In our seventh episode, Alex and Kelly talk about life, learning, journeys into the tech world, and the beauty of open-source software.
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Alex: Hi, I’m Alex Noonan, and this is Yeti Village, a podcast by Last Call Media where we interview people in and around the tech community.
[bright, upbeat electronic music]
Alex: In this, our seventh episode of Yeti Village, I will be talking to Kelly McCabe. Kelly is a Senior Developer with Last Call Media, and an all-around badass lady.
Alex: I feel like I haven’t spoken to you in a long time, even though I just saw you. Just gonna talk a little bit about you, and just about what you’ve been up to at Last Call, and also in your own life, doing your own thing. Why don’t you just take a couple of minutes to introduce yourself.
Kelly: Sure, I am a Senior Developer at Last Call Media. I’ve been there, I think if my anniversary hasn’t passed already, it’s coming up for six years?
Alex: Yes, oh my gosh, I saw that on the calendar too, and I was like, “I have to bring that up,” according to the calendar your anniversary is tomorrow.
Kelly: Oh, it’s tomorrow! I know, I was like, “I think it’s some time around this time of year.”
Kelly: Yep, six years! Yeah, it’s been a good six years, I have enjoyed it quite a bit. I actually never anticipated I would be doing this, if you had asked me probably when I was nineteen or twenty, if this is what I would be doing I probably wouldn’t have believed you and I wouldn’t have said that this is something that I would do. But yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy programming a lot, I enjoy it primarily just because I enjoy any sort of problem-solving, puzzling, anything like that. I’m based out of Northampton, I’m about… five blocks from our main office, but, never there, always working from home. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.
Alex: Cool, yeah… so what do you… I know I know but, we’re talking to the people now. So what do you do at Last Call?
Kelly: Like I said, Senior Developer… I work on right now… for about a year now I’ve been working on the mass.gov site and my role over there is just to support their Drupal site and just fixing various things over on that end. It seems like primarily what I do for their Drupal support is anything that involves dealing with large amounts of content… anything that involves fixing that, and then queuing it up to be reprocessed. Right now I’m working on a migration from Workbench moderation to Core content moderation, been working on that for a little bit… just supporting mass.gov’s Drupal site with a couple of other people from our… Last Call’s team. But primarily I’m the only Drupal person… the only person doing Drupal on mass.gov right now.
Alex: How’s that been? I mean, like you said, it’s been about a year now… maybe over a year now?
Alex: I think prior to that were you kind of on the SLA team?
Kelly: I did SLA for a little bit. I was primarily doing new builds. I lead a team for new builds… one new build for UMFA, the Utah Museum of Fine Art… and prior to that yeah, just working with Jeff Landfried doing new builds under him until I kind of got my bearings to lead teams doing new builds and then I was put on mass.gov.
Alex: I know you had mentioned if someone had asked you when you were twenty if this is what you would be doing… I mean I often feel exactly the same way about myself but I’m just wondering can you… do you feel comfortable elaborating a little more on how you got to where you are now? What brought you here? I feel like everyone’s journey into tech can be a little unusual at times.
Kelly: Yeah, I think um… it wasn’t something I studied in college. I never actually went to college, I’m in school right now. And prior to that all throughout my childhood, when I was in high school and junior high, I wanted to be a doctor. Yeah… that’s kind of what I wanted to do, but I think my junior and senior year of high school I just kind of abandoned the idea and when I got out of high school I just went straight to working… I was kind of directionless, I guess.
Kelly: When I moved to Massachusetts from Los Angeles I worked… continued working in coffee shops, but it was just like… I couldn’t keep doing that, I couldn’t keep doing customer service like that, and I got a job at LeftClick fixing computers and working the front desk. And I had kind of as a hobby been doing programming, just like little things, and it was on my resume, just like as a thing. I was just like, I guess I do this, and it’s computer-y so I’ll put it there. But I got this call one day like three months into working at LeftClick and they were like, “Hey we’re looking for a Junior Developer do you want to interview for this?” And I was like, “Oh god, I shouldn’t have put that on my resume.” But, I went and interviewed and they hired me, initially I think it was just part-time, but after a couple weeks they were like, “Yeah you should just come and work up here and you can just work full-time as a Junior Developer.” And yeah, that was six years ago and that’s just what I’ve been doing.
