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088: The Craft of Developer Experience with Kaylie Kwon

Hosted byCharles Lowell and Elrick Ryan

November 2nd, 2017.

Kaylie Kwon: kaylieEB | kayliekwon@gmail.com

Show Notes:

  • 02:14 - Kaylie’s Journey Into Software Development
  • 09:25 - Implementing a Design System and Attacking Higher-level Workflows
  • 15:43 - EDS Collaboration and Public Availability
  • 19:07 - Getting Involved with The Yarn Project
  • 20:57 - Selective Resolution
  • 23:37 - The Warmth of the Yarn Community
  • 27:11 - Handling Issue Communication and Tracking



CHARLES: Hello everybody and welcome to The Frontside Podcast. My name is Charles Lowell, I'm a software developer here at the Frontside and your podcast host-in-training. With me today is Elrick Ryan. Hello Elrick.

ELRICK: Hey, what's up Charles?

CHARLES: Not much. Are you enjoying your morning so far?

ELRICK: Yeah, my morning is going well. Everything is good.

CHARLES: Lots of cups of coffee?

ELRICK: No cups of coffee yet. I've been drinking a lot of green tea.

CHARLES: I've actually heard that's really good for you.

ELRICK: That's what I heard too. That's why I started drinking it.

CHARLES: Did you continue because it tastes good or do you just live on the idea of how good it is for you?

ELRICK: A little bit of both. It doesn't taste that great but it's not horrible. It's almost like an acquired taste and then when you add in, "This is good for me," then it tastes great.

CHARLES: Okay. We got a nice [inaudible] there.


CHARLES: Anyway, I guess we should, at some point get on to the main content of our podcast. We have a very interesting guest with us today who has her fingers in all kinds of pies that we were talking about just at the pre-show, just before we were recording so we're really, really happy to have Kaylie Kwon. Thank you for coming on the show and welcome.

KAYLIE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CHARLES: It's going to be great. Now, you are a software engineer at Eventbrite, that's correct?


CHARLES: What kind of things do you do over there?

KAYLIE: I used to work on part of the feature team that worked on their reserved seating product but not too long ago, I moved to our frontend platform team, which is a team that helps other frontend engineers move faster through things like working on infrastructure or Eventbrite design system and dev tools.

CHARLES: So like getting into the tools that unlock the exponential productivity of the developer team?

KAYLIE: Uhm-mm.

CHARLES: We're going to dig into all of that because you just listed a bunch of really interesting stuff. I'm really excited to talk about the design systems, in particular but lots of different stuff. But before we do, I understand that you have a fairly unique way of entering in to the position that you're in now. Your journey didn't follow the traditional arc. Would you be willing to elaborate on that or tell us that story?

KAYLIE: Yeah, totally. I graduated with a degree in art history, not related to computer science at all. Then right after, I moved to New York and worked for a small startup. It was marketing/business development role and I wasn't really happy with it. I was working on some design-y stuff on the side with HTML and CSS but I just felt like my brain just needed to be stimulated a little more. I applied to this all women's bootcamp program called Hackbright in San Francisco. It was a three-month intensive program and luckily coming out of that, I had at least some initial knowledge to get my foot in the door and Eventbrite was one of the hiring partners.

They brought me in for interview. I actually had no idea that it was going to be a frontend engineering role because my bootcamp was totally in Python and it just had more with a backend focus. Ben, who spoke at React Boston Conference with me, was actually one of the interviewers and he gave me this Clojure problem and I solved it but in Python just using recursion. He was like, "You got it. Just convert it to JavaScript," and I was like, "No, it just can't be done. No JavaScript."

But there's the reason he would chose to hire me and they onboarded me as an internal bootcamp within Eventbrite. The first three months I was there, I learned about React, Redux, JavaScript, ES6, all of that good stuff. Then they moved me to a feature team, where I continued, I guess working on the product and then I became involved more with open source projects. I really expressed interest in when you're a new engineer and coming onboard, there's all these assumed knowledge that isn't documented anywhere or something will be really obscure and hard to use but people will just assume that that's the status quo.

This idea around developer experience and helping other developers move faster, it just kind of become a natural interest of mine. I was talking to the platform team, Ben in particular, expressed my interest in working in these areas. Just about like a month ago, we did a big re-org and I landed on the platform team. Currently, we have a lot of projects in flight. One of them being moving our dependency system from our old codebase, which first was written in RequireJS to webpack. We're building out our Eventbrite design system, which is basically a shared UI component library that other teams could leverage.

Our platform team will just come in and make sure that the API is usable across different teams and maintain a consistent brand in terms of look and feel. We're also working on other tooling stuff like making sure we use Docker for our dev environment and making sure that the frontend containers don't break, making sure that everyone is on the same version of ESLint, Node and things like that.

