406 episodes

A podcast about the design, development, and business of great software. Each week thoughtbot's Chad Pytel is joined by the people who build and nurture the products we love.

Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots thoughtbot

    • Technology
    • 4.9 ‱ 85 Ratings

A podcast about the design, development, and business of great software. Each week thoughtbot's Chad Pytel is joined by the people who build and nurture the products we love.

    406: thoughtbot 2021 Year-in-Review with CEO Diana Bald

    406: thoughtbot 2021 Year-in-Review with CEO Diana Bald

    Chad talks to the CEO of thoughtbot, Diana Bald, about 2021 in retrospect. thoughtbot, as a company, has settled into a new structure that contains different teams and committed to becoming a fully remote organization.


    Last year, Diana successfully transitioned into taking over the company's CEO role. She and Chad talk about the improvements the company made in 2021, including DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) efforts and training sessions, and look ahead to some improvements coming in 2022, such as an expansion of the apprenticeship program.


    P.S.: thoughtbot is hiring! To see open roles, visit thoughtbot.com/jobs.



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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today back again is Diana Bald, the CEO of thoughtbot. Diana, welcome back to the show.


    DIANA: Thanks for having me back, Chad. Hello everybody out there.


    CHAD: You joined us in the spring; I guess is the best way to put it where we talked about the transition from me to you of CEO. And it feels like it was actually simultaneously both just yesterday that we did that recording and a long, long time ago. How has this year been for you?


    DIANA: Yeah, I completely agree. It feels the same way for me. [chuckles] This year has been interesting and eventful. Well, 2021 has been.


    CHAD: So we're recording this just in the dawn of 2022. Looking ahead, we're bright-eyed and ready to go to the New Year, right?


    DIANA: That's right.


    CHAD: So I thought that it'd be good to do a little bit of a retrospective or a review of 2021. A lot changed for thoughtbot. And the last time we talked about it was way back at the beginning of all those changes.


    And I've had all the managing directors of the different teams on now to talk about the different teams, and what they're focused on, and how they're working, and what their goals are. And I thought it'd be fun to do that for thoughtbot overall with you.


    DIANA: Yeah, I think it's a great idea.


    CHAD: Cool. So since we last talked, we really settled into the different teams and the new structure. And even little things like we've sublet most of our office spaces and those kinds of things. I'm really reaffirming how things have gone. But I'm curious, just at a high level, what's been the most surprising thing for you about 2021?


    DIANA: [chuckles] That was not a question I was expecting.


    CHAD: [laughs]


    DIANA: The most surprising thing for me was (There were a lot.) I think how quickly we put everything together actually. That was probably the most surprising thing. I think that we were able to reorganize and pretty much just get to work in the new team structure right away.


    There wasn't a lot of reinventing. We reinvented when we redefined. But as we started doing the work, it was very logical, like, oh, this makes a lot of sense. These teams break out very nicely. So that speed in which that happened, I think, was the biggest surprise to me.


    CHAD: I know that some people said we moved maybe too quickly on some of those changes. How do you respond to those people?


    DIANA: [laughs] It's different personalities. Well, can I take a philosophical perspective?


    CHAD: Yeah, totally.


    DIANA: Okay. So I have a frame of mind as life doesn't happen to us. It happens for us in the sense that there is never a perfect time to do anything. One can be preparing, preparing, preparing, and it's good. Preparation is great. Analysis is great. All that stuff is good. But there's never going to be perfect anything. In fact, it's better to get started to get the feedback because the feedback is real.


    And it's kind of like the way that we actually work, in fact. You respond, and you iterate based on what the ci

    • 48 min
    405: RackN Digital Rebar with Rob Hirschfeld

    405: RackN Digital Rebar with Rob Hirschfeld

    Chad talks to Rob Hirschfeld, the Founder and CEO of RackN, which develops software to help automate data centers, which they call Digital Rebar. RackN is focused on helping customers automate infrastructure. They focus on customer autonomy and self-management, and that's why they're a software company, not a services or as-a-service platform company.


    Digital Rebar is a platform that helps connect all of the different pieces and tools that people use to manage infrastructure into infrastructure pipelines through the seamless multi-component automation across all of the different pieces and parts that have to be run to bring up infrastructure.



    RackN's Website; Digial Rebar
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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Rob Hirschfeld, Founder, and CEO of RackN, which develops software to help automate data centers, which they call Digital Rebar. Rob, welcome to the show


    ROB: Chad, it is a pleasure to be here. Looking forward to the conversation.


    CHAD: Why don't we start with a little bit more information about what RackN and the Digital Rebar platform actually is.


    ROB: I would be happy to. RackN is focused on helping customers automate infrastructure. And for us, it's really important that the customers are doing the automation. We're very focused on customer autonomy and self-management. It's why we're a software company, not a services or as a service platform company.


