#69 Aisha Blake's DevJourney should be a musical
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Aisha Blake 0:00 When I talk about learning, which is a thing that I do a lot, I often will say like, I will remember almost anything if you teach it to me in the form of a song, like, I will never forget how to conjugate LA to go in French, because they taught us a song. That is the only conjugation I remember from like four years taking French classes.
Tim Bourguignon 0:33 Hello, and welcome to developer's journey. The podcast shining a light on developers lives from all over the world. My name is Tim Bourguignon, and today I receive Aisha Blake. He is an application developer at Detroit labs, currently building title of con, a musical tech extravaganza. She co organizes self dot conference and Detroit speakers in tech. She approaches speaking and teaching in a way to give others the tools to shine as brightly as they can. In our spare time. She sings karaoke, and pet stocks. I Shea is also a champion of feedback, a fierce accessibility advocate, and a steward of strong and joyful teams, Asia, a warm welcome to dev journey.
Aisha Blake 1:27 Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here. I have
Tim Bourguignon 1:31 to start here. What is a musical tech extravaganza? You have to help me there?
Aisha Blake 1:39 Well, it started actually at JS heroes in Romania. I was talking with Andrea vakeel, after the conference. And we were sort of joking and talking about this performance that she was getting ready to give at BANG BANG con in New York. And she's telling me about this, this musical talk that she's going to give and I was like, This is everything that I want. And so we were we were sort of joking, like, oh, wouldn't it be funny, cool, awesome. If we had a whole conference that was like that. And so it was maybe I don't know, maybe a month, or two months later, I actually watched the live stream of bangbang cons specifically so that I could see on Jenna perform. And it was absolutely a performance. She did these three Disney parodies. And it was called tail call optimization, the musical. So she's literally singing these songs that she has rewritten. And teaching you about tail call optimization at the same time. And it was amazing. It was brilliant and funny and joyful. And it just it was as soon as it was over. I turned to my boyfriend and I was like we have to do this. We have to make this conference a real thing.
Tim Bourguignon 3:20 So you're shooting for a whole conference? With music included?
Aisha Blake 3:25 Yes. I I'm the the inspiration is definitely musical theater based. But I am very open to other genres of music as well as purely theatrical performances without music. I've never
Tim Bourguignon 3:43 heard of this. I'm just abashed. That's my here.
Aisha Blake 3:50 Thank you. I'm very excited about it. I like can't even tell you I cannot express in words how excited I am. And it's funny. I've sort of talked to a lot of people about this. At this point. I'm just sort of like planting the seeds. I've got a I've got a small team that's working with me to get it off the ground. And the reaction that I get is very much either. Oh, that's interesting. Or, oh my god, this is perfect. This is everything I need. Like when
Aisha Blake 4:23 is it? When is it?
Aisha Blake 4:27 That's a great question. And I do not know yet. Yeah, so hopefully, we're we're hoping to do this in sync with self conference, which is another conference that I helped organize here in Detroit. And so we are trying to like we're hoping that the stars align that title of columns will be the day before self conference in 2020. So definitely look out for both of those dates, hopefully very soon. Yeah, okay.
Tim Bourguignon 5:01 And this is in in Detroit area.
Aisha Blake 5:03 Yes, it'll be in Detroit.
Tim Bourguignon 5:05 But that's absolutely amazing. I, I've always seen single talks held like this. So one one kind of form of theatrical performance one, we're singing I'm not sure I have seen this, or maybe part of the talk was was with some some some musical, or lyrics. But but not more than this and having a complete conference like this, this this sounds insane. And in a good way.
Aisha Blake 5:34 Yeah, that, that sounds about right. I've seen a lot. As I'm like, talking about this and talking about it more. I'm finding more and more people who are, well, one really into it, but also who do a lot do it already. Like maybe they don't do full on performances on a stage, but they'll like makeup, lyrics and like post them on Twitter. Or, actually, I talked to one of the first people I talked to about this was James Dempsey, of champs Dempsey, and the breakpoints, and they have they do a whole concert at WWDC, and I was like, this is amazing, you have a whole band of like, tech people. And it was fantastic. So we spent the conversation devolved into us just talking about our favorite musicals, which was wonderful. Um, but that's kind of part of the point, like, I want, I want to teach, I want to help people learn and like improve their skills, their careers, but I also want to inject a little joy into the industry.
Tim Bourguignon 6:52 Do you think that the form has also have an influence on what people retain and how they learn?
