Interviewing Rogues: Charles Max Wood, Part II
This is the second part of a two-part interview with Charles Max Wood, the founder of the Ruby Rogues podcast.
How was ‘The Gang’ formed?
Thom: So I bet that will answer my next questions, which is how you assembled this group of people that we today call the Ruby Rogues.
Charles: So time went on, and I’d been thinking about, I’m a big fan of Leo LaPorte and Twit.tv. He has a whole bunch of shows where he has five or six people on the show with him and they just BS about tech news. So they sit down and they talk about, “Oh, Facebook’s doing this,” and so then they’ll talk for 20 minutes or a half hour about why it’s great or not great and make fun of Mark Zuckerberg.
They’ll talk about that and they’ll talk about the company and they’ll talk about the stock and all this stuff and I just love the show! So I’ve been thinking for a year or so, “Gee, it’d be really great if we had something like this for the Ruby community,” but I didn’t really know what I wanted and I didn’t know who I wanted, and so I didn’t do anything about it.
Then James Edward Gray posted something on Twitter that said something to the effect of, “You know, it would be really awesome if we had a panel discussion podcast for Rubyists.” And I jumped on it. I jumped all over it. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, you are so speaking my language!”
I contacted James and I said, “If you’re serious about this, I will pull everything together and make it work.” He was excited about it. So we started talking to other people to see who we wanted on the panel. One local guy here that knew both James and me was somebody I pulled in; David Brady.
Then I was talking to Peter Cooper, because I’d interviewed him on the TeachMeToCode podcast. I talked to Peter and I was like, “Peter, do you want to come on the show?” and he was like, “Sure.” He suggested, “But you really ought to get Aaron Patterson, because he’s an awesome guy and I would give up my seat to have him on the show.”” Well, it turned out we had an extra seat, so I contacted Aaron and I said, “Hey, Aaron, you want to come on the show?” And he responded, “Absolutely.”
So that was the original Ruby Rogues. It was just interesting how it all worked out.
Eventually Peter and Aaron left the show within about a month or two of each other because they had different things going on, different things that they were focused on. And that’s totally fine, they give so much to the community.
So in the meantime, I don’t remember exactly how we wound up getting Josh on the show, but we brought Josh Susser onto the show and then we interviewed Avdi Grimm about Exceptional Ruby. It was such a good fit to have him on the show that when, I think it was Peter that left second, when Peter left, we were like, “Avdi, you want to be on the show,” and he was like, “Awesome, great.” So we’ve had the same panel for probably about 70 episodes.
Thom: As a fan, I’ll say there is some sort of a neat chemistry there. You guys all kind of get along so well and have similar, yet divergent ideas and interests. It works really well, it’s a great formula, you did a good job with that.
Charles: Yeah, it just kind of worked out that way, I mean, James is pretty laid back. So he gets along with just about everybody and I’m kind of the same way. David gets along with most people, you really have to work to get on his bad side.
But at the same time, there was some chemistry there, we all knew each other, we were all friends already, so inviting other people in was really just, “Well, they’ve been on the show before and we liked them.”
And that’s how they wound up on the show. That’s how Katrina wound up on the show, too.
How “The Rogues” got their name
Thom: How did you settle on the idea of “Rogues.” I know as programmers, we’re all kind of geeky and we’re all outcasts of some sort, so Rogues sort of fits. But of course, on the website, the image you have there is reminiscent of The Old West. So is there some story behind that?
Charles: I don’t know. We were throwing around ideas for the name of the show. I kind of went with more of the alliteration idea.
So something that starts with an “R.”
People kind of latched on to that idea and I honestly don’t remember how we chose it, but that’s the one we settled on and it turned out to be awesome. I think we all really liked it just in the sense that we felt like it fit kind of what we were doing.
You mentioned Katrina, that’s something else I wanted to ask you about because there’s a lot of facets to that, but the one thing about Katrina that’s really kind of outstanding is she represents the first member of the Rogues that’s kind of outside of that little group. You’ve had that core group for such a long time that you included somebody else from the outside — disregarding the fact that she’s female.
Charles: Well, I don’t really mind talking about her being a woman. I think she is a little bit younger than I am and I think I’m the youngest, besides her, on the show. I know that at least two of the guys are 40 or older.
