off and talk about it.  Maybe, let’s pair.”  It was really just finding an excuse, a gathering place (an online gathering place) to have people come together, share, connect, and hopefully learn and grow from each other.  So, we did that for (I think) about 5-to-6 months every week, and eventually it got to a point where I didn’t have to worry if people were going to show up.  You know, the first couple of months I was like, “Is anybody going to come to this thing?  Is it just going to be me tweeting at my husband and him tweeting back and pretending we are CodeNewbie?”  But, after a while, it stuck and people came back and they were expecting it, looking forward to it, and adding it to their calendars.  So I thought, “Wow.  This is real.”  Like, “This is actually helping people.”  I think it was about a year in that I thought about the Twitter Chat format and I said, “Twitter Chats are a great way to have a lot of short conversations at once, but it’s not a good place to have a really in-depth conversation.”  I mean, you can try, but you’ll probably end up really angry.  So I thought, “What is a better tool, a better medium, to really unpack, explore, and dive deep.”  Because I used to work at NPR, I thought, “Ooh, podcasting.  Audio.  Interviews.  Great, great way to really dig in.”  So, that’s where the Podcast was born.  So, the idea was finding people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, sharing how they learned to code, became technical, and taking people on their coding journey.

MICHAEL LARSEN: Fantastic.  That was one of the ways that I first got to really appreciate the whole thing.  Really, for me, I really genuinely appreciate the fact that you interact with everybody from a very human perspective.  You interact in a way that you let them be the expert, even if they’re talking about (it’s so neat to say), “Here are people that are maybe early in their journeys or relatively new to their getting the chance to talk as though they’re the experts of that topic, and that’s huge.”

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  I think that’s part of just my personal philosophy.  You know, this comes into play when you’re deciding to speak at the conferences and gives talks and that kind of thing too is, you are the expert.  You’re the expert of your own life, and that may sound a little cheesy.  But, it’s true.  There is always something interesting and different about you.  All that you need is a place to tell it and appreciating the story that you have.  So, even if it’s, “I’m really, really new.  I’ve been in a band my whole life.  I took this kind of cleaning organization job to get from that band to Cisco,” That’s a really cool story.  You clearly have told it many times, and you know how to tell it.  So, that’s the thing.  I think most people have stories that are worth sharing and stories that, maybe more importantly, can connect with others and be helpful to others.  I think it just takes asking the right questions and having a place to tell it.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I think something that was said that really got me thinking is the idea of explaining something to somebody else.  The idea of teaching.  I did not feel very confident at all in my skills until I was asked to teach code at the community college.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  Oh, yeah.  Um-hum.

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: All of the sudden, even though I had been doing coding (at that point) longer than the kids but not by much kind of a thing, they were asking questions that were really good questions.  [LAUGHTER].

SARON YITBAREK: Um-hum.  [LAUGHTER].

JESSICA INGRASSELLINO: I was having to sit there.  One of my strategies when I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I don’t do the “sage on the stage” thing.  I say, “Well, that’s a good question.  Let’s take a look.”  I’ll either Google it, or I’ll whiteboard it together with my student or a group of the students, depending on who’s curious about the answer.  All of that need to kind of explain and work through those problems has made me much, much stronger in my basics.  So, now other code classes that I take are much easier, because I can appreciate those basics and I have that solid foundation.  Even though it’s scary to explain something as an expert when you don’t feel that you are, taking that opportunity to think about your learning and express what you have learned to somebody else, that is a really powerful way to come to an understanding about things that you get and things that you might not fully understand yet.  The power of that can’t be overstated.

SARON YITBAREK: Yeah.  I think that there are lots of opportunities to teach or at least simulate the idea of teaching that we can all take advantage of to remind ourselves that we actually do know what we’re talking about.  Well, we know more than we think we do, let me put it that way.  You know, and I think that can be as simple as looking at Stack Overflow questions, looking at beginner questions, and kind of figuring out like, “How much of this do I know?  How much of this could I explain?  Maybe I could answer a couple of them and show that I do know what I’m talking.”  One of my favorite moments that Vaidehi Joshi mentioned, I can’t remember if she said it in the Podcast or if she tweeted about it, but she said that she was watching a bunch of—I think it was—MIT Intro to Computer Science Courses and while she was watching, the professor would say, “I’ll tell you this topic.  Now, what’s the answer to this?”  She would kind of under her breath guess the answer and then the student in the video would guess the answer and the student would be right, and it’s the same answer Vaidehi had.  That kept happening.  Where she kept watching all these videos and every time the professor asked a question, she knew the answer.  That’s when she was like, “I learned this, actually learned this, and I know.  I know it very well.  I could be in this class and get an A.”  So, I think that we can find those moments for ourselves whether that’s answering Stack Overflow questions, keeping an eye on the CodeNewbie hashtag—people tweet us technical questions quite often actually—hanging out in the CodeNewbie Slack and answering questions.  It could be blogging.  So, anytime that we can explain, “Hey.  I had this problem.  I just understood this concept.  Let me put it down on paper and show it to you.”  Those are all little moments where we can put on our teaching hat and prove, not just to others but really prove to ourselves that we do know what we’re talking about.

[Begin Outro]

MICHAEL LARSEN: This is the end of part one of our interview with Saron Yitbarek. We will continue our interview with Saron in two weeks.

That concludes this episode of The Testing Show. Our show is produced and edited by Michael Larsen, Moderated by Matt Heusser, with frequent contributions from Perze Ababa, Jessica Ingrassellino and Justin Rohrman as well as our many featured guests who bring the topics and expertise to make the show happen.

Our theme Music is “Monochrome” by Ensign Red.

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Additionally, if you have questions you’d like to see addressed on The Testing Show, or if you would like to BE a guest on the podcast, please email us at TheTestingShow(at)qualitestgroup(dot)com. Thanks for listening and we will see you again in two weeks.

[End Outro]

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