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Ernie Miller and Human Development, Part One (at Ancient City Ruby)

Published 4/8/2015

I had the pleasure of attending Ancient City Ruby and interviewing a few folks while I was there. Ernie Miller was a speaker at ACR, and also sat down with me to talk about agile, humane development, and the implications of technically oriented people making a track switch to management. Thanks, Ernie! Don't forget to follow @erniemiller on Twitter and let him know you enjoyed hearing him on @DeveloperTea!


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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. I'm your host and today I am interviewing Ernie Miller. Ernie is a programmer, a speaker, a director of engineering at Envision and he writes at ErnieMiller.com and he also started HumaneDevelopment.org. You can read it, we are humans working with humans to develop software for the benefit of humans. Go check that out. There's an entire kind of page there at HumaneDevelopment.org. I had the chance to meet Ernie at Ancient City Ruby, so this was over a week ago. I was invited to go to Ancient City Ruby by the people at Hashrocket, which I will drop a link to Hashrocket. In the show notes, Ernie was one of those people and I just had a fantastic time interviewing him for that reason. We were on site there and you'll hear a little bit of background noise in all of the interviews that I got while I was at Ancient City Ruby. Of course this is just kind of unavoidable. I apologize for any of the noise that you might hear, but Ernie was a joy to talk to you in full of knowledge. I hope you enjoy the interview with Ernie Miller. I'm sitting here with Ernie Miller at Ancient City Ruby and we've already started the interview. I pressed record on my little handheld recorder and it's the first time I've used this recorder for an interview and I actually have to press it twice to start recording. Ernie and I have been talking to all of you without recording for the last 10 minutes or so. We're going to go back and try to cover some of this stuff. Hopefully we'll get done in time to make it to the next talk. That's the goal here. Ernie, thank you so much for doing this with me and for having the patience with my equipment brain malfunction. Oh, it's all right. The UX on this microphone is subpar. Someone really needs to go analyze that. It really is. We're here at Ancient City Ruby in what is touted to be the oldest city in the United States. It's a beautiful place. We were talking about it just a second ago. It's pretty gorgeous. It's got a lot of history, Hans Ancient City, right? Yeah. Definitely a lot of old things here. Everything I look at. It's like that's really super old and that's impressive. Some really cool. The hotel is the Casa Monica autograph collection and I guess you know I don't know what the whole autograph collection part applies to but apparently I guess it's that they have a gallery here and they have all the they have pretty much all the art that's all around is is pretty much for sale as best I can tell. If you happen to have a few thousand dollars you would like to spend on a painting. It's just a very classy joint. Let me tell you. Ancient City Ruby has got to be one of the most classy. Classy conferences I've attended. Definitely. It's not like your airport hotel. The normal airport hotel. Speaking of airports. I actually had a chance to ride with Ernie yesterday. I brought them from the airport down to St. Augustine and I was telling them just a second ago. I'm not sure why St. Augustine doesn't have its own flights like fly into St. Augustine but quite a few people I think found out unfortunately that they couldn't fly directly into St. Augustine. I was trying to find a Jacksonville which is about 45 minutes north but turned out to be a good thing for me. I had a chance to talk with Ernie and we had a really good talk for 45 minutes. And which kind of laid the groundwork for what we're talking about in this interview actually. So yesterday you were talking about what you do on a day to day basis. Could you just kind of lay that out a little bit for listeners here? Sure. I'm the director of engineering for Invisium. We are an application security consulting firm based out of the DC area but you know I'm still based on Louisville as a lot of people probably are aware I'm a huge fan of working remotely. And so I do all of the engineering direction which apparently doesn't involve a director chair or megaphone or any fancy clapper. None of that. I don't ever get to say cut. This is my first director job and it's really just not what I thought but what I do do is I build tools for our consultants to use. I am responsible for building our team our engineering team and helping to drive some of the cultural decisions that we make about how we want our engineering team to behave. And so we had kind of really ties into Pamela's talk earlier today about culture and what really makes the company culture worth sticking around for. That's something that's been on my mind a lot lately since now I'm responsible. Sure. Yeah and I'm in a similar position in my day to day work and it is the title director is kind of a strange feeling to that. It's kind of strange to have that title being responsible for you know the positive emotion for example in her and her talk is just it's very way it feels very weighty sometimes. It's completely different from what I'm used to and it's kind of inherited like I have been writing code for a long time and then