« All Episodes

Mackenzie Child, Part One: Concrete Goals

Published 6/22/2015

I caught up with Mackenzie Child to talk about his 12 in 12 challenge. In which he challenges himself to learn Ruby on Rails by building 12 web apps in 12 weeks.

During this first episode, we talk about why he decided to challenge himself, the overlap in skill set between design and development, and learning to recognize when you're overcommitted.

If you want to learn how to build Ruby on Rails web apps from design to code , especially as a designer, be sure to check out Unicasts.com.

Be sure to tune in on Wednesday, for part two of this series, when Mackenzie shares how he learned Ruby.

if you've enjoyed this episode be sure to subscribe. If you have any feedback for the show, have an idea to an episode or just want to say hello, you can reach me on twitter: @DeveloperTea or via email: developertea@gmail.com

Today's episode is brought to you by Raygun.io. Raygun automatically detects and diagnoses errors and crashes in your software applications and notifies you of issues that are affecting your end users. Raygun supports all major web and mobile programming languages, you can get started FREE today.

Enjoy your tea.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I have the pleasure of interviewing Mackenzie Child. You might know Mackenzie from when he did his 12 apps in 12 weeks. Mackenzie went through and learned how to make applications with Ruby on Rails and he did 12 of them in 12 weeks. It got pretty popular across the internet. I'm going to talk to Mackenzie a little bit about that as well as his experience with unicast.com. Make sure you go check that out, especially if you are wanting to learn how to code. And especially if you have a little bit of design background, Mackenzie is himself a designer. We had a chance to discuss the overlap between the skill sets of design and development and how that has changed what he does. It was a very interesting conversation. I hope you enjoy the interview with Mackenzie. It isn't two parts so make sure you subscribe if you don't want to miss out on the second part of the interview. But let's get to the first part of the interview with Mackenzie Child. Welcome to the show Mackenzie. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here. I'm excited to have Mackenzie on the show. Mackenzie and I actually met in kind of a unique way. I owned a domain that he wanted to launch some training videos on. And it's actually way more than just training videos. Mackenzie, can you tell people a little bit about what unicast is? Sorry. Yeah, unicast is a place where you can learn how to build web apps using Ruby on Rails. But the unique thing is we start from planning and then we go through the design process and the front end and Rails. So you get to see the entire flow of building the web app from start to finish. And that's really interesting. I think for a lot of the people who are listening to this show because I do have a lot of designers who actually listen to this show and are interested in development or they're interested in some of the soft skills that we talk about. And so I think a lot of people are going to appreciate your story, Mackenzie, because you come from a design background, correct? Indeed. Yeah. I started in design when I was about 15, so about 10 years ago. And past five years, I taught myself front end and then more recently the backend stuff. And you actually wrote a post called how I finally learned to build stuff with Rails and the subtitle is Hint. I built 12 different web apps in 12 weeks. And this is what you call your 12 and 12 challenge, right? Yes. And what was so cool, this is actually how I first heard Mackenzie's name and then after that, he emailed me about the URL. This article is so cool because it embodies the spirit of figuring out the how later. And what was the reasoning behind deciding to do 12 apps? Well, the number was just kind of random. But the reason behind it was I tried for I think two or three years on and off to learn Rails. I started with Michael Hartel's tutorial just like everybody else does. And I would work pretty hard at learning for a few weeks and then I would get stuck and couldn't find a solution so I'd just stop and then fizzle out. And now I'd go on and off for like I said years. So the 12 and 12 challenge was pretty much my way to force myself to go ahead and finally learn Rails, just like the title of the post. Basically, I started out and said I was going to design whatever web app each week. So I designed the web app and then I just figured out how to code it. Right. And I feel like that's such a different approach to learning Rails than most people take. Right? A lot of people, like you said, they'll go through Michael Hartel's tutorial about how to build. I think it's a Twitter clone still, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And then the other side with a Rails default scaffold with a little bit of style, but that wasn't your approach. You kind of look at a final product that you really want to exist and shoot for that from the start. Yeah. So I pretty much just thought of various web app ideas and then just pick the one I wanted to do that week