We talked to Katrina in April or May of last year, I don’t remember exactly the dates, about her Therapeutic Refactoring.
Thom: Oh, yeah, that was a great show.
Charles: It really was.
Charles: After talking to her, we were all just kind of floored. She really brought another angle to some of these things that we hadn’t thought about before and at the same time she fit real well with us and it just felt like she ought to be part of the show.
At the same time it’s hard enough when there are five of us and a guest on the show; to have everybody be able to get their say.
So we were sitting there going, well — and seriously, we talked about this for like six, seven, eight months – we’d really like to get Katrina on the show, but somebody has to leave.
Thom: There’s just not room for another person?
Charles: So anyway, it got to the point where a couple of the Rogues basically said, “We need to make Katrina part of this show and I’m willing to give up my spot to do it.”
Charles: I was like, “No! No! You’re an integral part of what we do, you can’t just leave. I mean, if there’s a reason to leave, then fine, but if you’re just leaving so that she can come in, we’ll just bring her in and make it happen, we’ll just make it work.”
Thom: And it’s been a real success, too, hasn’t it?
Charles: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. She’s missed a few episodes because she was moving from Norway to Denver and sometimes she’s traveling and so I’m sure she’s going to miss some episodes in the near future. But the real thing with Katrina has just been that she fits right in. She brings a lot to the podcast as far as her experience. Which is interesting, because I don’t think she’s been doing this as long as we have either, but her insights are just so deep.
I don’t think anyone’s regretted bringing her on the show at all.
Reaching out to the Nuby Community
Thom: You’ve done a lot. You explained how you took over the TeachMeToCode, but still, you’ve done a lot for beginners. You had the Ruby Nuby project — which was a great idea — and you’ve been running TeachMeToCode, and now you just introduced a Rails Ramp Up. Tell me a little bit about your contributions to the community, particularly the beginning community; the people that are floundering and learning and struggling to try to understand this bizarre, strange thing that they hear about that’s Ruby and Rails.
Charles: Yeah, it’s kind of a funny thing. Sometimes I’m just talking about stuff that I’m interested in and then it gets labeled as, “Hey, that’s good for newbs!” Then other times it just kind of works out.
I have to give credit for the Ruby Nuby thing mostly to Josh [Susser]. He’s the one that really pushed that through and made it happen and nagged all of us to watch all the videos.
Charles: I think TeachMeToCode, as far as helping new programmers, or programmers new to Ruby or new to Rails, has really been more about the tutorials, where it’s, “Here’s how you build an X.”
“Here’s how you build a Twitter clone,” “Here’s how you build a,” the one I’m going to do here within the next month is a URL shortener. “Here’s how you build a URL shortener.” It kind of gives them an idea of, here is something that you can build in a couple of hours in Ruby on Rails and kind of get an idea of how it works. And they start to realize that this really isn’t rocket science. So you kind of get the basic principles and then you can move into some of the more advanced stuff.
Community is the key
Rails Ramp Up
So I think that’s one thing that really helps. Rails Ramp Up really came out of me talking to a lot of people who wanted to learn and so usually they’d say something like, “Well, I did Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial, or I read this book that explains how to do Rails.”” One of the more popular ones is the Agile Web Development with Rails, by Sam Ruby.
Most of the time they can read the book and they understand the concepts. They can watch the videos and they understand the concepts. But when they sit down to build their app after they’ve done all of that, the video and the book can’t always answer their questions and it’s nice to have somebody come, look at the error you’re getting and say, “Fix this line and it will solve your problem,” instead of spending two hours looking over Google search to find the answer.
Then just having somebody tell you, “Yeah, you can do this, here’s where the help is, here’s where the resources are,” and just have that.
It really occurred to me, “You know what? Why don’t I just offer a course that will go for eight weeks and give some folks just basically unlimited access to me?” I’m going to wind up answering the same questions for most people, so I can get that into a forum, I can get that into a format that they can consume, I can make videos about it, figure out exactly where they’re struggling and then by the time they come out of it in eight weeks, they should have a good foundation.
I really want people to get involved in the community. I mean, if you don’t get involved, you’re really missing out because Ruby has a terrific unity around it.
