"I contribute to Ember" with Lisa Backer

Hello folks and welcome to the sixth edition of the interview series “I contribute to Ember” , presented by the folks at The Ember Times :slight_smile:

This week we’d like to highlight the work of contributor @eshtadc and talk about her work on Ember Service Worker, public speaking, the things that make open-source so valuable and why anyone in the community can be an expert who has important insights to share.

How did you get started with using Ember and from which background did you get into the community?

I started using Ember a little before 2.0 was released back in 2015. The company I was working for at the time was looking to revamp an existing project with a new user-interface and had brought on some consultants to help us through the design/architecture phase. Ed Faulkner was one of those consultants and became the person I learned Ember from. He was fantastic to learn from, both from his skills, but also from his patience when explaining approaches.

However, since he was a consultant, he wasn't always available, so I also learned a lot from digging into other people's addons and reading code.

Up until that point I had been doing web development for close to 20 years. I started with server-side languages (originally ColdFusion) and database integrations (Sybase and SQL Server). Later I got into Flash and Flex, and finally JavaScript. At the time that I began with Ember I had been working in a lot of PHP (not by choice really) and either vanilla JavaScript or Backbone.

And really this background is what makes open source so interesting to me because when I started it wasn't really a thing - or at least it wasn’t a viable option for enterprises. Products were always a black box that you had to work around. With open source, you can dig in to learn how something works and fix it when it doesn't rather than guessing how you can "game the system" as with closed software.

Anyway, since learning Ember, I've been working exclusively in JavaScript ever since.

What is your biggest motivation to contribute to open-source and to Ember in particular?

I think the most important is probably to help keep something going that is useful. At least that was my motivation in the case of ember-service-worker. It is a super valuable tool for many people, and it needed someone to help be the caretaker. But concerning contributions to other addons or to Ember itself I see contributing as a way to feel more involved as well as to learn from the codebase.

I think we all know at this point that there is more to open-source than just free software. We are all part of a community both in regards to our code and in terms of interacting with each other in the development process. I suppose it's hard to pick a "most important motivation".

Which kind of your recent contributions do you think had the most significant impact or benefit for the Ember community?

I've been working more on trying to put what I've learned out into the community. It's been a bit of an internal struggle as I'm not a particularly extroverted person. I'm trying to get more blog posts up onto the DockYard blog and speak at my local meetup (DC). This is what led me to apply to speak at EmberConf as well.

Of course, time is always a limiting factor. DockYard allows us to have regular time, however, to devote to open source contributions, writing, and professional development which has helped a lot (and is one of the reasons I joined).

My talk at EmberConf is about digging into the code behind systems like ember-service-worker. My hope is that there will be some technical advice, but that there will also be a message of building confidence - looking at the source code isn't that scary after all.

Empowering people to learn by doing would be a fantastic outcome and probably better than anything I contribute with a technical blog post.

Is there any piece of advice that you could lend to first-time code contributors, those that start out blogging or public speaking?

For those who are new to contributing, don't think you have to spend every waking hour as a contributor in order to do something. Every contribution is a confidence builder and matters. I've definitely struggled with the imposter syndrome effect when I realise that I can't spend my evenings and weekends always in front of the computer and nobody should have to (unless that's your thing).

For first time speakers or bloggers, I'd say that you know more than you think you do. So often I've been told to write about something I did, and I always assume that it's nothing special or that everyone already knows that trick. It's not always the case, and even if it IS already out there, your take could be the nuanced way of explaining it that helps someone else.

Also, just DO it. It only gets easier.

Lisa Backer, also known as @eshtadc, is Senior Software Engineer at Dockyard and a contributor to Ember. You can find her on Github and Twitter.