suddenly because I've been writing code for a long time now I have management responsibility and it's an interesting challenge. It's very different than the challenges that are presented to me in code. Well this is going to I'm glad that we did two interviews because this is going in a very different but interesting direction and and I think what you just said it's interesting to me because we in our companies there's there's often just an assumption that when you advance past a certain level as a programmer the obvious next step is for you to manage people that you must want to go that like you don't want to do this all your life. I mean I look at someone which if you're if you're part of the Ruby community for instance you'd be familiar with a really a great member that we we lost last year Jim Wyric. Jim was always passionate about building things. He was a senior as you come when it comes to engineering skills but I don't think anybody who even you know worked around him ever felt like he was a manager per say that wasn't he was just a guy who who loved what he did and was excited about it and and was allowed to thrive in in his role he worked for Neo company name of the company that he was with and before that I think it was edge case. I wish that more organizations got that that there needs to be a technical track that you can proceed along and continue to do those things that you enjoy that the natural evolution of your job does not need to be leadership there are other ways and we talked about them today and some of the talks to mentor other other team members and stuff without being a direct manager necessarily just if you enjoy what you do maybe you'll enjoy teaching it to other people as well and that will make you better and then the process. Yeah so yeah it's really interesting because in some ways you know if you think about it as you become better at something you naturally should be doing more of of that same thing like building on the same expertise if you're going to maximize or be a maximizer that's that comes from the strength finder test I don't know if you know what I'm talking about it. No is that is that a manager thing? I don't know I don't know I actually took it in college and it identifies there's like 32 strengths categorical strengths and you take this test and it identifies five of your strengths and one of mine is maximizer basically the idea is instead of trying to better your weak areas you basically ignore your weak areas and instead focus on the areas where you're good to make you excellent. And so the concept being like I may not be so good at working with people and I shouldn't try if I'm not to I should try to like help that. This is a hypothetical you seem pretty good at dealing with people right where hypothetically I'm a person right as a member of the group that is called people I would say you're doing the kind of dealing with me. I think like a lot of people don't know how well they could deal with people you know there's a lot of people here for instance at this conference and very uniquely amongst the computer science like in large that group of people this group is very social and and I'm like outwardly so and we can kind of walk around and mingle and very easily make connections and talk with people is very open. It's not awkward so I think a lot of the people in the Ruby community are unique in that way that they have and this isn't a PSA for Ruby you guys all know that I like Ruby I like the communities where this isn't trying to sell you on it but I've noticed that this at this conference and yeah so reason I say that is because that's not always true right so you have somebody who is particularly good at building. Whatever it is that they're building and to move into a managerial position is not like climbing a ladder it's like stepping sideways right it's a horizontal move more than it is a vertical move they're very much like tracks are to kind of parallel railroad tracks right and and you can be moving along on one and perfectly happy and then all of a sudden you make a shift you're still in the same you're still in the same place you're just like that. You're still in the same place you're just on that other track now and it's it's it's it's frustrating again to to have an organization that perceives there to be a hierarchy where there need be. You know there's a there's a segment from another talk that I've been giving where I talk about specifically that that we are all humans you know working with other humans to build software for the benefit of humans and it's a core kind of premise of this humane development thing that I've been talking a lot about lately. And you mean development dot org go now click now click here and so like there's there's a part of it where we have to remember that it's not an us versus them thing but a lot of organizations don't set us up for success in that way and then they tend to place the them over the us and and so when you create that sort of almost a class system or a cast system in your employees is that any surprise then that that mentality develops right. Yeah it's it's it's unfortunate I think because we're all just have different. It sounds right but we're all different right but no less no less special to sound very sesame street at the moment but and it it's a shame that we don't recognize that do a better job of recognizing that in our in our companies and our organizations which organizational structure sure yeah yeah so and let's be clear this is this is different from a discussion about