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Interview w/ Aaron Upright (Part 2)

Published 7/29/2020

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
You know, as a developer no matter where you are in your career I don't think that you should ever just accept that this is the way we do things because it's been done that way in the past And I say that as a founder because a lot of the things that I did in the very early days of you know building and and you know creating process or not things that we really intended to scale It was things that really worked in that period of time for the people that we had in the room and again if you know If that's just kind of the way that things are done and now everyone's doing things in that way and no one's really questioning that fact of Could we do this in a more efficient way or Could this be done in a faster way or could we do this with less people or with less process or less overhead Then that progress and that change never really happens within the company and you just kind of become this this you know I guess for lack of better terms you don't really evolve as a company and just kind of stay very static I think to for where you kind of started and everyone just kind of thinks in there much the same way and no one's really focused on how we How do we do more with less or make things more efficient? So I think documentation is a huge part of that too because it really does help people understand why you took certain decisions But also can be you know provide evidence for maybe a lack of framework around things Where people would otherwise just accept it but say hey, maybe there's a better opportunity to actually do this It doesn't look like that much thought was actually put into designing this particular process or figuring this particular framework out You know, maybe it's time for us to update how we think about this or change how we think about this because there's a better way of doing things You just heard the end of the first part of my interview with Aaron upright co-founder of Zen Hub Zen Hub is project management software that is directly in get hub It is a browser extension on these episodes We talk about project management from a very high level and in this episode We talk about being forgiving to ourselves amongst other things I highly recommend that you go back and listen to the first part before you get into this part My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea goal on the shows They'll be driven developers like you find clarity perspective and purpose in their careers on today's episode We have Aaron upright co-founder of Zen Hub. Let's get straight into the interview with Aaron upright You know if we were to take a big zoom out view of How we think about tooling and how we think about process and how we think about you know all these different pieces of the puzzle We need to be forgiving Both to ourselves and to our team members. This is not a perfect science You know this is human factors are incredibly difficult to to understand yes We are we generate data right and and so it's easy on the flip side on kind of on the opposite end of that data To view us as if we are reliably creating that data rather than by happening stance and the truth of the matters when you change Really anything about a team you can have drastically different outputs You can have totally random inputs that cause completely Different outputs right there's so many things that can happen as a result of even the simplest changes even the simplest circumstances You know, somebody gets sick for example, right? These are things that don't happen in the same way with with machines and yet you know, we evaluate humans very often Kind of mechanistically and what we could do instead is take a step back and say okay We're going to allow for variability and we're going to look at the long tail We're going to try to optimize based on the data But we know that it's going to vary we're going to expect it to vary This is a much more much healthier way and it keeps you from Overtuning on those responses and jerking your process all over the board and Instead focus on how can we create the healthiest place? The healthiest environment for our Developer To work in and then Kind of sit back right and let things kind of grow Wax and Wayne They're going to increase they're going to decrease some some weeks are going to be better than others and we have to be forgiving in those environments Yeah, for sure I couldn't agree more and there's this this concept that a lot of what estimation ties back to around velocity which Effectively you can think about is you know how many story points or how much can you accomplish over a given time period And I talked a little bit about our our sprint process being two weeks But the idea is to have a relative understanding of how much work a team can take on over that time where that gets to be a really Tricky metric though is where people use that not to help decide How much work should be brought into the next set of sprints or how much we can take on as a team But that starts to be an anchor point to measure productivity We should know that velocities going to change like you said from sprint to sprint because People could be out sick people could be dealing with personal things in their lives and just less productive I mean all of us are going through right now a pretty shared experience around this whole COVID thing where we're all working in very different environments and different setups that we typically haven't had before Velocity by design I think is going to fluctuate from sprint to sprint in iteration to iteration and It's more about knowing Relatively how much we can do and having that relative understanding and saying hey if we didn't hit the 60 points that we typically hit for the sprint Something has gone wrong and we need to look you know for people to blame and for factors that You know within our control or maybe beyond our control contributed to that and address them It's a relative anchor point and I think one of the cool things about velocity is yeah Maybe you have a sprint where instead of getting 60 points done You've got 50 points worth of work done But on the other side of that there's always a sprints for maybe you got 70 