Aisha Blake 7:00 Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I, I, I when I talk about learning, which is a thing that I do a lot, I often will say, like, I will remember almost anything, if you teach it to me in the form of a song, like, I will never forget how to conjugate LA to go in French. Because they taught us a song that is the only conjugation I remember from like, four years, taking French classes.
Tim Bourguignon 7:34 I can relate to that. I can remember craziest songs from from movies and, and the sequence of, of sentences and responses from the main characters. But yeah, German, German Grammar was a nightmare for me. It's just know, if only it had been a happiness on. Okay, let's backtrack illegal. Um, when did your journey in in tech start in the first place?
Aisha Blake 8:06 It started, I think, honestly, it started with my mother. She was a she started at IBM as an engineer in like 17 677, which is just this such a wild image for me. I think about my mom, she's like, 20, she had a big Afro with a red streak in it. And she is going off to to be an engineer at IBM. And she stayed there for 30 years. And so kind of growing up with her around and talk constantly talking about, honestly, a lot of things I didn't understand at the time, or even now. Um, it was
Aisha Blake 8:57 it was
Aisha Blake 9:00 not even I don't know that I knew enough to be inspired by her at the time. But it made the in the industry, it made technology, this thing that was of course, open to me, like it wasn't a thing that I thought about, until after I was already working in it. Um, I started I started learning web development as a teenager, I had a Neopets account. And I wanted to change the way that my pages looked. I wanted to, you know, have my fancy user profile and different pages from a pet in my shop and my gallery. I had an ICA gallery. So that was a whole thing. But that was how I learned HTML and CSS. Way back.
Tim Bourguignon 9:58 Okay. So it really is a as an I mean to, to scratch your own itch.
Aisha Blake 10:03 Yeah, definitely. I started doing it for other people and, like didn't even really occur to me that that could be a job. At that point. I was still convinced I was going to be an actress on Broadway.
Tim Bourguignon 10:17 Okay,
Aisha Blake 10:18 you see how we come full circle now?
Tim Bourguignon 10:21 Yes, yes, I kind of do. Were you were you on a theatrical groups? I'm not sure that's the right word in English.
Aisha Blake 10:31 Yeah, I'm, particularly when I was younger. I, that was practically all I did in high school. I was just constantly in at least one show. And it lasted through college. I actually chose the University I went to because they have an excellent theater program.
Tim Bourguignon 10:54 Okay, and how did you choose your major? So you chose the University this way? But how do you choose your major.
Aisha Blake 11:00 Um, so I, I got to Fordham, Fordham University, I was studying in Manhattan. And that part of it was everything that I ever wanted and more. But I realized really quickly that I did not want theater to be the thing that I relied on for life. Um, I love it still. But I don't think that I don't know that I would still love it. If I had been forced to go through some of the things that my friends in theater have gone through. Um, it's, and so I knew that I had to choose something else. And I thought back to my Neopets days, and kind of asked around and was like, what, what do I need to do? or What should I choose? If I want to make websites, that was I didn't even know the term web developer at that point. I just sort of asked around, and I got paired with an advisor in the computer science program or in the computer science department. And, and that was it, I have an in, I have a Bachelor of Science in Information Science. And that's kind of its it's not quite how I got my start, but it gave me It gave me a direction
Tim Bourguignon 12:35 in what we did help you to, to realize this direction and get a first job or didn't, whichever is appropriate.
Aisha Blake 12:44 So my my degree is coming, it's sort of coming back around and starting to be more helpful as I am edging into making more architecture decisions more and getting more involved with our database work. And it has, you know, over the past couple of years, but at first, honestly, it did absolutely nothing to help me become a web developer, I think. Um, I think what it did do was kind of helped me choose what I wanted to do. And it gave me It sort of exposed me to the different kind of paths that you could take within the industry. But the actual skills that I learned, were not immediately applicable to what I was trying to do. It wasn't until Honestly, it wasn't until I moved to Detroit that I feel like I was really employable as a web developer.
Tim Bourguignon 13:59 Oh, was it after graduation?
Aisha Blake 14:01 I so I moved to Detroit immediately after my semi immediately after my graduation. I was actually placed in Detroit as a Jesuit volunteer. So my first year in Detroit, I was a full time volunteer at Detroit, cristo rey High School.