    But fundamentally, what Digital Rebar does is it is the platform that helps connect all of the different pieces and tools that people use to manage infrastructure into infrastructure pipelines through the seamless multi-component automation across all of the different pieces and parts that have to be run to bring up infrastructure. And we were talking data centers do a lot of on-premises all the way from the bare metal up. But multi-cloud, you name it, we're doing infrastructure at that level.


    CHAD: So, how agnostic to the actual bare metal are you?


    ROB: We're very agnostic to the bare metal. The way we look at it is data centers are heterogeneous, diverse places. And that the thing that sometimes blocks companies from being innovative is when they decide, oh, we're going to use this one vendor for this one platform. And that keeps them actually from moving forward. So when we look at data centers, the heterogeneity and sometimes the complexity of that environment is a feature. It's not a bug from that perspective.


    And so it's always been important to us to be multi-vendor, to do things in a vendor-neutral way to accommodate the quirks and the differences between...and it's not just vendors; it's actually user choice. A lot of companies have a multi-vendor problem (I'm air quoting) that is actually a multi-team problem where teams have chosen to make different choices.


    TerraForm has no conformance standard built into it. [laughs] And so you might have everybody in your company using TerraForm and Ansible happily but all differently. And that's the problem that we walk into when we walk into a data center challenge. And you can't sweep that under the rug. So we embraced it.


    CHAD: What kind of companies are your primary customers?


    ROB: We're very wide-ranging, from the top banks use us and deploy us, telcos, service providers, very large scale service providers use us under the covers, media companies. It really runs the gamut because it's fundamentally for us just about infrastructure. And our largest customers are racing to be the first to deploy. And it's multi-site, but 20,000 machines that they're managing under our Digital Rebar management system.


    CHAD: It's easy,

    • 47 min
    404: My Goat with Neil Amrhein and Matt Erickson

    404: My Goat with Neil Amrhein and Matt Erickson

    Neal Amrhein is the founder and CEO and Matt Erickson is the CTO of My Goat. My Goat is a subscription mowing service for commercial properties. They use robotic mowers and elegant software tools to make turf care easy, convenient, and affordable.



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    My Goat
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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is a couple of people from a company with actual robots. It's Neal Amrhein, the founder and CEO, and Matt Erickson, the CTO of My Goat. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me.


    So tell me more about this idea that you are robot-agnostic? Are you helping people choose the solution that's right for them? Or do you have go-to vendors?


    NEIL: We do. So my philosophy, having spent a number of years in technology selling hardware and even software solutions, is that one thing that my experience has held is that hardware gets better, faster, and cheaper.


    And for us to invest in a hardware platform or have customers invest in a hardware platform, I liken it to my early adoption of high-definition televisions where in 2003, I was one of those guys that spent $2,400 on a 42-inch Sony Wega TV. And now you can get a 70-inch with a lot more technology and so forth for about $300 at Costco.


    So my feeling about hardware is it gets better, faster, cheaper. It's really the software that makes the difference in terms of how you leverage it. So we engage about 6 to 12 different hardware manufacturers that make autonomous robots from robots that are 27 to 35 pounds up to 1,200 pounds and all different variations in between.


    And then, we extract the communication tools so that we can help our users who are formerly the groundskeepers become technology groundskeepers. And they are now interfacing with the concept of autonomous robots that are mowing commercial properties 24/7, which we would actually call maintaining versus mowing.


    So we use nighttime, you know, day, night, rain or shine. So that's why we're robot-agnostic and welcome the latest and greatest designers and developers of hardware. We've got some folks that are just totally focused on designing, and developing, and building awesome autonomous robotic mowers with solar panels or great things that are going out there. And we're the software platform that brings it all together.


    CHAD: I totally get what you're saying about the progress of hardware and wanting to be in the business of creating value on top of that. How do you make sure that you don't take on the business risk of one of the manufacturers just providing the solution that you're providing?


    NEIL: Chad, we don't look at a business risk if there's a manufacturer that's going and selling autonomous robotic mowers. We welcome that, in fact, because that helps us with the adoption process.


    The idea of having, you know, Roomba is the de facto vacuum cleaner that goes randomly in your house. But there are half a dozen other hardware devices and opportunities, and they're all selling it. It's really how are you managing that Roomba? Which is also the subscription component of the Netflix part of our business, which is that Roomba may be a shark next year. It may be something else the following year.


    For our customers, we select the best hardware for their particular property, whether it's a golf course. They may have an autonomous robot that's manufactured by XYZ for the tee box and another one for the fairway, and another one for the greens. They just pay a monthly subscription for access to the software to manage those particular hardware pieces and optimize that hardware. And that's something that Matt will talk a little bit about.


