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Developers, from scratch (Warecraft 2019 - Austin, TX)

Mike McNeil
February 21, 2019

Developers, from scratch (Warecraft 2019 - Austin, TX)

The latest iteration of the talk, for Warecraft 2019 in Austin, TX (https://www.warecraft.io)

> Why hire a developer when you can hire a barista and teach them to code? Since 2012, I’ve hired and worked closely with many professional developers... but I’ve trained almost as many first-time programmers myself. It’s going surprisingly well. We’re building higher quality software at a much faster pace than ever before. In this talk, I’ll show you how we did it.

> You’ll see how long it takes (at least for us) before “from scratch” developers can be effective on real-world projects, and I’ll share some tips on how to empower them to be productive even while they are still very much an apprentice. Finally, we’ll take a look at the numbers. Home-grown training takes considerable effort, and it isn’t for everyone. But hiring even a small team of professional, full-stack software engineers is an expensive and time-consuming proposition— and it doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. Depending on your financials and timeline, certifying some of your own talent could be the right decision for your business, your products, and your users.

P.S. This talk at Warecraft was not recorded, but the video from a variation I presented a few months earlier in Santiago is available on YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M9kH4j74H70

Mike McNeil

February 21, 2019
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Transcript

  1. Developers,
    from scratch

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  2. Why hire a
    developer
    when you can hire a barista
    and teach them how to code?

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  3. Why not?
    ≤ $3,500
    per month
    $7,000 - $11,000
    per month

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  4. because you can't
    do it all by yourself
    not fast enough, anyway

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  5. 1099 contractor
    Studio
    W2 employee

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  6. reasons to hire

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  7. Conventional wisdom

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  8. Business needs:

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  9. some coding experience lots of coding experience

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  10. entry-level developer
    $$
    lead / architect
    $$$

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  11. little to no coding experience
    apprentice
    (barista)

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  12. Apprentices capture more and more
    business value as they gain skills
    specific to your business.

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  13. Conventional wisdom

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  14. Apprentices can enjoy and learn from tasks that
    more experienced developers might avoid.

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  15. Apprentices don't have "bad" coding
    habits. (Yet.)

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  16. Conventional wisdom

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  17. What about velocity?

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  18. Assigning the wrong user stories
    to apprentices can slow down the
    whole team.

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  19. Fortunately, there's a lot of other important work to do.

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  20. Semi-technical setup and
    configuration tasks

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  21. Online account setup

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  22. Time tracking
    (playing "timekeeper")

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  23. First tier customer support
    (watching the "redphone")

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  24. Reconnaissance
    (competitor research, UI research, etc.)

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  25. Vendor / pricing research
    (and communication, when necessary)

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  26. Hallway usability tests
    (and proactive human factors testing)

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  27. Organizing the agile board

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  28. Markup & stylesheets
    (HTML and CSS, email templates, PDF templates)

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  29. Nitpicky UX adjustments

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  30. Small things you might never get
    around to doing otherwise

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  31. Custom forms, validations, modals

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  32. On-the-fly customer success hacks

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  33. Open source support & triage
    (GitHub, Gitter, StackOverflow, social media)

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  34. Looking up stuff from the database

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  35. 3rd party API integrations

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  36. Quality assurance (QA)

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  37. The Company
    Managing apprentices
    (These guidelines work well for my team -- but every team is a little
    different.)

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  38. The Company
    - Celebrate when apprentices catch bugs and gaps in
    requirements, even if they seem insignificant.
    - Decide on a process that apprentices will follow when they
    run out of stuff to do, and encourage active communication
    any time they're unsure what to work on next
    - You might be able to afford to send apprentices to planning
    meetings that would be too expensive for other developers
    Managing apprentices

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  39. The Company
    - Set clear expectations about code ownership (which files
    apprentices can change without doing a pull request)
    - Set clear expectations about when it is appropriate to
    interrupt senior developers with work questions (e.g. only
    in the morning before or during the standup meeting)
    - Empower senior developers to delegate tasks to
    apprentices
    Managing apprentices

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  40. The Company
    Managing apprentices
    - Never assign a business-critical task unless you're 99%
    sure you'll get to say "Nice work!" afterward.
    - Set an informal time window for "graduation" (e.g. 2 years)
    - Don't skimp on ahead-of-time training hours-- as long as
    those skills are sufficiently valuable to your team to be
    worth your $$$ and time. And only after the apprentice
    has already been initially exposed to the concepts you're
    showing them, in practice.

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  41. Training apprentices

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  42. Kinds of training
    - Ad hoc (scattered, on-the-job training when you realize you assigned
    a task that is too hard)
    - "I'll set this up while you watch" (setting up your dev environment)
    - Drills (contrived exercises or low priority tasks)
    - Theory (interactive lecture / live coding)

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  43. Things worth teaching ahead of time
    - Essential tools & expectations (editor, what is the filesystem really?,
    terminal, GitHub app, node, npm install sails, Heroku, customer service, communication etiquette)
    - Thinking like an engineer (incognito mode and Chrome profiles, screenshot
    hotkeys, giphy, Chrome dev tools, the REPL, the terminal, the importance of thoroughness, how to think
    about edge cases, collaboration)
    - The DOM (HTML+CSS, and how the browser works)
    - Logic (&&, ||, v-if, v-else, v-for, etc)
    - HTTP and the internet (how to read API docs, how to use Postman, ,
    loading spinners, cloud errors vs. client-side form errors)

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  44. Essential tools & expectations

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  45. Thinking like an engineer

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  46. HTTP and the internet

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  47. HTTP and the internet

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  48. So... does it work?
    - Yes. But start with just one apprentice
    - And try to only train one apprentice at a time (for us,
    that means staggering hires by at least 4 weeks,
    even if your backlog or budget might make it feel
    like you have to hire more quickly)

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  49. PERCEIVED VELOCITY
    QUALITY
    x
    WITH APPRENTICES
    x
    WITH SENIOR DEVS

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  50. So... does it work?
    - Since going "all in" with this model two years ago,
    hiring first-time programmers as apprentices, it took
    a little while to warm back up.
    - But today, we ship most features just as fast as we
    did with a larger and more experienced traditional
    team 5 years ago.

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  51. Questions?
    @mikermcneil

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