Tim Bourguignon 14:22 You didn't work as a programmer or as a web developer at that point did
Aisha Blake 14:26 I didn't I? So I was placed at Detroit Cristo Rey, I honestly, I honestly don't even remember choosing it like you rank your placements. And it was a surprise to me that I was that I was paired up to interview with this school was like Detroit. I've never been to Detroit like, hey, I want to I want up interviewing and I was like, interest and I was interested in the program, but it didn't It was sort of in that whole wild time where you're about to graduate from university. And there were a lot of things going on. And so I actually, I took so I took a trip to Detroit, to Warren, Michigan, actually for a gold ball tournament, which is a sport for blind and visually impaired athletes. And I had this magical extra night in Detroit. I, I was couchsurfing in what had once been a department store in like this strange loft with this woman who like, showed me the night sky, or like the night skyline of Windsor in Canada, which I hadn't realized until then, that you could see from Detroit. Like she took me to Detroit soup, which is a community micro funding dinner, which is still one of my favorite things about the city. We had all of these like, tiny, amazing experiences. And I was like, I left thinking, Oh, my God, like, I just I want to learn so much more about Detroit, like, I don't know, when I'm ever going to come back here. And it was maybe a month later that I was placed in Detroit. And I was like, This is clearly what is supposed to happen in my life right now. Like, we're gonna go, we're gonna see what happens. And so
Tim Bourguignon 16:30 that's awesome.
Aisha Blake 16:31 Yeah, I was working at the, at Detroit crystal Ray, like I said, and the crystal Ray program that the like, network of schools is based on this corporate work study program. So the idea is the school this private college preparatory Catholic education, or educational institution, is built in communities where students, our families are low income, they often often college acceptance, and attendance is really low, a lot of the students are first generation to go to college. And the idea is that you get this education and is largely subsidized by companies in the community. And the students work at those companies. So they, they still have sort of skin in the game, they still the, the families still pay some amount of money for, for tuition, but it's vastly reduced, because of the money that these companies pay in. And in an ideal scenario, a student will come out of that with four years of experience at various different places, it could be, you know, a university or a law for a law firm, or a hospital, it could be any number of things. And sometimes, you know, everything works out and you know, the student gets a scholarship or they get a job afterwards, that they can use to support themselves while they're in school. It's, it's a, it's a really cool model that doesn't, it doesn't always work. But when it does, like I've, I've actually, I've known a few people, or who are my age who have been through Cristo, Rey schools in a few different places across the country. And, you know, when it's run, well, it's a really amazing resource. So I was in the corporate work study program office, in the Detroit school, and my information science degree comes into play here. Um, in that my boss at the time, kind of took me aside and was like, we're so we're doing this program through the Michigan Council of Women in Technology. And I would like you to be the faculty advisor, essentially.
Aisha Blake 19:21 My
Aisha Blake 20:47 And that was it. That was sort of as extensive when you're gonna need this. It's true.
Aisha Blake 20:52 I don't know when I meet. Okay, so yeah, I think I have had one semester of robotics as well. So I was like, Oh, that was my last semester. Like, I could probably fake this. But like, I had no, I had no idea what I was doing. And that was when I reached out to a local women in tech group. And that was kind of a turning point for me. I was like, I need help. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to teach, like, please help me. And I got really lucky. I sent this email out. And I actually got a response, a woman that actually works at Detroit labs with me now, Erica, she responded, and she was kind of like, Hey, you can come in, you can audit a class, see how we do things. And I wound up being involved with that organization for the rest of my year of service all for the next. And for like four years after that. That was definitely a big turning point for me. And it was the first connection that I made in the Detroit tech community.
Tim Bourguignon 22:11 I was I was wondering how you pulled it off. But you did pull it off on your own, looking at what Detroit lab does and adapting it for your, for your students?
Aisha Blake 29:38 yeah, um,
Aisha Blake 29:41 I think the biggest thing is dealing with the not so happy path. So when I'm not sure of what is going wrong with, with a snippet of code or Particularly, if I am trying to onboard someone, or if I'm pairing, especially when I'm pairing, it is really useful to kind of be able to take a step back and say, Hey, we're not understanding each other, let's maybe get at that, let's, let's work on fixing that. And then we can circle back around, and then we can come back to the code itself, and work out what's going on there. Because if we're not on the same page, then and we're not kind of working with the same set of assumptions, then we're going to be stepping on each other's toes. And this is going to take longer than it needs to, and we're not going to, we're not going to get to, and we might not get to where we need to be.
