Chad Pytel is the CEO of thoughtbot, and was recently interviewed on Founders Talk with Adam Stacoviak.
I was particularly interested in this interview, not only because I admire the great work of thoughtbot, but because Chad's career path is remarkably similar to my own. We are the same age, and graduated college at about the same time. We both went to work for a healthcare billing company doing information systems right out of school. He then started thoughtbot, I began building websites and freelancing.
Comparing my little web development shop with thoughtbot is totally absurd; a bit like comparing Little League baseball to the Majors. We're both playing the same game, but at completely different levels. However, listening to Chad talk about building thoughtbot was incredibly insightful and made me realize how much room I have for improvement. Seeing the level at which the best in the game perform is enlightening and motivating. It's important to reflect on why someone with essentially the same skill set and career start has been so much more successful.
Clearly, thoughtbot has benefited from the success of Rails. Being an early adopter, they quickly became an authority on what would turn out to be the hottest technology around. Perhaps there was a bit of luck in the choice to adopt Rails, but they put themselves in position to be lucky by recognizing a great thing and making the most of the presented opportunity.
I love that thoughtbot is comprised of nearly 100% designers and developers. Other disciplines, when needed, are outsourced. They know what they're doing and they do it very well. I love that they don't have different levels of developers. You either fit in with their methodology and ideology, or you don't. You either have the skills to work for them, or you don't.
The best development shops have an opinion, a point-of-view, with regard to both technology and process. The classic example is 37 Signals, clearly an opinionated company, and widely revered. It was satisfying to hear Chad mention Jason Fried of 37 Signals towards the end of the interview as someone he looks up to. The whole interview I had been thinking about how similar Chad sounds to Jason - the deep and clearly considered way they think about problems, process, and the industry. How they form that strong opinion but are always looking to refine and re-evaluate.
I'd love to work at a place where developers are always trying to improve, both individually and as a team. I'd like to work where pair programming is valued, where code reviews are seen as a valuable tool rather than punishment, where TDD goes without saying. I'd love to work with developers that think about their craftsmanship.
The problems that thoughtbot solves aren't that different than what I solve on a daily basis. After all, it's all just web development at the core. However, they certainly think about the problems at a deeper level, from software patterns and principles, to redefining testing, to the meaning of open-source contributions.
Thanks, Chad, and the great team at thoughtbot, you've encouraged me to keep putting in the effort every day to become a better developer. To continue down that never ending path of craftsmanship. Perhaps one day, I'll have the chops to land a position at thoughtbot, or better yet, grow Enlightened Pixel to give you a run for your money.
Written by Alex Brinkman who lives and works in Denver, but plays in the mountains.