Ep. 170 Building developer communities with Codu Founder Niall Maher
Niall Maher: Hey, everyone, it's Niall from Codu here, and welcome to the MongoDB podcast. Today, we're going to talk about InnerSource and building community.
Shane McAllister: Welcome to the MongoDB Podcast. I'm Shane McAllister, and as ever, whether you're a regular subscriber or a brand new listener, we're glad to have you tune in and join us. In this episode, we meet Niall Maher and we talk about InnerSource, which was a new term for me, but essentially InnerSource is a software development strategy that applies open source practices to proprietary company code. InnerSource can help establish an open source culture within an organization whilst retaining software purely for internal use. In addition to discussing InnerSource, we'll also hear about building communities. Niall is the founder of Codu, a supportive community space for coders and developers that's going from strength to strength. Speaking of spaces for coders and developers, do you know that our MongoDB. local series of events has started and is coming to over 30 cities globally this year? To learn more about where and where our. local events are happening, visit mongodb. com/ events to find out more and perhaps join us in person at a MongoDB. local event near you. With that, let's get on with the show. Niall, you're very welcome to the MongoDB podcast. It's great to have you. Why don't you, for our audience, introduce yourself and tell us who you are and what you do, and we'll delve a little bit into your background before we talk about the main topic of this podcast, for me anyway, is about the Codu community that you're building.
Niall Maher: Thanks for having me on, Shane. I am the founder of a community called Codu. That is, I guess, the reason we're talking and the reason we met Shane, at meetup that I did over in MongoDB as well. I am also the InnerSource leader for a company called Marsh McLennan. Codu, and I guess the reason we're talking today, is a community I'm trying to build and a platform I'm trying to build with our community to try and help connect coders to other coders and to help more people get into coding and teach people software fundamentals for free as well. We're early in that journey, but we're having a lot of fun building it up as we're going.
Shane McAllister: Excellent. As you say, we met at one of the meetups we ran in the MongoDB office in Dublin, and it was fortuitous to meet you and I appreciate me ringing your arm to get you to join the podcast with us, but I think you have a really interesting story. Before we get into the meat of Codu, talk to me a little bit about the day job with Marsh McLennan, because I understand part of that is Atlas is used for part of the tech stack in Marsh McLennan.
Niall Maher: We actually have a huge push to move a lot of our stuff to Atlas because it's reliable. Our disaster recovery crew love using Atlas just simply because they don't have to worry about the scaling. We, until very recently, were a very traditional on- premise set up. Now that we've finally seen the light and running to cloud services and things and see that we don't have to manage everything for ourselves, we're getting a whole new world of tools and solutions that we can use that just mean our DR team don't have to be available on the weekends. As you can imagine, if they can inaudible Atlas and it just scales automatically and it doesn't fall over, that's making them very happy.
Shane McAllister: For the audience who may not know who Marsh McLennan is, who are they and what do they do?
Niall Maher: Marsh McLennan are an insurance company that basically own a lot of other companies as well. A lot of people would've heard of Mercer, Marsh, Oliver Wyman, Guy Carpenter, they're all companies that sit under our Marsh McLennan umbrella, so it is a parent group to possibly a thousand more companies. I really can't tell how many companies we own at this stage. The acquisition rate is crazy and it's just funny to be in such a large company and not a lot of people have even heard of them as well. Even myself up to the interview, I had not heard of them until I went searching. I was like, " Wow, this is a really big company that I had never heard of."
Shane McAllister: Your role, you mentioned InnerSource there at the beginning. What's the day- to- day role then for you now?
Niall Maher: InnerSource is one of those new sexy buzzwords that pops up in the industry as we're used to when we hear things like serverless and all that kind of good stuff. It's just a marketing term to describe open source inside an enterprise environment and why that's useful for a company like Marsh McLennan is, as I alluded to, we have over a thousand companies under our umbrella, but all of those companies operate independently as well. So it's taking, say, open source strategies and applying them inside the enterprise so we can share our software among the companies and have people contribute across different business units and parts of the company to help people get exposure to things they're not normally getting exposure to, but also so they're not reinventing the wheel every single time they need to build something new.
Shane McAllister: I love that approach. I suppose obviously you're doing it for complexity and cost reductions and scale, if Marsh McLennan has acquired all of these other companies, and I would imagine they all came with their own systems before that acquisition, so this is a pretty tough job I would imagine, in trying to apply that thinking, that methodology across all of these companies.