CHARLES: How do you make sure that the frontend containers don't break?

KAYLIE: It's actually hard. I think one thing that we're trying to test right now is using Yarn Offline Mirror and having better caching. When you build a container, it'll look into the cache directory, which is just bunch of committed tarballs. That way, they don't have to fetch to the network each time because once the lockfile or package.JSON changes at our current state, it'll rebuild the entire container and it could take a very long time. We just have a lot of packages that we've added over time. Other things, we're experimenting along with our platform team on the backend side about having remote images. Instead of devs building their containers locally on their computer, having them remotely built by a CI system and then just pulling the container and the images down.

CHARLES: Really, really you're like all over the place. That sounds so much fun.

KAYLIE: Yeah, it's a lot of context switching. Sorry, if I was jumping too many topics at once.

CHARLES: No, absolutely not. I think it's actually fascinating and it's actually capture the kind of scope because when you are doing development, if you yourself are not running up and down the stack, the tools that you use are. The better the tools, the better you're able to focus on the one little sliver of the stack that you're working on. If I don't have to worry about where are my Docker images are coming from or if there's a temporary network flip that I can't install my dependencies, if I don't have to worry about those things, then that makes me more effective so it's important to just kind of lay out all of the stuff that goes into making a quality developer experience.

KAYLIE: Yeah, the dream is like frontend people wouldn't have to worry about any of the backend stuff and they just have this isolated environment, where they could just work on what they do best, which is JavaScript and writing features in React. Everything else just works and they could see that replicated through their dev environment as well as QA and Prod and hopefully, make every tooling that they use, like testing and linting all easily, intuitive and accessible.

CHARLES: How is it that you're working up and down the stack, making sure that your CI systems, your Docker images but then also at the same time, working on a design system, which you've got collaboration, I assume with some pretty hard core devops teams but also then you're interfacing with designers. You kind of flesh out your design system. Are those the same people on the platform team? Or there are different groups within it?

KAYLIE: We have designers and researchers actually, as part of our engineering unit. We work pretty closely with them to define guidelines on what the design system should look like because coming into making this designs system, one thing we really wanted to make sure that is that both sides of engineering and design have input, rather than the previous old version called Style Guide, which was more engineering-driven that not. One team would need a model so they would build a model and a different team would build a slightly different model and we would end up with five different models. They want to be maintained over time and there wasn't really a focus on accessibility or consistency of brand so the design system project was to eliminate all of those pain points.

CHARLES: For people who may not be familiar with design system but it's something that certainly is cramping up more and more, what's the general strategy you take? Clearly, you talked about the kind of the pains that it solves, like I'm experiencing this pain where I've got five dialogues, I've got three ways of laying out forms, I've got these problems. What's the strategy that I go about as my organization for trying to implement this? Like now, I want to do a design system, where do I start?

KAYLIE: One big thing, I think that helped us was developing Eventbrite design system as just the standalone product. You could run Eventbrite design system as a standalone with all of the documentation and components with each of their different props that could be configured and it has its own set of tests. All of the components are API-driven so there's nothing specific about business logic that it assumes. For example, our button component just assumes that I'll be receiving a type of submission and some [inaudible] body. It doesn't make any assumptions that it's going to be anything Eventbrite specific. It's high-level configurable that the end user wants it to be.

Another thing that helped is we have a planned approach session right before we start working on a new component. A developer who would be building the component would meet with one of the frontend platform members and will be discussing the API of the component, the CSS that would go in it and the designer would do the final QA. The development takes longer than if you were to write just a component for your app but we're trying to build it out for a long term use. We have versioning for Eventbrite design system as a library so whenever you make updates, we added to the changelog and then it gets released and we bumped in Core, which is where all of our apps live and people have to get the new version. Basically, it's an orchestrated effort and we have a process built around scheduled releases and bumping it in Core.

CHARLES: I get the wanting to have a uniform buttons, uniform labels, dialogs and things like that. How do you attack the problem of higher-level workflows like a form submission and validation process that might have a lot of different pathways? How do you guide that using a design system?

KAYLIE: Those are actually really good questions because we went through issues like that. Validation form field or components that have logic around more complex inputs and validation is really hard because different teams use it in a slightly different way so we ended up having two versions of complex inputs. Now, we're in the process of deprecating the V1 and then having people move over to V2. We also use the Atomic Design Principles for Eventbrite design system. It means, things like atoms would be composed of buttons and we have molecules, which are slightly more complex. Then one level above that would be organisms, which are things like forms.