Tim Bourguignon 30:57 It makes sense. Being on the same wavelength and kind of getting along on the human side. I would say at least always else, but sometimes it's really mandatory, otherwise you you just don't go that far. That's, that's very true. Um, I love teaching as well. It's just not necessarily just for the finding answers. But for the sheer joy of getting the questions. I always get a thrill from when I get a question, and, and I just realize holy ish, I have no idea. Or even better, or even better. I'm 75% sure I know the answer. But there's 25% chance I'm federally wrong. And this this adrenaline rush of having to say, I don't know, but let's find out together. And in showing how you get an answer and and showing that there is no magic to it. There's just kind of discovered process. And getting through this with students together and seeing their eyes open, certainly is absolutely thrilling. I love the experience. You've experienced this as well.
Aisha Blake 32:21 Yes, absolutely. I actually just gave a talk for the first time called pedagogy and pairing. And it sort of gets out exactly that. Like, it is so much a journey that you are taking together.
Aisha Blake 32:41 I
Aisha Blake 32:44 my sort of catchphrase when I'm teaching is like, let's try it. Let's see what happens. Let's figure it out. Absolutely. And, you know, that's definitely a lot of the joy of it.
Tim Bourguignon 32:57 I love that. What is the most helpful in your day to day life? From this this teaching background? Really, your your day to day life? I assume you are you code on the day to day basis. Right now, although you said you're you're teaching as well. But what helped you the most in your teaching background to to master this day to day life?
Aisha Blake 33:18 So yeah, most of my most of my job is coding. I work on our whole stack, mostly TypeScript. And I think the biggest thing is the willingness to jump into things. And recognizing that I'll probably mess things up a lot. And being okay with that. A lot of my teaching career has been Hey, can you teach people this thing that you don't know? And it's been a lot of Well, yes, yes, I can. I'm gonna need some time, but we're gonna figure it out. And so now, when I take on a task, I might look at a card and say, Oh, I don't know. I don't know what is causing this. I don't know how to do this. I've maybe not worked with this part of the app very much. But it's, it goes hand in hand with but being figured out. We're gonna get there.
Tim Bourguignon 34:37 How do we teach this? This this skill, this this trust in yourself in jumping in the cold water and saying, well, well, yeah,
Aisha Blake 34:48 that's, it's I think it's really difficult to get into that mindset if you're not there yourself. If you are sort of plagued by that insecurity, or indecision, and this is not none of this is to say that I don't feel those things, I absolutely feel inadequate, like, at least, you know, every other hour. But if it's more about approaching your student with kindness, in my opinion, it is recognizing behaviors that you exhibit that are maybe potentially gatekeeping. Or, you know, shutting someone down. And sort of practicing, be being open and sort of embracing exploration in your own work as well. So for example, if you are trying, if you're trying to teach this, this sort of mindset, when you are reviewing somebody's PR, then it's worth taking a little extra time to be conversational, to ask questions, rather than saying, you know, this is wrong, fix it. It's how did you get here? I think I think this direction might work better for what we're trying to do. That sort of interaction. That's been really helpful for me,
Tim Bourguignon 36:52 it reminds me of something that Llewellyn Falco, say a few a few episodes ago, and he was he was explaining how to go with a junior in a MOBA when you're mob programming. And I was asking, Well, how do you how do you avoid the the senior in the room, kind of overruling the rest of the group? And you say, well, we'll just listing options, and any option is fine. And we'll go through each and every one option. If when junior developers say, Well, what about x, and then we'll spend two days exploring x. Also, if the senior already can say this doesn't work, we'll spend two days on it just exploring just going all together in this direction, so that the junior in the room understands that he's or her point as a value, and he or she can can express it and steer the group toward this direction, but also experienced the full learning process of going through it and understanding that it doesn't work, etc. And I find it kind of similar to what you what you just said. That's, that's very true. So do you work in on a day to day basis was on was more junior developers,
Aisha Blake 38:06 it's a pretty varied mix, actually, on my team, right now, we have everybody from an intern to people with, you know, five, six years experience on the team. And so usually, if we're pairing usually, if we're pairing, I am actually able to pair with somebody who has more experience than I do. Hmm. For me, it's it ends up being mixed. Honestly, I try to pair with everyone for different reasons. So when somebody comes on to our team, they'll have a pairing schedule. And how long that schedule is, sort of depends on where they're at with the stack with the app with the company. So for our intern, she's got a three month long pairing schedule. And it's basically a different developer takes each sprint that happens during her internship. And so she's not necessarily pairing 24. Yeah, well, you know, all day. She is, but she is she does have a point person throughout the entire process to say, Hey, I'm stuck on this thing. Or, hey, point person. I have. I am really interested in this thing that you're working on. Can we pair on it? And you know, if there are other people that, you know, it makes more sense for her to pair with, that's fine. But that person has said, Hey, I'm definitely going to be free this spring. to just be available to pair whenever. And that's kind of how we found that on the other side of things. We had somebody who'd actually been on the team previously. And they came back. And so their pairing schedule was much shorter. It was partly getting back up to speed with the, with the app, but also just getting to know and work with people who had joined the team in the time since
Tim Bourguignon 40:33 What do you think is a key skill to be a successful developer? either on your team or more generally, you know, industry nowadays?