Niall Maher: It's fun because the impact is huge and I guess that's what gets me excited about or why I decided that this was a role I was interested in is when I step back and I just try to think about the scale of how many companies and how many people this impacts, it was like, " Oh, that's exciting." I know for a lot of people they'd be like, " I'm not touching that because if it falls over, it's my fault." For me, it was a case of, " Oh, if that falls over, it's my fault. That's right." So I just decided I'll throw myself at it and see where we get as well, and it's been going pretty successfully so far. It's a slow process because you're fundamentally trying to change the culture from the ground up, inaudible a top- down approach. Obviously I get support from our execs and everything else, but really you're fundamentally changing how people deliver software or even how they plan software as well. It takes a big balance being like the technical work and then the social work and community building work to try and connect people to think and talk and just trust each other enough to rely on each other's software. I think all of us that work in software companies, especially large ones, will know that people always are like, " My software's way better so I won't use software from another team's." It's really just funny that we often just install packages off the internet, no problem, but when it's somebody we know, we're like, " No, their software's terrible." We're so unbiased to what's out in the wild, but not when it comes to people we know.
Shane McAllister: InnerSource was a new term to me before we were chatting. How prevalent is this in other organizations, in large organizations such as Marsh McLennan? Are other companies doing this as well too, trying to get this cross collaboration, this open source, an internal open source movement basically for want of a better word?
Niall Maher: It's getting more and more popular, and I think if you just search InnerSource, there's a load of free books and free resources on it and case studies and everything else. There's a great community I'm part of called InnerSource Commons, and they share a ton of resources on getting started with InnerSource for your company. A lot of companies don't even have a role like mine in it where they're just trying to ask people nicely to push it, so it's really cool that I get to do just full- time, just keep on pushing people to build more collaborative software basically from the start and build it in a way that is open source at its heart as well. I think you nice thing about InnerSource and working with it as well is the end goal is to actually go open source with a lot of stuff. We're taking companies that will be terrified of open source traditionally. We're an insurance company, risk is not our thing. Taking that kind of steps towards open source is huge for the company as well. We've already gotten over all the legal loopholes and everything else, so we're moving in the direction where we'll hopefully even start open sourcing things and not just inner sourcing it, and I think that kind of makes a full circle of why we call it InnerSource rather than open source for now.
Shane McAllister: That's fascinating because I know in the enterprise companies I've worked with before, there was a lot of reinventing the wheel and it's just everybody, as you say, trusting, I don't know, what we built ourselves and this kind of distrust of other things used by other arms of the company perhaps. As you said, the willingness to go and download something off the internet and use that as opposed to use something that somebody else has already made in the company. I think it's probably the guts of another podcast episode to talk about this InnerSource movement. I think there's an awful lot involved there. It's great to see. Part of the disaster recovery team you mentioned earlier use Atlas. You said you're traditionally on premise. To what scale have they been adopting it more recently?
Niall Maher: Nearly all of our new projects and by default we suggest two new projects that they use MongoDB.
Shane McAllister: I did not know that. This is not a plug, but it's great to hear.
Niall Maher: By default that is what we suggest people use because it gives the least amount of problems from what we've traditionally used as well. We are early in the journey. I think it started about six months ago on the shift to Atlas for a lot of stuff. We have a framework internally for getting apps up and running fast and to production fast. The default there right now is MongoDB and then you have to opt out for a PostgreS instance actually. We do a few pieces, but the one we recommend right now is MongoDB.
Shane McAllister: At some point, if you're six months into that journey, we'll have you back maybe to talk a little bit more, maybe some of the better apps and the nicer apps and the ones that you can talk about maybe inaudible.
Niall Maher: That's always the fun part, is what can we talk about these things? But we're getting better at that stuff as well. That's, I guess, my job, is to get us to be better at opening things up and being not terrified if we talk about an app that suddenly we've lost our competitive advantage, which is... in our weird industry, it's most likely untrue because our secret sauce is our actuaries and all the accountants and things behind the scenes that come up with the statistical models for all of our thinking and everything else. It's actually relatively easy to say what we're building because without the people, our software is useless.
Shane McAllister: I think that's always the case. The initial reaction is to protect everything, but in fact it is the people behind the software that's the most important secret sauce as you mentioned. I will get onto Codu shortly, but I think the journey of how you ended up at Marsh McLennan from a community perspective is really interesting from what you described to me when we met. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up with Marsh McLennan in this current role for you now.