Obviously, as you move up to like the higher level, it becomes more difficult for us to decide does this belong in EDS or does it belong with the app. There's lots of refactoring that sometimes ends up happening as a result of something built one way and us realizing later down the road that it wasn't actually very extensible and we just built it for this particular use case. Sometimes, it's the opposite where this was too generic. We can make it a little bit more specific and add more logic to it. It really depends on the component but that's been our strategy, just taking the components as needed. We're still in the earlier stages. We've released EDS a year ago and now, we're almost close to finishing it. We're just missing a handful of components. They'll be more [inaudible] that's available as opposed to adding a brand new component.

CHARLES: Did you find guidance in existing design systems? One thing is why not just use one of the existing ones that's out there. Is it a matter of branding? Is it a matter of, "There are certain interactions which are unique to our product that we need to design system to capture them?" I guess my question is, if this is something I want to take on myself, what tools would I be able to reach for and what other design systems would I be able to look to versus what I have to contribute myself? What am I going to be looking for to share with the community and what am I going to look for that's develop that's uniquely mine?

KAYLIE: I think consistency was a big issue. Sort of the genesis of idea came actually even before I joined the company but I think what they were going for was that we already had an existing component library called Style Guide and it wasn't really working out for us. To build like a common UI library was a natural assumption but making it better, making it more reusable. We looked at companies like Airbnb and Microsoft and I learned a lot from what they were doing. You definitely wanted some components that are specific to Eventbrite such as a ticket card or a media card that we use for our browse pages which would be needed for Eventbrite specific pages.

I think mostly, the designers wanted more control because relying on third library means we don't always get what we want. We're actually thinking about making EDS open source at some point in the future, where it could take themes so other companies or individuals can leverage it but use their own theming scheme. If Spotify came and wanted to use EDS but using their colors and brand logo, then they could do so, just by layering a different configuration style to it.

CHARLES: That's such an interesting idea. Is this something that you all have explored, maybe collaborating with another company? I'm trying to think what would be the benefit of making it publicly available, unless you would be getting lots of contributions back to improve EDS itself. Is that the idea?

KAYLIE: Yeah. We're definitely set on making it public at some point in the future but making it open source is a different conversation because like you said, there's pros and cons that comes with open sourcing a package. We recently open source britecharts, which is a D3 library. It's been getting a lot of contributions. It's a good recruiting tool but it's also a lot of maintenance work outside of developers normal work hours. Also, we have to start worrying about like when we make a breaking change to a component, we're not just breaking it for our own product but for other developers.

We currently have external developers. We have Eventbrite plugin system called Spectrum so developers are already building on top of that and they've been asking for something like this, where they could leverage and match the look and feel with the rest of the product. The downside is lots of maintenance hours and worrying about all the people that would be breaking the component for by just solving your use case.

I feel like I didn't fully answer one of your questions, which was you have a different dynamic of people working on both really backend ops things, as well as a really frontend design system work. We definitely got very smart people on the team. Some people definitely have expertise in one area versus on others. Currently, we have five developers and some of us lean more towards the backend of the frontend work and I am one of those people working on things like Yarn and Docker and build system work but it's funny because I was thinking if I had a portfolio then, there wouldn't be any visual components to it, even though I'm a frontend developer. It would just be like terminal screens. We try to divide the work but everyone tries to, I guess develop, at least some shared knowledge around why we make the decisions that we do.

CHARLES: It's interesting how they all intersect. I feel like the trend of the last 10 years has been to dev of all the things. I think the first thing was this artificial divide between developers and testing and that came together with the test driven development and test obsessed. Then there was this divide between developer and an ops and that divide went away now with the advent of the devops movement. Now, there's this divide between developers and design and I feel like that kind of wall is collapsing right now. You have developers participating a lot more in design and designers spending a lot more in development. We're seeing that but it's just funny how the devs starts integrating with all the things.

KAYLIE: Yeah, that's a really good insight.

CHARLES: You said you kind of naturally gravitate towards more of the backend doing the working with Docker, working with Yarn. How did you get actually involved with the Yarn Project?

KAYLIE: Eventbrite converted over from NPM to Yarn maybe a year ago and the benefits that we got from converting over was awesome because we were manually editing NPM shrinkwrap, which is a nightmare and the installation speed of the container was really slow just because we were on NPM and it didn't really have any advance caching mechanisms at that point. Yarn just sped up a lot of things for us. I really like the user interface outside of just installing. You actually get a lot of freebie commands like 'yarn why,' that tells you why you have a particular dependency or you could do 'yarn check.' It was just a lot more helpful.