    But we really have tak

    • 42 min
    403: Mission Control with Joe Ferris

    403: Mission Control with Joe Ferris

    Joe Ferris is thoughtbot's CTO and Managing Director of the thoughtbot DevOps and maintenance team known as Mission Control. Mission Control is our newest team doing DevOps Support, Maintenance, and SRE (Site Reliability Engineering). The goal of Mission Control, rather than building products or pairing with team members to improve their team like the rest of thoughtbot, is to support those teams and support other client teams in deploying and scaling applications. They have an on-call team and do more complex cloud build-outs with the goal being to empower and educate the teams that we work with so that they are more capable of working in those ecosystems on their own.



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    thoughtbot's Mission Control team
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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Joe Ferris, thoughtbot's CTO and Managing Director of the thoughtbot DevOps and maintenance team known as Mission Control. Joe, welcome back to the show.


    JOE: Thanks, Chad. It's been a while.


    CHAD: It has been a while. I think you were the first-ever guest, if I'm not mistaken.


    JOE: I believe that's right. We talked about null, I think.


    [laughter]


    CHAD: Yeah. And it would have been with Ben back when I was just a listener and maybe producer. So welcome back to the show. It's been a long time, and a lot has changed at thoughtbot over the years. I've been talking to each of the managing directors of the new teams, and I wanted to be sure to have you on. Why don't we take a little bit of a step back and talk about Mission Control? When we say DevOps and maintenance, what do we mean? And what does Mission Control do?


    JOE: Sure. Mission Control is our newest team doing DevOps support, and maintenance, and SRE. It came out of our experiments with DevOps a while ago now, almost two years coming up. Historically, thoughtbot has shied away from getting too much into DevOps. I think a lot of us had some unpleasant experiences earlier in our career around sysadmin tasks and expectations there. Not a lot of people have wanted to be on call historically.


    So we've heavily leveraged services like Heroku that take a lot of that burden away from you and avoided doing things like direct to AWS deployments or getting too involved with CI/CD pipelines that were particularly complex. But we've had clients over the years that have requested more interesting or more difficult deployments.


    And finally, we had one a couple of years ago, where we said, "All alright, let's just handle this instead of saying no or trying to outsource it." We thought it made sense for them. And after going through it, we came to the conclusion that it was actually pretty good that the ecosystem had evolved a lot and that it was a service worth offering. That began our journey into DevOps, so to speak. So we did some smart DevOps work for a variety of clients over the next year or so before we decided to form an official team doing this new kind of work, which is how we ended up with Mission control.


    The goal of Mission Control, rather than building products or pairing with team members to improve their team like the rest of thoughtbot, the goal of Mission Control is to support those teams and support other client teams in deploying and scaling their applications. And we have an on-call team. We will do more complex cloud build-outs. And our goal is to empower and educate the teams that we work with so that they are more capable of working in those ecosystems on their own.


    CHAD: You used the acronym SRE earlier in that little spiel. I'm not sure that everyone knows what that is. [laughs] So it stands for Site Reliability Engineer, right?


    JOE: That's right. And that's been newer for us. So DevOps is supposed to be the fusion o

    • 34 min
    402: Lift Off with Emily Bahna

    402: Lift Off with Emily Bahna

    Emily Bahna a Managing Director at thoughtbot who leads the Lift Off team, where they focus on really leaning into the core of the company. The team works with new founders to launch new products or they work with existing companies that want to build out a new service or open up a new area to generate revenue for their business. But, the thing that ties Lift Off together, is that they start at ground zero to build upon an idea and actually build the first version product to get it out live into the marketplace.



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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Emily Bahna, Managing Director of thoughtbot's Lift Off team. Emily, thanks for joining me.


    EMILY: Thank you.


    CHAD: So at this point, we've talked with a few of the different managing directors at thoughtbot about their teams. And Lift Off is one of the largest teams that we have. And so what is it that Lift Off actually does?


    EMILY: Lift Off is focused in on really leaning into the core of thoughtbot. We work with new founders launching new products or work with existing companies that want to build out a new service or open up a new area to generate revenue for their business. But I think the thing that ties Lift Off together is that we are starting at ground zero building upon an idea and actually building the first version product and getting it out into the marketplace.


    CHAD: And oftentimes, those are pretty significant endeavors. The last episode that came out was with Dawn at Ignite who is more on the validation, early stage, getting things that are fairly straightforward into market as quickly as possible usually in a matter of months. But Lift Off the endeavors are usually quite a bit more significant than that, right?


    EMILY: Yeah. I would say that the difference between validation...we're beyond the stage of validation. We're working with clients who are ready to build a foundation. They really need to put in the infrastructure that's going to take their product and get it ready to scale into the future. So they really need to make that investment into the longer-term strategy. They need to know what's realistic to build first. But they also have to keep an eye on the long road ahead of building something that can be something that can set out to grow down the road as well.