Niall Maher: It was a bit of a curve ball. I only found out after I got the job, I got the job for a reason, because of my community. I thought it was because of my CV and background because previously to Marsh McLennan, I was a CTO and I was a head of product and I had very senior roles, so I assumed that's what was on paper that attracted them to interview me for the role. I only realized after a few months that people were shocked that I was actually technical. They thought I was just a community builder and that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to come in and build a big community. I only realized they just didn't look at my CV all that much. They just seen me making enough noise via Codu and building communities and stuff that I actually ended up getting the job via that. Since the role was connecting companies and people, they just wanted somebody that could come in and start connecting people and making people not hate their jobs really day to day. I was doing that because people show up to my events for free and it seemed to enjoy themselves, as you've seen yourself firsthand, so they thought maybe I could replicate some of that in a piece of the business for Marsh McLennan as well.
Shane McAllister: It's a fascinating path. I think sometimes people underestimate maybe the value of community building and participating in the community. I think COVID didn't help, I think it's a running theme in a lot of the podcasts I do was March 2020, the world changed dramatically, particularly for anybody who's used to being out in the community and running meetups and running events and speaking at events. I think that we're on the slow track back to that being the norm again now, which is brilliant to see. I, for one, love attending those type of events. The one thing that I think people are slightly reluctant going, " What's in it for me? What do I get out of this?" I think the way that you've demonstrated and will show with Codu now as well too is the serendipity, the things that you cannot measure about what you do outside of say your day job in the community, how you give back. We spoke about open source and that in itself is the largest community going is certainly amongst developers, everybody contributing to projects. I think the message I'm trying to say in this rambling intro is that I think if you're interested in a language, a platform, go out, seek your local community. If there isn't one, start an event, start a meetup, see what you can do because it really broadens the horizons and certainly that's... I seen what you've done with your own events. Bringing that back full circle now, Codu, tell me a little bit about Codu. What was the inception, what's it all about and what made you get started here?
Niall Maher: I'll probably bring it up, I'll start at the start and bring it up to where we are now because it's a pretty huge community here in Ireland now. I think it's the biggest coding community in Ireland at the moment, so that's pretty exciting. But it started originally as me going to a meetup, not feeling like I was learning and a lot of marketing heavy jargon and a lot of just discomfort when I went to a meetup and I thought maybe I could make something that's a little bit more fun and a little bit less taking itself seriously. That was the start. I decided I would start doing two hour software workshops on whatever topic I was interested in. So anything from service workers to... I actually do think we did a MongoDB workshop way back when as well. That's about four or so, four or five years ago now. What would happen was we would have beer taps as well very close by. So it was semi workshop, semi drinking with everybody else as well in it. It was a lot of fun.
Shane McAllister: I like that. That sound good.
Niall Maher: But that was usually between 10, 15 people and the 10 and 15 people has obviously drastically increased since then over the first couple of years of doing it, and it was COVID that was my launchpad, which is weirder than most people. An offline community, how does that grow online? That was just because I had gotten some nice equipment to record my meetups so that I could share afterwards. COVID hit and I just decided, " You know what? I'll do some of these online, I'll do some YouTube videos and live workshops online and invite people from other countries who wouldn't have normally been able to actually give a talk or a workshop on these events."
Shane McAllister: So there was a bit of a widening of the parameters of Codu because you now, like everybody else, was forced online, so you were no longer had that physical constraint anymore.
Niall Maher: Yeah, and I basically had zero social presence online before that. I was an in- person... I still am a major proponent in saying there's nothing better than being in... So I wasn't a social media guy, I just had to become one to stay connected over COVID and I also just wanted to share with the community. It was starting to grow a little bit right before COVID hit and I was really sad to start seeing just be wiped out by this. Like any product person, you just have to figure out how to pivot and roll with the punches. We went to YouTube and it seemed to grow pretty successfully because over the first couple of years of COVID we had 10,000 subscribers and I wasn't doing it all that consistently to say the least of it, but it was getting the traction that had people a little bit more excited about it. But then after COVID, I didn't realize that everyone already knew about this community and was really excited to jump back in as soon as we started doing in- person events again.
Shane McAllister: What do you bring from the online space back into the in- person? If I go to Codu online at the moment, what do I see? What's there? How do I get involved?
Niall Maher: So right now we have the platform that we're building. We have an open source platform that the community started building probably six, seven months ago to just better represent and better teach people how to code and make a better community feel for things. If you go to codu. co, you'll find our website and you can sign up and get a free invite to our Discord, which has 1500 developers at the moment. Then you will also get access to the writing platform that we've built as well. All open source as well, so people can go and have a look and tinker around with the technologies and mess around with it. But that is where we're at right now, but where we're trying to get that platform to be is in a free education for teaching people to code for free. Quincy's free code camp inaudible like that as well. We just want to make information accessible to people and easy for people to pick up these new trades and tricks. Because I'm self- taught, so I really do feel like it's an amazing career you can get into with so much free knowledge out there and I just would like to be part of that teaching environment as well.