Aisha Blake 40:45 Honestly, I feel like the ability to transfer knowledge effectively, and also to receive it.
Aisha Blake 41:02 I
Aisha Blake 41:05 I think, so, as I said, I really feel pretty strongly about this, the benefits of paring for a number of different reasons. But I also feel like a lot of folks in the industry get to a certain point and then feel embarrassed or ashamed if they need to ask for help.
Aisha Blake 41:34 It's
Aisha Blake 41:38 I think we talk a lot about how great it is to that we get to constantly be learning new things. But at the same time, sort of, on the, on the other side of the same coin is a certain level of shame in in that there's so much that you don't know. And there's maybe an expectation that you should know certain things if you have been around for a certain amount of time. And I think that being able to take in new information gracefully, is a really important thing to hold on to. Even as you as you move out of being a junior, or even a mid career developer, early career or mid career developer,
Tim Bourguignon 42:31 I completely agree with us. This is this is so spot on. I see this exactly everyday. The developers that continue to grow are the ones that that that put themselves in question everyday and question their their skills and continue asking for help. And, and don't don't shame yourself in in doing this. And the ones who stagnate are the ones who start to close up on their small bubble and try to maintain some egoistical status. I don't know what it is. Exactly. And and don't ask for it. That's a that's really spot on. That's really spot on. Awesome. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, our time box is actually already over. And I've seen questions I want you to ask you damn. I guess that's the way it is. That's the way it is. I'm
Aisha Blake 43:31 okay, we can just be friends. And you'll ask me anyway.
Tim Bourguignon 43:35 I can do that. So listeners, you'll have to choose to be friends as well. Always you want to be able to ask the questions I want to ask if the listeners still wanted to be friends with you and continue this discussion, where would the the the ideal place be to start?
Aisha Blake 43:54 That's places probably Twitter and I'm just I you should Blake, I'm not super creative with my handles.
Tim Bourguignon 44:01 Where would you easiest to find that? That's great. Um, he Yeah, you have a blog as well. Um, do you have anything coming up in the in the next weeks or months?
Aisha Blake 44:14 Yes, definitely be on the lookout for a call for proposals or a casting call for title of cons. Definitely, it'll be at title of cons.org.
Tim Bourguignon 44:29 And any talks that you will be giving up in next week's month?
Aisha Blake 44:34 I don't have anything scheduled right now. I am I am going to be teaching nights. So if anybody has a conference that will be happening on a weekend in the next six months. Ah, let me know.
Tim Bourguignon 44:52 Okay, listeners, you heard it. Great, fantastic. Anything we should have Talk about and we missed that you went to plug right now,
Aisha Blake 45:04 I think just kind of keep an eye out for title of cons, we didn't really talk a whole lot about self conference. But that was actually one of my first conferences. It was my first conference and the first I've ever organized. And that will also be here in Detroit. It is a wonderful conference that focuses very explicitly on having half technical and half people focus talks. So definitely come and hang out with the community, whether that's for title of cons, self confidence are both
Tim Bourguignon 45:40 awesome. And we'll be in the shownotes. Just scroll down and click there. And we'll take you right to the website, fantasy show. Thank you very much. Thank you. And this has been another episode of developer's journey. And we'll see you next week. Bye bye. Dear listener, if you haven't subscribed yet, you can find this podcast in iTunes, Google music, Stitcher, Spotify, and much more. Head over to WWE WWF journey dot info. To read the show notes, find all the links mentioned during the episode. And of course, links to the podcast on all these platforms. Don't miss the next developer's journey story by subscribing to the podcast with the app of your choice right now. And if you like what we do, please rate the podcast, write a comment on those platforms, and promote the podcast and social media. This really helps fellow developers discover the podcast and those fantastic journeys. Thank you