story points worth of work done Where the perfect conditions kind of just came together to create this amazing working dynamic over those two weeks and people were Uber productive and In the zone and really into what they were working on and we got a lot done that variability happens all the time And so again, I think if teams are using that metric like you said It's not about holding them accountable to that specific number of points But using that is kind of a framework or a reference for how much we should be we should be taking on over time Knowing though that that is oftentimes not always going to be the case and there's things that are going to happen in our lives And things that are going to happen in our working lives that kind of prevent us from doing that so And this is maybe a slight tangent But I think one of the most powerful aspects of this whole COVID experience for me is that like you said It's it's humanized a lot of things that I don't think really had that human element in that aspect before And what I mean by that is that personally and I know for a lot of people that they've been way more consider the interactions that they've been having with other people Because I think it's easier than ever to kind of empathize with what people are going through Um, and it's really forced me I think to think about the interactions that I have with people in a different way Even as a pretty conscientious person, you know In someone who cares a lot about the relationships that he has with other people It's just forced me to think about things in a slightly different way And it's also really extended into working interactions that I have with other people And like you said, I think it's really important to consider that on the other end of that code Which like you said is a very mechanical output. There's a human being that wrote that And knowing that people are going through a lot of different changes Some more than others really puts things in perspectives and really helps I think frame the way that we communicate with people, the tone of that communication The patience that we have with other people and so I think that has been a A real um, if you can find kind of a silver lining of all of this for me Something that's really helped humanize a lot of the aspects of work and kind of remove just the Hey, we all show up for work every day get our things done and then kind of go home It's never really been the attitude but um, at least for us But it's really now something I'm conscious of of how are people thinking and reacting in this moment What are they going through? What are they stressed about outside of work or outside of the situation How is that going to impact our velocity or our productivity How do we account for that and be okay with it um and you know Tell people that yeah, maybe maybe this was a tough week or Maybe this was a hard thing to adapt to but we're okay with that because we low We grow and we learn as an organization Yeah, it's interesting. It's you know There's there's this theory that any time and a measurement becomes a goal and I'm sure you hear this all the time That it no longer is it is a valid measurement right because You you're changing the Basically changing the game right there's there's new incentive and when you measure something Theoretically you should not have incentive at all you're you're just Taking a picture right but when you try to take a picture in such a way that it comes out looking like a particular thing Now that measurement has been distorted or it has the likelihood Uh a higher likelihood of being distorted and so this is one of the ways that You could think about planning with Uh, you know, whatever you want to use the points or the t-shirt sizes Whatever the thing is that you're counting up and you're saying okay. This is how much work we got done The moment that you start changing that conversation. I would say you know you say we got 60 done last week We're gonna do 65 this week. Well now There is a lot of new Information right the the engineers are are now potentially they're going to Uh as a very simple example and not necessarily you know With some malintent right They might start inflating their estimates Uh, so that 65 is easier to hit right maybe they are actually maxed out Or you know on the flip side Uh, you might actually see those estimates start to start to get smaller and smaller so that when you say hey Let's try to get better next-spent. It's easier to get better right yeah Completely agree with that. I think there's always that opportunity and even if it's not with malintent to kind of kind of gamify the scenario of Trying to get to that level and you know, I think where this gets really disruptive for teens too is where you focus more on the points that you're trying to get accomplished Then on the actual work that you're doing and what I mean by that is are you actually working on the most meaningful things that are going to move the business forward And actually You know contribute to to your end goal or you just picking up things because you know you can accomplish the points in a given sprint and hit your velocity Right meaning that are we leaving really important bugs on the table or like really important pieces of technical debt that we're actually neglecting that are going to really harness later on Or even are we focusing on those things that the expensive building new features that actually enhance the experience for our users Just because we know that we can get those points done and it'll look good and we'll be able to hit our velocity At the end of the day, you know, that's that's not really what we're trying to do here We're trying to build a great product or so many of us are trying to build great products or build great experiences or Bill great solutions that people use and provide value Um, and if we're just focused on yeah, we hit our points I think it kind of ignores that aspect of yeah, but is what we built actually value to our users Uh, and did we actually ship something of user-facing value in the sprint or did we just go through and just kind of hit our point total and yeah We're happy with that because you know, we can we can check that box of Of meeting our velocity and hitting that metric We're gonna take a quick sponsor