Shane McAllister: I had it on a previous podcast with another guest about developers, I think, are akin to the musicians or the arts communities as well insofar as we love to help each other. We love to see each other learn, we love to see each other grow and I think of any industry, I don't see that elsewhere. You don't necessarily see the same sort of levels of support. To see the community such as you've been building and see it grow is incredible. How much of your time is involved in managing this and is there anybody else involved with you now? You started it, but have you got others to help you out and manage this growing community?
Niall Maher: Yes, I don't put time on it. I bet I would get shocked if I figured out how much time I spend on these things. It's fun, I enjoy it. I love meeting people, I enjoy helping people. It's very rewarding. I would say it's a part- time job on top of everything else to be honest, but some weeks obviously busier than others. If I'm putting on an event, it's going to be busier than not putting on an event or if I'm doing online workshops for people or even just contributing to the code base. I guess it has its highs and lows for time commitments. I also have an ex- MongoDB staff that helps me out with the community. Carolina Cobo also runs and helps me run the events here in Dublin and runs the Codu Her cohort as well. So we have the all female cohort that we have running now as well and that's growing because we found there wasn't a lot of women coming to our events and people can't see me on the screen. I am a developer, I am a white bearded man, so I am as far from the diverse people that some people are looking for as the inaudible of these things. Carolina is Spanish. She was a technical recruiter in MongoDB and has taught herself to code over COVID and started to build this phenomenal group of women inside the community as well. Now we have a lot of women showing up to the events, which in turn brings more women because they see there's big space for them to be represented at these things as well.
Shane McAllister: I think that's really important. I think the representation is crucial to the success, the variety of people, the variety of presenters, the variety of speakers, et cetera. You have one really interesting... I mean, you've got a few house rules on your website, but one of the really interesting ones was Give More than You Take. I really like that. It, to me, sums up community. How have people taken to when you see them come on the platform, is it the usual kind of they're lurking for a while and they're getting some help? Do you see a timeline between they start to give more after a time? When they've received the help that the community have given them, they're starting to give back?
Niall Maher: Yeah, I would still say about 95% of our members are lurkers, and that's okay because a lot of people just want to see what's going on and they're just curious about what's being taught or what people are talking about. I think that's a perfectly fine way of learning as well. But I think when you are going in and starting to inject yourself into places, if all you're doing is asking questions and only taking time from people as well, I think that can be a very tough barrier to break as well. But usually it comes from people jump in, ask some questions, get really good help, and then the next person comes along and asks a similar- ish question and that person will come in in turn and start going, " Oh, actually I just learned about this recently. It was really helpful to me. Here's what I did", et cetera, and " You should talk to such a person who helped me in here with this thing." It's little things like that. I don't keep a scorecard for people in case you're panicking before you come in. It's like, " I've answered one question, now I have points to ask another question." It's just a general philosophy of mine that community is gardening in a sense where you have to grow your garden before you can consume the vegetables or plants from your garden.
Shane McAllister: I love that.
Niall Maher: If you just start taking and grabbing too early, you're just going to be eating seeds and if you take from it too ferociously, you're going to be left with an empty garden as well. You have to time what you're taking to make sure that it's always plenty. It takes patience and I think that's the only way I could really describe it to people because everyone just wants to be a successful community builder or part of a community overnight and it just doesn't happen.
Shane McAllister: It takes a lot of patience and if you wanted to be an overnight success, you would never get started or it would be all started for the wrong reasons. But you're obviously a platform for developers. Are they asking about all languages, all tech, or are you seeing niches in bubbles? Are you at the cusp of something becoming more viral or more prevalent and what do you generally see that surprises you on the Codu community today?
Shane McAllister: Exactly. You've got this knowledge, but you keep needing to refresh and keep learning in that knowledge because the landscape is forever changing. Has the community been successful in matchmaking with anybody in terms of teaming up for projects or people getting together to build something?
Niall Maher: Well, our community platform's open source and we have, I think, 25 or six contributors from the community already.
Shane McAllister: So the platform itself is demonstrating this level of collaboration?
Niall Maher: Yeah, and we're trying to build out even a course to teach people how to contribute to open source properly. We have a beginner's project there as well, which is just markdown for people that are so afraid of the code or that they can just learn the process in a way that's very difficult to mess up really. We are trying to get more people into that kind of spirit of things, especially people who are struggling to get their first job and things. I think it's a very useful way to just stand out is to contribute open source and you just don't realize how even the smallest contributions can really make you stand out above 95% of other people because 95 or 99% of software developers I know never contribute to open source. So all of a sudden it's a really big thing to just see on somebody's profile that they're able to contribute or they've worked with random strangers on the internet. That's something I really like to push people to do.