I’m finding that in a lot of the other communities, depending on what you have going on and what you find to be important. But in our community, people are very welcoming. Everybody is excited to have you get involved, even if you’re new. They’re willing to help. I remember one time I was sitting at MountainWest Ruby Conference, I’d been programming Ruby for like a year professionally, and I’m sitting at [this conference] and somebody is talking about testing and they’re talking about mocks and stubs and I’m sitting there going, “What? Mocks and stubs? What are you talking about?”
So then they explained them and I’m like, “So which one’s the mock and which one’s the stub?”
So then this big guy that’s sitting to my right, with this big, shaggy white beard and white hair and these big glasses, he looks at me and in his deep voice he goes, “Well,” and then he explained it to me so that I understood it. And I had no idea I was sitting right next to Jim Weirich.
Charles: And he’s like the friendliest and one of the most knowledgeable people that you’ll meet in the Ruby community. You can walk up to Jim, him having no idea who you are, you’ve been programming for all of like two days, and he’ll talk to you and he’ll find out what’s interesting about you and he’ll help you understand what you don’t get, and that’s why the Ruby community is awesome.
Thom: And he’s not unique in that way. He is representative of the whole community.
Charles: Absolutely. It’s the same thing with a lot of these guys on Ruby Rogues. James Edward Gray, I mean, I was so intimidated to talk to him, and then I found out who he was and then I was more intimidated to talk to him. And he’ll just sit there and chat with you. Somebody at Aloha Ruby Conference just walked up and said, “Hey, I’d like to pair with you,” and he said, “Cool!” So they skipped a session and pair-programmed something, I don’t even know what it was.
Charles: I mean, just stuff like that, and these are like the Ruby heroes, you know?
Charles: The giants out there in the community, the people that we all look up to, and they do it. Everybody all the way down, almost, does it. I mean, our community, just like every other community, does have people in it that we wish would act different. But for the most part, the community is awesome.
The other thing is, is that Ruby is one of those languages and one of those ecosystems where all you have to have is an account on RubyGems.org and you can contribute. That’s it.
Thom: Good point. Yes.
Charles: And it doesn’t matter what it is. You get it up there in RubyGems.org, and if somebody can find it, somebody can use it, and if it’s not something that people want to use right away, well, that’s fine. But you’re contributing; it’s out there. Telling people about some of the awesome things that are going on in the community, whether it’s a conference, or whether it’s a Ruby Rogues episode, or whether it’s some video you found out there on how to do something in Ruby; just talking about it, just sharing, showing up to the users groups. There are a lot of terrific ways to get involved.
I really, really want people to do it, that was one of the things that I really liked about Ruby Nuby, is that we got a whole bunch of people, we got a handful of companies out there, like RailsCast Pro, and RubyMonk, and some of these other folks, to donate stuff to it. And it was all about, “Hey, look, get involved, this is such an awesome community and here’s how you learn and what’s hard and what’s not and how can we fix it.” I just don’t know how else to express—just be involved, just get out there and do it.
Thom: That’s wonderful, and I can hear it in your voice, I wish I could relay that in the printed words; I can hear how passionate you are about it and that’s terrific, that’s great.
Thom: But you’re absolutely right, I agree 100%.
Charles: So that’s the thing that I encourage people the most, is go get involved in the community. The other thing is, is if you run into something hard and you can’t find the answer on a Stack Overflow, just go find somebody and ask them.
Charles: You can hire me for coaching. If it’s something real fast, I usually just send you an email back and say, “Here’s how you do it.” But there’s so many people out there that if you send them an email and say, “Hey, I don’t get this,” or send an email to a list, they’ll help you out. So there’s really no reason to be intimidated by Ruby. Really, it’s just a matter of can you get involved and how you get involved and who you ask.
Thom: That’s excellent.
Charles: That’s how I got started with my programming, where I really got passionate about it; I was working with a guy that understood and knew Rails, when I went and was doing Rails full time instead of running a Tech Support department full time, I had another guy there who was mentoring me through the whole thing. Worked with him for about a year, but I mean, I was off on my own project after a few months and it was because I had somebody that answered enough of my questions to where I could figure out the rest.
Thanks to Charles Max Wood for sharing some of his insight and a bit of the history of The Ruby Rogues podcast. You can reach out to Charles in several ways:
In future installments we will talk with many of the other ‘regulars’ on the podcast.