break and then we'll get back to the interview with Aaron Upright Today's episode is sponsored by red hat and command line heroes Command line heroes is an original podcast from red hat about the people who transformed technology from the command line up And it has returned for an all-new season it came out on July 14th To explore the job of being a coder author Clive Thompson joins hosts Serrani Barak to share his insight from over 200 interviews with coders for his latest book this three episode mini series Or mini season rather will cover the mini paths to a coding career Where coders work and what coders expect from each other Past seasons have ranged from the history of open source to the origins of popular programming languages And most recently the creation of revolutionary hardware had on over to the podcast platform of your choice For example the one you're using right now to listen and subscribe to command line heroes Aaron, thank you so much for taking time to talk about this with me today I really appreciate what you're doing And the product that you're building You know making developers lives a little bit easier and and lowering the number of places that we have to go to be able to be productive It's it's incredibly helpful You know, I have a couple of questions that I'd like to ask you before we wrap up here And it's questions that I ask everyone who come on the show The first one is what do you wish more people would ask you about? Yeah, it's a good question Internally, and this is something I think our team does pretty well, but I wish they would ask even more about Our customers our revenue our business and how it's going I think a lot of leadership teams try to shield developers from the business side of things and I think that's really wrong Because that to me that kind of sends the message To Developer That hey, you're here to build features executed in our roadmap not build a business And I really love it when our developers come to us and say why are we doing this? How does this connect back to our mission or how does this connect to the vision that we have or hey I disagree with what we're building here or how we're building it So I would encourage more developers out there to ask questions of the business and I wish more people even at zunhab would would ask me about the business You know on a week-to-week basis I guess externally I think about that question What more people would ask me is Just just how things are going or how you're doing I think there's a lot of ups and downs in building a business and You know, we all have good days and bad days and I used to be incredibly business focused like I'd show up I don't want to want to just launch into the agenda without taking time to ask people how they were doing How they were feeling in that moment how their week was going and When I started doing that it really changed the tone of the conversation because You're giving people the opportunity to kind of say hey, it's actually been a tough week I've been dealing with this thing at home or this personal thing or Been really struggling to try to find the time to do this and Putting this off in my personal life and that's you know now spilling over into my work life and my ability to get stuff done So just acknowledging that and giving people the opportunity You know to talk about how they're doing kind of changes the conversation and I tried to get better at doing that myself So I think that's something I'd recommend more people just maybe ask and something I wish more people ask me to so Yeah, absolutely, you know That actually brings me to another question that I had on my list for you and I suppose It's completely relevant to ask you this in what was a moment on your path Where you felt like you had no idea what to do next You didn't know what was coming next maybe you felt like maybe I'm going in totally the wrong direction You're in the dark in a lot of ways and perhaps even it was You know personally difficult in that moment for you. Do you have a story about that moment that kind of moment Yeah, so in the in the fall of 2016 GitHub launched a competing project for those of you who they're using get how about there listeners that are pretty active on that platform You'll know called get hub projects, which is a very kind of Would say simple and intuitive task board that kind of sits on top of get hub issues and that at the time was very much the space that we were playing in Um, and it was it was really difficult. We found out about the feature Two weeks before it was going to launch at an annual user conference and for those two weeks We we knew what was going to happen But we had no ability to react into it in the market because We were essentially under NDA and had kind of learned about this through a provisive relationship that we had She had with the GitHub BT team And it was really tough because we had spent several years building this business We had more than 1500 customers at that point. We were Uh, more than or across the million dollar mark in terms of recurring revenue and I really felt like we were just starting to hit our stride as a company and so many great things were happening and then just out of nowhere This this kind of came up and I just remember thinking at the time how did this happen? Not because we didn't think it was ever possible for GitHub to get into the space and to kind of cross over but just The way I think that it was happened and the way that it was framed was was pretty blind-siding as a partner I think and GitHub for years before that had been kind of touting that it was all about its ecosystem and then All of a sudden this news came out and it happened and it seemed very Contrary to that message of supporting this best of read approach and supporting the ecosystem I think another really tough thing about that too is that there's a lot of people that we worked really closely with at GitHub In the business development side of things as well that were kind of the last to find out about this and They fought really hard for us But by time they knew about it. It was already something that was committed to it was built and leadership at the time was really convinced that they wanted to launch this and There was nothing that either side could really do to stop that