Shane McAllister: I think, for me, when I'm hiring developers and have been over the years, yes it's knowledge and it's experience, but predominantly actually what I look for is aptitude and attitude. I think for people contributing on open source, that's shows a certain attitude towards continuous learning, collaboration, helping people out, just generally being inquisitive. I think that's what sets some developers apart too. We are an inquisitive bunch. We like to look under the hood, see how things work, and there's no better under the hood than open source.
Shane McAllister: I think it's fascinating how far things have come. I used to dabble in web development 20 odd years ago and back then it was right click and view source was your stack overflow. Basically find a nice website, go and see how they did it. But the tools and the communities and everything that we have now is makes that collaboration, that information sharing much better. You'll tune into any of the large tech companies events these days, it's all AI, AI. What does the community, what do you think about AI? Essentially we don't need developers anymore. The AI can do everything for us. Thoughts, Niall?
Niall Maher: I love every other post on Twitter and LinkedIn now is" Top 10 tools you're missing on ChatGPT" or AI or whatever it is. It's fantastic. I use it in my workflow. We have built it into our workflows even in my day job. We have already figured out how to do it in a safe manner that does not leak all of our data. It's really cool. It's such a powerful tool when used right as well. I don't see it replacing people because the problem is you're probably going to need even better developers because you're getting all this code and all this help and you don't know if it's true or not. I always like to explain to people that these large language models are like a drunk uncle. They're very confident in telling you the wrong answers. They're very confident.
Shane McAllister: I'm going to quote you on that one. I'm going to use that in a presentation.
Niall Maher: You just don't know whether it's true or not. It will confidently tell you it knows everything and it is the right thing and until you go trying it, " You're like, wait a minute, that doesn't make any sense. That doesn't work. That's not how this thing goes." It's fascinating because a lot of the time it's right, but it's also fascinating how confidently wrong it is as well. You just don't know. If you're just pasting in pieces and you're like, " Done," that kind of works. You don't know whether there's security vulnerabilities, you don't know whether there's any of these other issues that might pop up with it. I think it's a powerful tool to help us even start thinking. It's like having a research assistant beside you the whole time. That's the way I look at it is it's just powerful assistance that I can just go out to the internet in a sense and just grab me information, help me kickstart a thinking process of how would I achieve X and it will give me some solutions to X and I can go and then dive in deeper into those solutions and say, " What am I missing here or not missing?" It's been boosting my productivity hugely for figuring out how to solve problems, but the implementation details, they're a bit sporadic, they're a bit wild. Especially since software moves so fast, all of the docs are usually based on pre 2021, I think, data.
Shane McAllister: Yes, yes.
Niall Maher: I've been using it for infrastructure stuff with Amazon CDK recently, and it's all really old versions of CDK that I'm getting, so it's not right, but it points me in the right direction. It's like, " Ah, now I know there is something that does this thing that I'm looking for at least, and then I can go and look for the docs."
Shane McAllister: So it's laying the breadcrumbs for you, it's pulling together the numerous Google searches you would've done beforehand and laying the breadcrumb so that you can go down and get into the nitty- gritty quicker perhaps.
Niall Maher: Yeah, exactly. I think it's going to be a productivity tool rather than a ... I'm sure there will be some jobs, people will be innovative, like no code and low- code solutions that will help leverage this to make phenomenal setups, but as we continue to innovate, it won't have the answers to the new things that we build. It only has answers to the things we have done. So what do you do when you want to innovate and our oracle suddenly doesn't have the answer?
Shane McAllister: Until, of course, it becomes sentient altogether and doesn't need to have the answers to things we've already done.
Niall Maher: But then we'll be in a human zoo and we won't be worrying about it. They'll probably keep us drugged up nicely, something like the Matrix and we'll be fine. Just don't unplug me, please.
Shane McAllister: So better developers, better performing developers. I do agree with that. Beware of the drunk uncle syndrome. Most definitely in my uses of it today, there's a few times where you're scratching your head going, " Really? No, I don't think that's correct." But I think it's incredibly interesting and also to me it's brought the conversation about maybe developers and things to the fore because of it's been in the media so much. I think in the past everybody consumes tech all of the time. You're stuck to your laptop, you're on your phone, you're consumers of tech. We had some transition year students, which are like 16 year old students, come into the company. When I did a straw poll, I'd say less than 10% actually coded. These are people whose lives are purely digital and it'll be really interesting to see what this space holds for them back in the day. But I totally agree. I think there'll be different jobs, different roles. It's exactly the same way as, I think, Apple had their event yesterday. They were saying it's 15 years since the app store. The work that I did doesn't exist unless there was an app store. So AI and everything else that's going to bring, it's just a new frontier and we just need to figure out how to navigate through that as well too.