and did a lot of googling and stack overflow and just figured out how to get it up and running. Stack overflow is all of our friends. Oh, pretty much. This isn't the only content that you pose a challenge to your readers and your viewers. In fact, in one post, you give 20 challenges for people to get up and do something that they wouldn't normally do, something that makes them uncomfortable, like give a speech or visit a new country. So would you mind talking a little bit about how to have a concrete challenge? How that has impacted your work and how being uncomfortable has impacted your work? Yeah. Definitely. The whole idea behind that post was basically when you're comfortable, you're not growing and you're not learning. You're not really dying, but you're just kind of like plateaued. That makes sense. So stepping out of your comfort zone and like forcing yourself to learn how to do something or just doing something new, what I found the best way to do that is to challenge myself to do it. And by that, I mean publicly announce that I'm going to do something by X date. And I found that that helps me actually stick to my commitment. Because if I just said, I'm going to build a web app in the next month or so, then life would get in the way and that would never happen. And when I announced it on Twitter and Facebook and all those other things, then failing took more of a toll if that makes sense. Yeah, it has like a social consequence. Social consequence, yes, exactly. I think another thing that this harkens back to is, you know, if you're going to go to the gym, it really makes a lot of sense to have somebody who is like your accountability partner or in some way, you tell someone, make it public or at least semi public. Make someone else keep you accountable to that promise. Because if Mackenzie had said something like, you know, I'm going to build a web app in a month and and didn't fulfill that, then the social consequences, people know that he failed. And that's uncomfortable. We don't want people to know that we failed. And if we make a commitment to do anything, whether that whether it's go to the gym or learn rails, if we if we have some sort of motivation to not fail that has that social consequence, rather than just, you know, obviously, there's a little bit of a consequence of failing to ourselves, right? We don't feel good when we fail. And if we let ourselves down, there's a little bit of negative emotion to that. But it's significantly more effective if somebody else is the person who sees you fail. Exactly. And it's really, really interesting to me. I think another really important part of what you do is that you make those those goals concrete. It's not just I want to learn rails. It's I want to create 12 things, 12 usable things in 12 weeks. That's very different from just I'm going to learn rails, right? Because you know, who says that they have now learned rails at what point can you say, I have accomplished that. It's kind of difficult, right? I don't think you ever stop. I don't think there's ever a point where like I know rails like I better that rails now, but I'm definitely never going to stop learning. There's just too much. And that's the problem with setting those kind of ethereal goals like I want to learn how to write JavaScript. Well, when you've written one line of JavaScript, then have you learned to write JavaScript? Probably not. But probably not effectively at least. Yeah, definitely. Great. So let's take a quick sponsor break and then I'm going to come back and talk to you about commitment and being over committed. Yeah, let's do it. Today's episode is sponsored by Reagan. If you're wanting to detect and diagnose errors and crashes in your software applications and even find problems that you didn't know existed to improve your software, I highly recommend trying out Reagan.io. Reagan is one of the very first gems I add to my gym file. I'm pretty much every new Rails project I create, but it's not just limited to Rails projects. Reagan works with all major web and mobile programming languages and platforms. And you can set it up with a few lines of code and there's a free 30 day trial. An essential tool for every software developer. Reagan covers mobile and web development and is used by some of the world's largest brands and software development companies. It really does only take a few moments to get started and find errors you didn't even know were present in your code. Reagan works with things like Slack to make sure your team gets updates when and where they are already working. Catching errors early means improving the overall quality of your software and keeping your users happy. And there's a free trial. So no excuses. Go sign up today at Reagan.io. So I've been talking with McKinsey Child, the creator of Unicast.com, about having challenge in our lives and how that pushes us and not just any kind of challenge, but having concrete challenges and how that pushes us to learn and to continue not being dead, I guess, is one way to put it, but to continue advancing in life, to continue getting to places that we want to go. Very few of us, very few people listening to this podcast certainly want to stay in the same place