and You know, I could tell for them that that was a really hard conversation because they got a bit blindsided internally about it as well and had to come with to us and kind of be The bearers of bad news and all of this and it was a particular low point too I remember thinking you know and and wondering how our customers were react and It was frustrating for me because I think it really did confuse our customer base and we'd worked really hard to kind of build that and Listen to what people wanted to hear and and build that into our product and then overnight it seemed like we had a ton of people come into us with questions and kind of You know with it with not necessarily being confident about what we were going in the space and not really The questions that we had good answers for and it's a founder that doesn't really feel good um and you know the other side of things I felt kind of bad for the product team and get him to because I could tell that they'd obviously spent a lot of time building this I think they expected that more people would use it um, but it really wasn't close from a future capability to what some of the other products are as included in the space could offer and so It wasn't really used and it was just kind of this perfect storm of being really disruptive to our business But not very additive. I think to their business at the time and a lot of uncertainty around that point Um, but I guess to end on a more optimistic note, you know as was so many things time does he'll a lot of things and when I I look back there was a lot of I think systemic challenges with GitHub during that period of time in their company and It's funny now looking back on it because I think that actually GitHub projects ended up playing a huge role in the growth and future success of our company and it did A lot actually to educate people on the space and bring awareness to this idea that you could actually manage a software project and and using GitHub That you didn't need a tool like Jira or Asana, you know or a separate place to go off and do that And what I think we often find our often, you know find happens now is that projects becomes kind of this on ramp for Zen Hub where you get started with that You know, you get Kind of used to this feeling of managing a project inside of Zen Hub and then when that project gets more mature Sorry, managing a project in GitHub. I should say and then when that project gets more mature You start to look for other tooling around that and And anecdotally, I think about now a third of our customers that are coming in have actually had some experience with GitHub projects and have tried that And realized that they really like that approach, but they need something that's a bit more powerful The tool that can bring in that concept of estimation and help them measure their velocity and help build a roadmap. So So yeah, I think kind of tying it all together that was a difficult time But led to a lot of really powerful learnings and actually Got us to a really powerful place as a company and it's worth kind of mentioning like you know, GitHub as well as a very very different company today and A lot of that turn around started when when Jason Warner who's now their CTO entered the the picture and brought a huge sense of maturity to the leadership team and model at GitHub and a ton of respect for Jason and what he did as a leader and Obviously not coming in to kind of supplement that has been phenomenal as well. So So yeah, it's kind of a I guess from a low point to a high point and a very optimistic now about the future working with GitHub going forward But but interesting story I guess from from kind of the past and Zen have in GitHub. Yeah, absolutely I think it's important to note that you know engineers We make things products, you know product developers. We make things That eventually are likely to become useless and this is one of those kind of difficult moments right eventually The you know and and the way that I you can think about this is if you look back to let's say the 70s or the 80s The kinds of things that software engineers were making then today are A snap of the fingers right like Mm-hmm. They probably were making calculators. Well now that's that's not very useful and those certainly don't exist anymore At least in in that form and so it's likely and it may not necessarily be in the near future In fact, we may see as much success as we ever wanted to see as we ever and have set out to see For a given product but eventually all things will change and And they'll be replaced and so we have to accept that going in that change is inevitable and and it can be a very Jarring thing when that change comes earlier or that challenge even in your case this this feeling that a wait a second You know a lot of our work has just been challenged by by this this big company. How how do we deal with this right those kinds of Of challenges may not come when you expect them to and yeah, this this is this can be incredibly difficult personally taxing It can be Maybe the most underrated thing you can experience and this is the emotions that go along with it It'll be very angry That the universe line things up in this particular way But the truth is you know if you look forward Like you have obviously and you recognize that change is inevitable But we can respond to that change we can dig in and find out what do we do Uh to to adapt That's really what growth is about. That's what it means that's what what it means to have a growth mindset is understanding that change You're not going to keep change from happening. Yeah, I change is actually an opportunity And so all of the control that we try to impose on the world all the the things that we try to reduce the amount of change that's happening around us Uh, it's just going to frustrate us right but if if instead we can use it as a springboard to the next thing We're much more likely to succeed much more likely to be a piece and experience this positive emotions of growth and excitement that we had You know in the beginning. Yeah, and I think that was the biggest learning lesson out of all of that The kind of epiphany behind this is that you know, I went from feeling like I had I'd failed our team I'd failed our customers You know, we had failed to see