Niall Maher: And bring people on that journey as well because that's the only thing that concerns me about all this is people are happier and happier to be ignorant of what things are doing under the hood. It does it, so why do I need to worry about it? It's because you want to know whether it's true or false or if you can rely on something or all of the other things or just so if it gets turned off that you still know how to think. That's the whole thing. We're getting more and more reliant on technology as a society, so I think more and more people should be a well aware of how our society is being run in general and just thinking about this. Obviously people listening to this podcast are the people who are like, " Ah, I'm superior, I can think inaudible," but I'm trying to get more people and it's a big part of my community is to say it wasn't a career for me. I was selling fine wines before I got into software.
Shane McAllister: Interesting pivot. Interesting.
Niall Maher: I definitely did a flip on where I was coming from and I never thought I would be smart enough to get into this industry, let alone to an executive level in this industry. That's why I just think it's great to give people confidence that they can learn this stuff if they're patient and curious enough as well.
Shane McAllister: I think curious is the key thing, and going back to why I think developers are the same as musicians, and any artist in many respects, because there's that curiosity that's always prevailing. You meet the good developers. As you said, they don't delineate between the day job and their hobbies. It's the same thing most of the time for them. Yes, they have to do something to earn some money during the day perhaps, but they're still using tools, using code and developing and just for their own interests, for their own knowledge and their own growth. I think it's amazing to see communities come together around that and to foster that. As you said, since COVID, most people working remotely, working online, you can become very insular and some developers are utterly introverts, some developers are extroverts. It really depends and I think it's almost important that we try and bring all of these people together in a scenario. So you run events for Codu as well, or bring together events. How often do they happen and what sort of shape do they take?
Niall Maher: We run them every month. We try to, but I do, I would say... I run two meetups in Dublin. I run the React community meetup and the Codu meetups and I run the Codu meetups inaudible that the React meetup is not running at the moment. There is always an event. If you are following any of our stuff, you'll always find an event every month where you can go hang out and get free pizza and beer. That's the main thing for people. Forget the knowledge.
Shane McAllister: Always a good draw.
Niall Maher: We're all curious until it says free pizza and beers and that's how curious I am now. We try to do that every month and it's fantastic. I think the online aspect as well is a way of keeping people connected between the sessions as well and where real friendships are made as well. I have a lot of friends I've made via the online aspect that I didn't even realize I had met in person or had not met in person. Your own Jesse, codeSTACKr, for instance, is a friend of mine.
Shane McAllister: Jesse Hall.
Niall Maher: Yeah, Jesse. When Carolina was recruiting in there, I referred Jesse in to as a good candidate for yourselves and the DevRel space because of-
Shane McAllister: We'd be forever indebted for that reference. Jesse's great. If you want to find Jesse's content, go on YouTube. He's superb.
Niall Maher: Yeah, he's phenomenal. He's a all around great person. I got to meet him for the first time in person a few months back and we went out and had a great time as well. He is as humble and decent in person as the persona online as well. I guess because we see a glimpse of people through these videos and episodes of his podcast, you'll only see a glimpse of somebody. It's really nice when you get to meet somebody in a flesh afterwards and say, " Oh, you're just like I thought you'd be." Sometimes that's nice. Sometimes it's great to just have that picture and it fits. I do think it's a balance of the in person and then the staying connected with people afterwards as well. I really will never be able to tell which I'm more grateful for, having the huge online community, which is always ticking, big bursts of in- person. But I guess the big bursts in person are when the friendships start to shake out and connect people as well.
Shane McAllister: When I met you at the React Native meetup, somebody came up while we were chatting with the Codu T- shirt on and you pointed and said, " Ah, you got the T- shirts." I inquired as to how do you get the T- shirt and you said you have to write six articles. On the Codu website, you have an article section, it's pretty prolific. There's a number of posts each day, mostly. Tell us about that and I love the gamification of start making your contributions. Developers will do anything for swag, so I think it's really good to push that out there. Tell us about the articles page on your website because it seems, as I said, pretty prolific and a lot of content there.
