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Changes and New Beginnings

February 01th, 2013

About two weeks ago I parted ways with Couchbase’s day to day business. Not that I was involved much in the end, but it was time to move on. I remain a co-founder and shareholder, but my regular involvement is over.

This wasn’t an easy decision, and as those go, it took me a good while to make it.

About a year ago I started noticing a change. Things I’ve always cared about intensified manyfold and my work situation didn’t leave me with much time and energy to pursue them.

Couchbase made every attempt to accommodate me, let me work on Apache CouchDB for most of the past year, and help with an arrangement where I could spend some of my time at my discretion (with no pay, but enough work to keep me afloat) and I am very grateful for that opportunity.

I spare you the details (ask me over a drink), but in the end I had to answer the question of whether I am a CouchDB person or a Couchbase person. I had to answer that for my working relationship with Couchbase and ultimately I had to answer that for myself.

My heart knew, of course, but leaving a company that you helped founding isn’t the easiest of things to consider. I carried that conflict through most of 2012 and I tried to make things work in a compromise, but ultimately failed, realising that I am, at heart, a CouchDB person.


2012 wasn’t the best of years for CouchDB. That helped me realise how much I believe in the idea and the community behind it.

I learned a lot about myself, turned 30 in December. Around that time, the introspective period of the year turned into action. I was done contemplating what to do with newfound revelations and had a vague plan of the direction things should go towards.


There are a number of distinct moments that helped me figure out what is important to me.

Rails Girls

The Rails Girls movement teaches non-programmers web programming for free. Volunteers from the Rails community would spend their weekends teaching, regular week-nights coaching development groups. All stuff I thought was honourable, but I didn’t see how I could fit that into my schedule, along my regular work and have enough energy to do it all. Yet I saw others doing just that. This created an urgency for changes, so I could, while not teaching Rails Girls, do things I deem important. More on that later.

In the spirit of Rails Girls we started a JavaScript workshop JSFAB (JavaScript for Absolute Beginners) which, along with other similar initiatives eventually culminated in OpenTechSchool, a roof organisation for volunteer learning and teaching. The idea spreads like fire, still, into other tech communities, and other cities and countries. This is truly a tech education innovation. I am very proud to be a part of this.

Gleicherlohn.de

Around the US Equal Pay Day Gina Trapani put up Narrow the Gapp. Anne suggested there should be something like that for Germany, so I spent a total of four or so hours to rip off the project’s UI (open source) and made it so Anne could put in the hard data into a JSON file on GitHub.

Gleicherlohn.de was a mini project with a large effect. The lesson for me though was that web technology, while incredibly accessible already, is still not easy enough to handle for regular people, even technically inclined non-programmers struggle. Why, I thought, would Anne not be able to put this up all by herself.

Then I realised what my original motivation for working on CouchDB and eventually founding Couch.io was: empowering people to use technology to their advantage. I wanted to get back to that.

Giving Back

While talking to friends last winter I made the realisation that we technology people are a rather privileged bunch. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but for me that means finding ways to give back to the communities that enable me to live such a privileged life. Teaching and making technology more accessible fit right in there, so it wasn’t hard to figure out what to do. Instead of working five or seven days a week, I tried to find a way to work as much as I need to live comfortably, while having enough time and energy to pursue pro-bono work. Again, Couchbase was very accommodating here.

Diversity

One last topic that found its way to me is diversity in tech communities. The numbers don’t look particularly good, so I tried to find ways to get this improved. This lead to helping Tiffany to get We Are All Awesome set up, start our diversity-friendly Call for Papers for JSConf EU and the result that we were able to organically get 25% women speakers, an absolute novelty for hardcore tech conferences.

More importantly though is that we inspired many more events to follow in our footsteps, improve on what we did and share the results. I lost count of how many conferences took after us, but is easily 20+. The resulting cultural change is immense. I couldn’t be more proud of that.


I want to make sure I can continue to do this work and I hope I can inspire more people to do the same in the way that works best for them. In terms of work, I want to be able to work on things that matter and get paid fairly, but also not over-do it. Leave enough time to work outside of work.

To that end, I am doing three things:

The Node Firm is a complementary company to the Node.js open source project. A collaboration of professionals to support the open source projects in areas it can’t provide itself.

The Couch Firm is exactly that, but for CouchDB. It is early days, I’ll keep you posted.

Hoodie is a thing to be revealed at a later time, but it is not exactly a secret, if you know where to look.


2013 looks mighty exciting from where I am sitting.

I can’t wait to get started!