    CHAD: I guess another way of putting it is that Ignite often works with brand new teams, brand new companies creating something for the first time. And Lift Off typically works with existing companies who have existing significant revenue who want to do something new, either a new business or a new product, or maybe they have an existing web product and they're going into mobile for the first time. That's another way of putting it, right?


    EMILY: It could be. I think that when people are ready to move into the Lift Off space, it's about having the investment, the right kind of funding to move in that direction. Sometimes we do work with new founders that have a significant amount of funding, but a lot of times it is folks that are at the enterprise level that are building a new service line. They've got validation and market research already done. And they're building out a completely new line of business that they need to explore and set a new foundation in place.


    CHAD: Do you have some examples of clients that have been projects of Lift Off?


    EMILY: Yeah. We've been doing a lot of really interesting work in the health tech space, a lot of interest in improving patient experience. So we worked with a company called Relias in terms of moving them into a new service line that they'd never been in before, really focusing on improving patient care for therapists, physical th

    • 29 min
    401: thoughtbot Ignite with Dawn Delatte

    401: thoughtbot Ignite with Dawn Delatte

    Dawn Delatte a Designer and Managing Director at thoughtbot who leads the Ignite team, where they focus primarily on validating and launching early-stage products through design-thinking, business and product strategy, and iterative design and development. Dawn works collaboratively with designers and developers to ensure they add value to the people and products thoughtbot works with every day.



    Follow Dawn on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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    Transcript:


    CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Dawn Delatte, Managing Director of the thoughtbot Ignite team. Dawn, thanks for joining me.


    DAWN: Hi, thanks for having me.


    CHAD: Ignite is one of the examples I always use when I talk about why we split up into teams the way that we did and what the benefits are, Dawn. So why don't you tell people what Ignite actually does?


    DAWN: Cool. So the Ignite team we work with entrepreneurs, and non-technical startup founders, in some cases, experienced startup founders, as well as innovation teams within existing organizations. And we work with them to validate their product ideas and deliver very initial versions of their products to continue that validation process. We provide all kinds of services around that from a validation perspective. We use product sprint methodology to understand the opportunity, understand the market, the problem, come up with solutions, all those things to arrive at some ideas and some solutions that we can then quickly prototype and then test with target users depending on who we've decided their customer is or who they've decided their customer is. And that's very high level. I'm happy to get into more detail about what our discovery sprints are like.


    But after that, then we would go into, like I said, continued validation but through actual product launches. So sometimes that looks like proof of concepts, sometimes that's first MVPs. But either way, we focus on a set of goals, and that could be a certain number of users onboarded to the platform. It could be getting that next round of investment funding. But it's pretty straightforward, not a whole lot of complexity, and focused on getting a product and company to that next best stage.


    CHAD: One of the reasons why I use Ignite is that it's on one end of the spectrum. It's at the extreme end of the spectrum. Last week, I talked to Josh, who's on the other end of Boost, where we're working on existing products with existing teams. And Ignite is all the way on the other side, which is sometimes we are not even writing any code at all; we're just validating an idea.


    The work that Ignite does has always been a very important part of what thoughtbot does. But it's a big challenge to go from a product where maybe you have hundreds of thousands or millions of users and a large team, and you're doing development as a developer or designer, maybe it's healthcare or something super complex, and then to the next week where you're working on something that is going to get into market very quickly, maybe is totally unproven. The things you need to do in that environment and the way that you need to work can be a little bit different.


    And so allowing the thoughtbot designers and developers to focus on the particular needs of the Ignite-type clients I think we have seen, and I think we'll continue to see it as people even get more used to it, it has a direct benefit to our clients as well The best thing might not always be to write a Rails app. But if you take a developer who was on a Rails app on Friday or Thursday, and then they start on a new project on Monday, chances are they're expecting to write a Rails app.


    DAWN: That's a really important observation and distinc

    • 35 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
85 Ratings

85 Ratings

Anuj Adhiya ,

The human side

Lindsey is a great host. She keeps the entire conversation moving and ensures that the discussions lead to thought starters for listeners, even when the topics being discussed might be highly technical. You're guaranteed to get something out of every interview. Lindsey's also wickedly funny so you'll never be bored. Give this show a go.

TravelHardyLlama ,

Worse over time

I can’t say I’m a fan of the more recent podcast episodes. It’s gone from discussing interesting technical problems to business to solely interviews with clients who hired ThoughtBot. High quality audio, low quality filler content.

JoshCrist ,

Entertaining, insightful and actionable! đŸ”„

Whether you’re well established as someone who can translate creative energy into the impact you want to have on the world, or just getting started as a catalyst for change - this is a must-listen podcast for you! Chad and Lindsey do an incredible job leading conversations that cover a huge breadth of topics related to the ins and outs of building a thriving career and life you can be proud of as a creator - from leaders who’ve actually walked the path. Highly recommend listening and subscribing!

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