Asking shows we don’t know things and in the culture of rock stars and ninjas shows weakness… We can build a stronger, kinder community if we admit we’re vulnerable, says Saron Yitbarek of CodeNewbie.


AUSTIN — Saron Yitbarek took to the stage at OSCON with an exhortation to all attendees: ask the right questions to the right people before writing your software. Yitbarek is a developer and founder of CodeNewbie, which bills itself as “the most supportive community of programmers and people learning to code.”

She started her talk unafraid to (over) share memories of past nervous poops before giving talks. She took it to Twitter and had the realization that she’s not alone — sharing as cathartic, on one hand. The poop joke was a (shocking) way to lead in the main topic of her talk: when you have issues with something, ask questions.

Her realization about the importance of asking questions started when a community center needed a better system to manage registration and sign-ins. They were still using pens and paper and the personnel gave her the impression they needed a better set-up. The development team asked the users what their problem was but didn’t ask if their pain was bad enough that they would consider changing habits. The developers gave them a new system to manage registration but the users kept on using pen and paper. “We were excited but we didn’t ask the real question. We asked the convenient question, enough to spec out the project” showing technology bias, she says.

Second time around for a group of activists doing good stuff, they asked real questions. Evaluating pros and cons, asking for feedback… The developers came prepared, had a wall of Post-It notes, with deep answers to lots of questions. Then, they realized there was a similar wall of notes built by the community organizers, with answers to our questions. The developers asked more questions this time, only they didn’t ask the questions to the right people.

That’s what happens when you build for a community, not with it.

We learned not to lash out, but to ask questions, ask real questions and not answer to own questions but get answers from the real users.

It’s not the questions that are hard, it’s the asking. Asking makes us vulnerable. It shows we don’t know things, and in the culture of rockstars, ninjas shows weakness and it’s terrifying. We can build a stronger, kinder community if we admit we’re vulnerable. Like admitting to nervous poop.


Speaking the language, VR and awards

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Why so common? Culture of rockstars and unicorns makes it hard to be real and vulnerable, admit that we don&#39;t know. <a href=””>#OSCON</a> <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Josh @ OSCON ? (@joshsimmons) <a href=”″>May 11, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The rest of the keynotes highlighted people of open source and a new technology where open source is making the difference.

Brad Fitzpatrick, described how he spent half his life in open source, and the lessons he learned in the process. From his early days playing with BASIC and smuggling software to his friends in school, and passing by the early internet days learning Perl: the first lesson he learned is “don’t bash other languages”

He shared other gems, about abandoning projects  and breaking and fixing things, that got a lot of traction on Twitter. But my favorite is probably “all code you put online will show up in someone’s production code” so be clear in your README if your code is really meant to be a joke. You can also check out the slides from his talk.

Finally Zaheda Bhorat, who was met with applause as she described herself as “an immigrant, a woman and a computer scientist” talked about the importance of people making open source and the importance of mentors.  Bhorat is head of open source strategy at AWS, where she also leads the open source program office.

The keynote closed with the annual Open Source Awards ceremony. This year’s winners are John Sullivan, executive director of Free Software Foundation, Nythia Ruff, open source program manager at Comcast (and a lot more), Tony Sebro, general Counsel of Software Freedom Conservancy, Katie McLaughlin and  Juan Gonzales, robotic researcher.

The Frank Willison Award, went to Kathie Cunningham, CTO at Speakagent and Barbara Shaurette, data engineer at Vox media.

Finally, Google’s Kelsey Hightower shared one last piece of news that was in the air since OSCON aired the famous “Portlandia”  organic chicken skit: the conference will back to its usual July schedule and to Portland.