Niall Maher: We only started doing articles about 10 weeks ago and we have about 300 articles I think at this stage, which is crazy. That wasn't just due to this challenge, but I realized let's try and get people on to test the platform. We're so basic at the time now, you can't even upload images to the site right now. It's so simple. It's just a markdown editor that you can add articles to. It looks shiny, but the actual pieces itself are very immature and we're working on things all the time. I knew I might have to push some people to just give it a shot or to try and kind of give me some feedback on it, so I came up with the idea of mystery swag bags for people who are consistent at writing. The mystery is key. Everyone knows what's in them now, but I still call them mystery swag bags. We have a challenge where if you write an article a week for six weeks, I personally send you out a little swag bag. People can't see me on the podcast, but you'll probably see the mess of jumpers and cardboard boxes behind me here as well.
Shane McAllister: That's the mystery swag.
Niall Maher: That's the mystery swag. I have stickers and everything everywhere that I'm just constantly filling up little bags and posting out to people as well. It is very personalized. I don't make money off Codu I've been losing money on Codu for years. I just want to incentivize people to give back to the community and teach people as they're going and give them the confidence to build stuff as well. But that incentive has really worked well because it's weird seeing some people wearing these T- shirts in the wild now as well. Even you going, " Hey, how did he get that? I want one of those."
Shane McAllister: That's it. I'll have to write six articles. Now I know what I need to do. Tell us about the next steps or your growth plans for Codu. Where are you off to next with this? Is it a geographical thing? In other words, go do this in other countries or is it building out different communities or fostering this that you can go and create a community using this platform that we're building yourselves?
Niall Maher: There's a couple of approaches that we're tackling at the moment. We'd love to expand to different countries. I'd love to be doing one in Spain as well and that's just because Spain is awesome and the food there and the beer there is awesome. So if I had a community there, I'd really enjoy to be tipping over there once a month. That would be really-
Shane McAllister: Two of the developer relations team, Diego and Jorge, in MongoDB are based in Spain. I'm sure they'd help you out in that challenge.
Niall Maher: Especially the finding beers and tapas. I'm hoping they might be able to help me out on those kind of things.
Shane McAllister: You wouldn't have to search very hard to find them in Spain.
Niall Maher: No, that's for sure.
Shane McAllister: They're pretty much everywhere.
Niall Maher: There and even India, I would love to have some cohorts as well to connect people. That is on the plans, but I've realized recently that costs much more money than I'm able to personally pour into these things. Right now we're in some sort of sales mode where we're going out and seeking sponsors to support us to go and connect people as well and pay for the events and speakers and things like that so that we can have it set up and running at a very consistent pace. Right now we're just trying to go back to roots and really make sure that a consistency aspect is there and that we have the cash coming in to make sure that the community is supported in the way I think it should be anyway going forward. The plan is get sponsors for events and things and then just see if we can expand. The expansion will first start here in Ireland where I hope to get more events across Ireland, not just Dublin. I would rather see it in every corner of Ireland that we are able to do events to start and then once we have those kind of things in place, we know we'll be able to scale it because it'll be a small microcosm of what do we do when we're in a new location and expand.
Shane McAllister: So you're tried and tested and proven here before you roll out into other territories, but certainly... and we have a large community in India in MongoDB and it's certainly a massive challenge. The size and the scale of everything over there dwarfs... Ireland is a microcosm test bed basically if you're going that route. India, it'll blow your mind.
Niall Maher: Yeah, it's a little bit different. There's more people on the roads in India than there are in Ireland from what I've seen when I've been in Mumbai and Bangalore and all these places. It seems to be a lot more hectic than I'm used to, especially when I grew up in a village of 100 people. When you go to somewhere like India, it blows your mind with how many people can just exist, to be honest.
Shane McAllister: Totally. The call is out there for if anyone's listening to this podcast and does want to get involved in Codu as a sponsor and to help out Niall and the team in this ambition, please do. I know we are more than... we do the pizzas and beer stuff on MongoDB at the moment for you sometimes and we're quite happy to maybe get stuck in another other thing, so we'll see as well too to help you build the community.
Niall Maher: We absolutely do sponsored content as well for teaching people. That is a part of the strategy of building out the platform and teaching as well as to create free education for people and hopefully get the companies involved who are trying to help us shape the content as well. Because it is open source, it is community driven and I think there's no better people to learn off than the companies who are building this great tech as well. Your yourselves, for instance, have a phenomenal education platform as well, and I think it's so underutilized. It blows my mind how underutilized that is as a service for people that are trying to learn MongoDB.