something that was coming in the market and And you know just just being really disappointed with myself and really disappointed in kind of how we had You know, I guess our philosophy on how we had built our product up to that point to Taking those feelings of disappointment and that I had let people down and and saying well, how do we learn from this and how do we build our way out of this because That's something we still have an ability to do. We still have an amazing team here. We still phenomenal engineers And that kind of really shifted our focus from You know evolving as a product that was just feeling a gap in GitHub's platform that was really obvious to bringing real value to our users and to our customers And that pushed us down the path of building a lot of things into our product like estimation reporting Even building a product road mapping solution And it really pushed us to get opinion on how we were building a product as well and really kind of lit a new fire under everyone working at the company To really think about how we were differentiating in a much bigger way and I think through that process We ended up like I said building a lot of features and a lot of functionality Getting into certain areas and certain you know territories that we maybe otherwise wouldn't have gotten into If we had just kind of state comfortable and state complicit in filling this gap that GitHub itself wasn't addressing in its product and so Like you said that's that's kind of really I think when you're faced with those moments You can continue to be disappointed and frustrated and even angry And feeling like you've kind of let everyone down or you can use that as a pivot point to say We still have a lot of great things going on here We still have customers that trust us and value us and are going to support us through this How do we turn this around and actually kind of see the the force through the trees here that there's a bigger Opportunity beyond just what we're doing today and really start to focus more on that and And it also kind of help us get more mature as a company as well from just Building I think what a lot of people looked at as a feature to building more of a platform and a solution on top of GitHub's platform Yeah, yeah, absolutely Aaron, thank you so much for sharing Obviously that story and your time with me today. I have one last question for you While we wrap up in 30 seconds or less what advice would you give to developers of all backgrounds and experience levels That's a good question I think we're seeing the shift right now where every company In some aspect is becoming a software company and developers are really at the center of that transformation And so to Developer That are listening to that know that you have a lot of influence on the direction of the business The processes and frameworks that get implemented the different tools that get used So get involved ask questions of the business and don't compromise on the things that help you do your job better And help you be able to add more value You know, I think that that's very much a piece of advice that I would get to developers is that you're very much a part of this conversation even though At times you can be shielded from the business. You do have a lot of influence You know, and you can use that influence. I think in really powerful ways So yeah, absolutely Aaron, thank you so much for your time I appreciate it and where what can people do to find out more about how Zen hub can help them With the things that they are trying to do with their project management Maybe change their estimation process where can they go? Yeah, if you're really interested in taking a look at the product you can go to Zen hub.com You can either start a free trial or learn more about the product and more about our philosophy in terms of how we kind of see project management and How we're a little bit different than maybe some of the other project management tools out there We're also very active on Twitter if you want to follow us at Zen hub HQ We're really trying to build a sense of community and always trying to get involved in conversations around software development and around project management and kind of Introduce our opinions there and then you know Take a stance of a kind of listening to people and hearing more about what would they want to see in the space and how they think it's going to be involved So those are two great ways to stay in touch Into to learn more about Zen hub and the things that we're doing Awesome, Aaron. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Yeah, thanks so much for having me again Jonathan Cutrelly appreciate it Thank you for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea my interview with Aaron upright the co-founder of Zen hub And I just want to echo what Aaron said there at the end you can make a huge difference in the work that you do whether that is A difference in the lives of the people that you work with or the difference in the business the actual mission of the business itself And both are valuable So I encourage you to find ways to make an impact wherever you are whatever you're doing in your work today After all this podcast is for driven developers Specifically for driven Developer To help you find clarity perspective and purpose in your careers And if you're not looking for those things Or if you're if you're not looking to make an impact then you probably are not looking for perspective So I encourage you to look for the ways that you might make an impact and it doesn't have to be in the ways that everyone else tells you It doesn't have to necessarily be in the business it doesn't necessarily have to be You know in the code base There are a lot of ways to make an impact and that may be as simple as helping the people around you in extraordinarily kind ways Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor command line heroes Go and check out the wonderful new season On your podcast platform of choice just look for command line heroes. This is the newest season Thanks so much for listening this episode and every other episode of Developer TeaCan we found a suspect out of him today's episode was produced by Sarah Jackson my name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time enjoy your tea