about skills right we can't treat everyone as if they're at the same skill level right so when I hear the term flat in a company I feel like that's that's also not quite like the right approach right because if we're all the same which as humans we all do have similar qualities we all have similar redeeming qualities and any case yeah and you know these rights and all these things that we share and we are at equal levels at there are also unequal parts of who we are and when I say unequal I mean some people just simply have more experience and therefore are better at certain things right I could admit to you that I'm not a very good basketball player like I'm just awful and a big reason for that is because I'm just not I don't practice basketball it's not something that I do and so very clearly if we were to treat our teams like basketball or our our development teams like basketball teams like we would be in trouble we would lose a lot because that team puts you know the front line the whatever I don't know what the terms are for the first sports ball so they put their best players in when they need their best players right yeah there you go yeah I'm a I actually do I really enjoy football so but that's that's a different top wrong analogy that yeah that's back this up first string is what you would call it yeah first string and football yet but we we have to be able to understand that talent or whatever you want to call that ethereal thing experience those proficiency all of those things still matter sure but we can't you know we can't say that once you reach a certain level of proficiency that now you should move to that other track like you were saying right and there's a balance there's certainly a balance sure there's a difference between there's a difference between acknowledging that people have differing levels of skill in a particular area and implying or outright stating in some companies that a person is inherently more valuable as a human being that is more indispensable or less dispensable I suppose would be you know in that we should all be striving to you know raise the water level so that everybody floats higher and it doesn't necessarily mean it's it's sort of and I'll talk about it again tomorrow but we we derive our okay so if you put you all know those those name tags that say you know hello my name is or whatever and if you if you take one of those name tags let's say you have a have a group of you know 20 people getting together hanging out and you can you give everybody one of these name tags and you tell them one rule though you can't write your name on there right right something that identifies you it's interesting you know and in the states we oftentimes identify ourselves by what we do for our career it's very frequently one of the first things that we like somebody will say you know you just run into somebody on the elevator and they'll it's the kind of the first small talk so what do you do you know it's something that we think is next to house the weather it's right it's one of those things that you absolutely bring up and it's so core to kind of how we perceive ourselves and yet if you push for somebody to come up with something like that you'll find out that this is some core way that they they derive their sense of self worth their identity from right and so they act out of that and so you know in the talk I want to specifically bring up some things that I've discovered about myself and that as I began to dig you know initially I thought I was a rails coder and then I thought I was a rubiest and then I thought well that's still too limiting because now I kind of like a lixer as well I'm a programmer but realistically if I look back to why I started doing any of this stuff it was the creative impulse it was I wanted to create thing back then I wanted to make video games right you know and and so I look at that and I think the creator is what I am I am a creator I want to do creative things and I don't necessarily care about the medium that I work in so much as the that that creative aspect of what I do is what makes me happy sure yeah you know and so and that's something I think that the rubiest as a community seemed to emphasize a lot because the creator of the Ruby programming language emphasized programmer happiness when he built it and and so because of that I think that that carried over in some ways into the community that built around the language it's an expectation we have we we set a certain bar for how much the language should come to us right we don't we don't want to go to the language we want the language the computer should be and and it does a really good job of that and we have high expectations and they're mostly satisfied in our day to day use the language. Thanks so much for listening to the first part of the interview with Ernie Miller if you'd like to make sure that you don't miss the second part you can always subscribe through whatever app you use to listen to podcasts and then that app will give you a notification whenever the next episode of Developer Teacomes out. If you haven't done it yet please drop into iTunes and leave a review for this show it's the best way to help other developers just like you find Developer Tea. If you have any suggestions for the show you can reach out on Twitter at at Developer Teaor at developertea@gmail.com you can find Ernie at at Ernie Miller on Twitter make sure you send him a ton of tweets letting him know how much you enjoyed listening to him on Developer Tea and until next time enjoy your tea.