that they currently are. Most of us have goals. We have aspirations. And so often, comfortability can be the enemy of those aspirations, but that also can lead to another problem with overworking. That is being over committed. So in a recent post, McKinsey, you admitted to your audience that you were over committed. And I love this post because it's such an honest portrayal of the human side of this kind of work. I typically produce four episodes of Developer Teaper week, which is a ton of work. In fact, you and I were talking about this before we started recording the episode. Finding balance is such an important part of the media creator's life. Absolutely. What straw finally broke the camel's back, so to speak, and pushed you to back the production schedule down a bit for Unicast. My wife, obviously. I was spending so much time between my full-time job in Unicast that I was just constantly stressed out trying to meet deadlines that I force upon myself. And it was just so much stress. And I wasn't spending enough time with my family and friends and really any time with my family or friends. But I was just working nonstop. I just knew if I continued, I would burn out very, very quickly. Absolutely. Yeah. I can relate to this because there have been many times when I would walk downstairs and it's 10 o'clock at night. And I had been working since seven o'clock that morning. And I record upstairs, by the way. So I have my office upstairs and then I walk down the stairs. My wife has made dinner, which sounds very typical. I walk down the stairs and she says, I feel like I haven't seen you all day. And she and I actually work together in the same place. And so it's kind of a strange feeling to feel distance between us because of work. And it's definitely something that I have to keep in check because my brain is engaged with the media creation process. So it doesn't feel like distance so much to me. And certainly probably feels more like distance to her. Absolutely. It's definitely tough. Like you said, finding a balance between the two, especially when you do something that you enjoy doing because it doesn't feel like work. You don't feel like you need to take break until you're just mentally exhausted. Right. Yeah. And with your close relationships, it's easy to take for granted that you are enjoying yourself. So you kind of expect them to be on the same kind of wavelength with you, if you want to call it that, but to kind of understand and appreciate or agree with that enjoyment level. But in reality, sometimes my wife is just waiting on me to finish whatever I'm doing. And you and listener, your husband or wife might be just waiting on you to finish whatever you are doing. And it's difficult to see that until you can sit down and have an honest conversation with them, right? It's sometimes you just have to sit down and say, Hey, look, like how do you feel about my workload? Is it stressing you out? Because for me, actually, a heavy workload doesn't often stress me out because I enjoy what I do, right? Yeah. There's other casualties along the way. Whenever I am overworking, I can't just think about, you know, am I tired or am I getting fatigued by this? Yeah, absolutely. Well, in the next episode, Mackenzie, we're going to talk a bit more about your learning process and what brought you to the point of being able to learn how to create 12 apps in 12 weeks. You definitely did something that a lot of people who are listening to this show and, frankly, a lot of people who aren't even listening to this show want to do. They want to learn how to be a developer. You want to be able to create usable things with, you know, rails or any other framework for that matter. And so in the next episode, I want for you to share with us a little bit about how you learned. And then also, for this episode, can you tell us how listeners who would like to learn from you on Unicast, how they can go and sign up for that? Yeah. Just go to unicast.com. And there's a ton of free tutorials or free screencasts. And if you want to see the entire thing, I have premium courses that take you step by step through the entire process of designing and coding web applications. At the very least, everybody who is interested in becoming a developer, I would recommend that you start with that 12 and 12 because that's where you're at right now, right? That's in learning from somebody who is in the same places you or is just beyond the same place as you. Research says that they are going to be able to teach you better than somebody who's years down the road in their career. So I think McKinsey's 12 and 12 is definitely a good resource for beginners, especially people who are wanting to learn rails, but also anybody who's looking to learn front-end development. There's probably a lot of things in there that is going to prove valuable to you especially. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea, the first part of my interview with McKinsey Child. Make sure you check out Unicast.com. And if you haven't subscribed to the show, make sure you do that as well, that way you don't miss out on the second part of the interview. And once again, thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.