I've been wanting to contribute to open source for a while so I did a little bit of work before then but the community was really encouraging when I first try to solve and pick up some first contribution bugs off of their backlog. At the time, they were pushing for 1.0 release so there's a lot of excitement about what Yarn will be and all the new features will be adding. I kept trying to pick places where I felt like I could be of help and then, Christoph, the manager of the Yarn Team and I believe [inaudible] team as well, reached out and asked if I wanted to build the selective resolution feature for them. I was like, "Yeah. I'll give it a go." Then I did it.

CHARLES: What is selective resolution?

KAYLIE: Good question --

CHARLES: Because I use Yarn every day and I've never heard this term.

KAYLIE: It's something that became available with 1.0 release, much like workspaces and most of the time, you're not going to need it but sometimes, you're using a library. That library will have a nested dependency that for some reason, has a bug or you can't work with that package or maybe you just want to dedupe the package so that all of your dependencies end up using one version of that particular nested package. Selective resolution is like a way for you to override other libraries dependencies --

CHARLES: Oh, that's really cool. I like that because I've had that happens to me where I want some version of a library that has got a bug fix and yet, some other library that's depending is requiring this library and they're getting the old version and I'm like, "Nah!"

ELRICK: That was happening to me last night. I wish I knew about this.

CHARLES: Yes, seriously.

KAYLIE: Yeah. Before this --

CHARLES: I'm glad we had you on justifying about this.

KAYLIE: Awesome. Before this, you would have to file an issue with the original maintainer and maybe, it'll get fix. Maybe it won't or maybe you're stuck on the old version and you can't do anything about it. We had a really similar issue with the PhantomJS package, where we wanted to use a next patch version with a bug fix but then, something that was requiring it wasn't letting us use it. It works. I verified it. It seems like Facebook started using it as well so it was a pretty rewarding to work on that.

CHARLES: That's exciting. I also plan on using it the next time I encounter this.

ELRICK: To get this feature, is this a flag that you have to pass? How does it do the selective resolution?

KAYLIE: As long as you're using Yarn 1.0 or above, you define resolutions field inside of your package.json, like how you would define that dependencies, you also have extra [inaudible] resolutions. On the left hand side, you put in a glob pattern that you want to match and if you want to match all packages, you just enter the name of the package. Then on the right side, you enter whatever version or path that you wanted to match. It could be a file or a GitHub link or it could be a version or a range or whatever you want.


CHARLES: That's fantastic. Now, you mentioned that as you were coming to work on this, you were looking for features to work on but the community actually did a very good job of drawing you in and getting that contribution from you, which is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. I think a lot of open source projects, either flourished or failed by their ability to attract contributors. What was it that was particularly inviting?

KAYLIE: It was a combination of things. I think one thing is they tried to point you to the actual code like if you want to submit a PR, then this is where you would get started. I actually started doing that myself on some of the issues. Everyone loves PRs more than issues so I think giving people filing the issues, some, I guess empowerment to try to fix it on their own, I think is great. They also have a Discord Channel for devs to talk about any questions that they might have, how to set up their initial dev environment, to test things on Yarn. Also, they were really nice. They were really thankful when I posted a PR or commented on the fix. They also use a lot of emojis, which helps.

I think I personally found it really rewarding because it made me a better developer. Before contributing to Yarn, I didn't know that much about Node. For me, it was just fun to learn more about like, "This is how something else works," and also, the codebase uses a lot of different linting configurations, which I hadn't really used before so that was a nice learning curve there as well.

ELRICK: For your initial time going to Yarn when you didn't know much about it, was the champion from the project that worked with you to get you over the hump or places that you were stuck or did you just have to kind of figured it out on your own or did you ask questions on the Discord Channel or in Slack Channel or anything? How did that process go initially?

KAYLIE: I definitely pace myself. I just picked up easier bugs on a repos if possible and BYK and Mel who maintain the project would give guidance, especially through PR comments and they also answer any questions on issues. If I ask questions like what's the right approach here, because sometimes you get a bug and it's not just a bug. It actually has to do with philosophy of like, what should Yarn do in this case. There be like really minor edge cases like maybe NPM does that in a particular way, should Yarn respect that or should it try to be better? Those discussions are, I think really helpful and interesting and understanding what's going on.

CHARLES: It's fantastic when the conversation just builds and you're learning stuff and then you actually feel like you came out with the best solution that was available to you at the end of the process.

ELRICK: You gain a lot of context about the project during those conversations.


KAYLIE: Yeah, what was good about those selective resolution feature was it was completely community-driven, even from the RFC standpoint which submitted by someone in the community and then it was implemented by me, who doesn't work in Facebook. I think that's awesome.