Kelly: It was kind of funny, a couple of years back one of my friends from Los Angeles came out to Boston to audition at the Boston Conservatory for Grad School, he sang Opera.
Kelly: Yeah, he’s an amazing singer. And we met up for drinks in Boston and I told him I was a programmer and he was like, “WHAT!” He was just so shocked by this and he was just like, “No, No, you can’t be doing that, that’s so weird!” He was just so completely… like it blew his mind that that’s what I was doing. So apparently it’s not only me who would never have thought I would be doing this. It’s people I knew before I moved here as well.
Alex: A widely held belief.
Alex: That’s great, so what are you in school for now?
Kelly: I’m studying philosophy.
Alex: That’s awesome!
Kelly: I like to call it The Quintessential Useless Degree because every time I say that, inevitably someone is like, “Oh, why would you get a degree in that?”…’cause I like it! I really don’t hold a belief that you should only go to school to make money.
Alex: I also agree, as someone who went to art school. Yeah, I 100% agree with that.
Kelly: Right! I mean… I think it is important to like, nurture your soul a little bit. So come on.
Alex: Especially if you… as you currently are… you have a job already. It’s not like you’re looking for a career change. So, yeah absolutely… study whatever you want. Get that knowledge, you know. Feed your soul, as you said.
Kelly: Exactly, I think there’s way too much information out there for us to just be isolating ourselves to only the things that we think are going to get us money.
Alex: So true, so true. It’s funny that you mentioned wanting to be a doctor too, because I also had that notion when I was in high school. Freshman year, I was pretty sure I was going to go to school to be a physician’s assistant.
Alex: And then I was like, wait I can’t do math… so, nevermind.
Kelly: I think there’s like an alternate universe out there where we’re both doctors.
Alex: There must be, right? We got far enough on the path that, there’s definitely a universe where we went through with that.
Alex: And you are also artistic as well! I know you’ve shown me some of your drawings. I think on Company Day you mentioned a project that you were working on.
Kelly: I am, I’m currently… I read tarot. It’s more like a… for me it’s… I think a lot of people hear “tarot” and they immediately think someone trying to read their future, but for me it’s more like a self exploration thing. It’s, you get your cards and you use them as a means of self reflection. So I’ve been doing that for a little while and I decided to make my own deck, so that’s a project that I have been kind of been working on. I call it my stress relief project. It’s just kind of fun to draw them and I got really into digital media, and I have a little tablet and it’s kind of fun to just sit there and draw, and it gives me a chance to kind of explore different programs for drawing. I’m very into the free and open source programs, so I use Krita for drawing and then I’ll use Inkscape for SVG’s.
Alex: That’s awesome. I think it’s cool that you’re using open source drawing tools because we work in open source website software! Is there a connection there, or do you just feel really strongly about open source?
Kelly: I feel very strongly about open source. I use Linux, I use Gentoo, I just like… if I can find an open source alternative to any product that’s on the market, I use it. I just feel very, very strongly about anything being open sourced. I like the community aspect, I like the transparency aspect, there tends to be a lot more security involved in it because you have so many eyes on it at any given time. I just don’t like proprietary software. If I don’t have to use it, I won’t use it.
Alex: Yeah. That’s interesting. I mean I think I have a different perspective on it, now having worked at a shop that, you know, we do a lot of Drupal work, but I think amongst other people that I know, that are my friends, that aren’t in the tech sphere… I feel like open source software has sort of a bad rap as something that is gonna give your computer a virus, or something like that. It has a reputation for being untrustworthy, but it sounds like exactly the opposite.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s actually really interesting. I think it kinda gets that… it comes across that way because it looks a certain way. I think a lot of people look at it and they think, “That looks like Windows 95.” And when you have something that looks like that you tend to associate it with being like, a lower grade. And I can totally see that, absolutely. But I mean, if people were to look over my shoulder at my computer, at my screen, it’s literally just… the absolute bare minimum. I don’t even use a mouse, unless I’m in the browser. So, I don’t even have a desktop, everything is key commands, so I guess aesthetics for me aren’t really a thing, but I think it’s worth… there’s a lot of literature out there about open source and the security of it. And granted, in any sphere there’s gonna be programs that are not secure.