Shane McAllister: We revamped our university totally back in November, so six months ago, and we ungated it. You can jump into it without registering. Obviously if you register, you get your learning path and everything else involved too. But we wanted to reduce the barriers simply and like that, I suppose, our team, my team, the DevRel team, we spend a lot of time creating content on YouTube as well for just getting out there, getting the reach across different platforms. Plus we spend a lot of time streaming across all the various platforms too. We suffer the same issues that everybody else in software world suffers. You want to get people confident and familiar with your products and your platforms and you do that by doing and showing, I think, more so than... docs are great and our docs team do a superb job, but developers are impatient and lazy. They just want to get in and get start messing with the code. So anything that we can do to help that, like that we have a large community of our own mongodb. com and we have a team of triage engineers in there and product managers in there helping people respond to questions quickly just to ease the path and get up and running most definitely. Before we leave it, I think this is an amazing arc, the fact that through your online presence, you ended up in the day job. The day job is involving getting an open source mentality within an organization, this InnerSource that you talk about, and then on top of that, Codu. Tell us a little bit before we go, if somebody's inspired by this and maybe once to do not Codu in another country, but maybe it might be, want to start a community, what lessons do you have for them now?
Niall Maher: I gave a talk on this last week, funny enough, and I've seen one community pop up since, which is really cool. The thing I always tell people is to just start. It's the hardest thing. Don't overthink it. I think this is just our engineering brains might kick in if we overanalyze. " We have to have this, we have to have the fanciest everything." No, just start it. Just create a little thing. If it's two or three people that come together and to start, that's huge. That's how I started. It was just two or three people in a room having a few beers talking about tech and it's grown from there. But it took years of doing that. I think the biggest thing is to just start and put yourself out there. It won't start until you really and truly put yourself out there and commit that you're going to do this for quite a long time. Don't get too hung up on metrics and numbers and all those awful things that make us feel like we're not progressing. I've had dips in attendance and things over the years as well, and it made me question things for a while and then I just snapped my senses. I was like, " Wait a minute, if even five people or even two people I'm helping out of all this I'm really helping through all this, it's worth it." But the ego in me was like, " Oh no, but I want 100 people, I want 200 people. I want all the people." Who am I to demand that as well at the end of the day? I just want to be able to help somebody on their journey as well. You have to really go back to the core, " Why are you doing this to begin with?" If it's to have more fun and make more friends, which was it for me, then just stick with making more friends and having fun. Just don't over complicate these things.
Shane McAllister: I love it. Start a community to have more friends and have more fun. I think that's probably a really good way to sign off on this. For people who want to get involved in Codu, where do they go?
Niall Maher: Codu. co. C- O- D- U. C. O. That's our landing page at the moment and you'll find us... if you sign up there, you'll get an invite to our Discord and you can connect with us, but you can connect with me, Niall Maher, M- A- H- E- R is my surname. Actually, I should probably put spell my first name. Your Irish, so you will know my name. Everyone outside of Ireland gets confused with my name. So Niall, N- I- A- L- L. I always say pronounced like the river. Does not make sense when I actually read it. I agree with everyone that's listening and says, " That makes no sense", but you can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I'm always open into helping people as well. Whether it's community related questions or just career questions, I just love seeing people evolve and grow. So please don't be a stranger, connect with me and I'll happily help you.
Shane McAllister: Excellent. With that, Niall Maher, thank you very much for joining us on the MongoDB podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting to you.
Niall Maher: Ah, thanks for having me.
Shane McAllister: It was great to hear the arc of Niall's career and how his work in community led him to his current role. From witnessing events run by Niall firsthand, I can only imagine Codu becoming bigger and bigger. We wish him all the success with that. If you're in Ireland, go to codu. co and join in, and if you're not in Ireland but are inspired by the Codu story, reach out to Niall and who knows? Perhaps you can start a Codu community in your own country. The InnerSource movement is also really interesting and I think we'll certainly have to devote a future episode to that alone, so watch this space. As ever, if you enjoy our podcast, please don't forget to subscribe and also leave a review wherever you get your podcast. We really appreciate it. So from me, Shane McAllister, and the rest of the podcast team, until next time, do take care and thanks for listening.
In this episode, we meet Niall Maher and talk about InnerSource, which is a software development strategy that applies open source practices to proprietary code. InnerSource can help establish an open source culture within an organization while retaining software for internal use. In addition to discussing innersource, we’ll also hear about building communities. Niall is the founder of Codu, a supportive community space for coders and developers that’s going from strength to strength
Join Codu - https://www.codu.co/
Learn about Innersource - https://innersourcecommons.org/
Follow Niall on Twitter - https://twitter.com/nialljoemaher
Follow Shane on Twitter - https://twitter.com/Shaneymac
Check out a MongoDB .Local event near you - https://www.mongodb.com/events/mongodb-local