CHARLES: There's been a lot of thought that was put into the feature even before the implementation. That's always so critical to getting people's and giving them some specifications, some blueprint of what they're actually going to build. One of the things also that I wanted to touch on too is you mentioned before the show that they have a very unique take on the way they handle communication with the community, not just in terms of pull request but also in terms of issues.

KAYLIE: Yarn issue count is around 800 --

CHARLES: Boy, that's a lot. I can feel daunting when you look at that, right?

KAYLIE: Yeah, but it's actively [inaudible] project, a lot of people are passionate about it and there are bots that other projects use to just automatically close issues when they're not active. But something that BYK told me was when issues are closed, people take it somewhat personally and we just want to make sure that there's like a human touch to it and we, at least get to the issues without just automatically closing them. I really respect that.

I think even when people are really frustrated, the maintainers never really lose their shit. They're always very graceful and when someone is acting outside of the standards of Code of Conduct, there's a gentle reminder. So far, all of the interactions that I've seen to the issues have been really constructive, rather than being like, "Sorry, we're not going to work on this." It feels like it is a community project and people care about how it's being used. It’s actually not easy given all the different operating systems that Yarn has to accommodate. It's like a pretty low level tool so I give the guys a lot of kudos for handling that.

CHARLES: Eight hundred issues means that with a human touch, that means 800 people have to actually respond to those issues and usually those 800 people are not actually 800 people. They're like 10 people or some number significantly below 800. How do you attack them to try and make sure that they're responded to in a timely fashion?

KAYLIE: I think issue tracking is the hardest part of open source. I think it's in the order of issue tracking and then reviewing PRs and then submitting PRs because writing code is writing code but understanding other people's code is more difficult and understanding other people's issues and what the bug is, actually is even more difficult. You don't, obviously have their exact dev environment so sometimes, it's hard to repro.

I think we do a lot of things that a lot of other projects leverage, which is we label the issues, we define priority if it's actually impacting a lot of people or if it's a critical bug like you can install a package versus maybe a warning message that could be tweet. Then we kept a board, like a GitHub board to track issues when we were heading for the 1.0 release. I'm not sure if we're still doing that but that helped to a degree. Other people from the community, not just the maintainers, jump in to try and help out an issue, which is probably one of the best things. Then when we merge pull requests, we close the issues that have been referenced.

CHARLES: Yeah, it's really wonderful when that thing happens. I'm so curious like how to [inaudible] because I know that it's so disheartening when you're working on a project and you file an issue and maybe, it doesn't even go answered for one day, two days or two weeks or you submit a pull request and no one's even commenting on it. It can be really disheartening and kind of make you question the viability of the product itself, especially if you see a lot of activity elsewhere. On the one hand, I also understand that the maintainers are human and they probably have a lot of obligations. I know that I've got a lot of projects where I let the issues languish and I even have one that I'm using where I can't get any response and it's just so frustrating.

KAYLIE: Yeah, even Yarn is definitely not perfect. There are definitely issues that sort of go buried. You could add us at YarnPackage/Core. That pings all of us and the core team. You could call out specific people but that's a tough one.

CHARLES: This isn't with Yarn, by the way. It's a totally separate project. It's fantastic when there's that basic acknowledgement. It makes such a difference in people's perception of the entire enterprise. Looks like we're actually approaching time. If we want to give a special shout out to any talks you're going to be giving, any events that you'll be at or --

KAYLIE: Actually, Ben on my frontend platform team is speaking at Nodevember about Next React. I think that's where the shout out. And then Christoph will be speaking at AgentConf in Austria, I think in January about the future of dev tools. I think both things are [inaudible].

CHARLES: All right. Fantastic.

ELRICK: Any slick future features coming out in Yarn that we should know about?

KAYLIE: I'll keep you updated.

CHARLES: She's sworn to secrecy.

KAYLIE: Yeah. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to [inaudible] yet.

CHARLES: I could hear the pause of conspiracy in your voice. Thank you so much, Kaylie for coming on the show. This has been a really wonderful conversation that's just gone all over the map and those are my favorite kind. Thank you very much.

KAYLIE: Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun, guys.

CHARLES: Well, if people want to get in touch with you, how would they go about doing that?

KAYLIE: I'm a rarity, where I don't have Twitter. You can email me, I guess.

CHARLES: File an issue on Yarn.

KAYLIE: Yeah. I'm KaylieEB on GitHub and KaylieKwon@Gmail.

CHARLES: As always, you can get in touch with us. We're at @TheFrontside on Twitter or just drop us a line on the email. You use that on occasion too at Contact@Frontside.io. Thank you, Kaylie. Thank you, Elrick and thank you for listening.

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