Alex: Oh, yeah I mean look at any Apple update. I mean, suddenly now there’s a whole thing about… they need to release an update to fix the fact that even if you don’t pick up a FaceTime call, people can hear you and possibly see you if they’re FaceTiming you, and it’s just things like that that I think it’s funny, that it’s like, okay, sure it looks really nice and it’s widely used, and so people are like, “Yeah this is great, this is fine,” and then something like… some open source drawing software comes along and people are like, “Well I’d rather use this paid program because—”
Kelly: A paid program that’s in the cloud! Like, that’s what I don’t understand.
Alex: Oh man, don’t even get me started on Adobe subscription fees.
Kelly: Uh, uh, man that irritated me so much, I’m like, “Where can I legally download CS5 because I’m just…”
Alex: So Chris is also a developer. So, I just need to ask, and you don’t have to answer if this is too… getting into territory that’s uncomfortable we can definitely change the topic. But, I’m curious about… how did you guys meet? Were you both developers at the same time, or did someone else influence the other person about like, “Hey you should get into this development thing.”
Kelly: Yeah, so the way we met is kind of a funny story, I’ll start there… I think it’s funny. So back when I still worked at Barnes and Noble café, my friend Paige… we both worked together at the time, and she… for like three months was trying to get me to meet this guy Chris. And I was like, “Nope. Don’t wanna meet him. Don’t wanna meet your friend. Don’t want to meet this guy.”
Kelly: One day I had a really, really terrible shift. It was just awful, I had this customer that was yelling at me and I had been, I cried, like bawled my eyes out it was awful, and she’s like, “You need to come over. And we’ll have wine, it will be great, we’ll just hang out.” And I was like, “Okay, fine.” So I go over to her place and we’re sitting there and someone pulls up into her driveway and she had said her roommates were out all night, so I’m like, “Who’s this person pulling into your driveway?” And then this guy walks in and she had been like sitting there giggling at her phone like the entire night and I’m like what is she doing… so this guy walks in and he immediately goes upstairs, and I’m like, “Paige who is this?”
Kelly: And she’s like, “Oh, that’s Chris.” I’m like, what are you doing?? Like who, what? So he comes back down and sits next to me on the couch and immediately pulls out his computer—
Kelly: And like, you know Chris, so you can totally picture him doing this, he just pulls out his computer and starts working.
Alex: Oh my god!
Kelly: I was like okay… Whatcha workin’ on?
Kelly: The next time I worked he came in and he had never come in before, I had never seen him at Barnes and Noble before. So I walk over and talk to him for a little bit, and I go on my break and we go out to the parking lot and talk a little bit more, and this keeps happening, he just keeps coming in every time I’m working. And I’m just like, “Okay, you know what, he’s never gonna say anything…” and I thought he was cute, so I thought, okay… So finally one day, like this… I was like before… I had like my two days off. I just like walked up to him like, “So what’re you doing later?” And so finally we actually went out.
Kelly: Yeah. It was like, maybe a month or two later after that, after we started actually dating, he… I was like, “I need to find a new job, I hate this job.” And I was looking for office reception jobs and I was telling him about that job at LeftClick and he was like, “You should apply there, you like computers, you like what I do,” cause he was already a programmer. And I was like, “I don’t know if I know enough about computers.” He’s like, “You already do some programming, like you should just do that,” and so he was the one who convinced me to apply for that job and when I got the call about interviewing for the developer position, I remember I went over to his apartment and I was so nervous, I started crying.
Kelly: I was so nervous… and he was like, “Why are you crying, they called you to interview, they obviously just want you to do this, it’s not a big deal.”
Kelly: He mostly, more than convincing me to do it, or like prodding me in one direction or the other, he like was just the moral support for it.
Kelly: But I am the one that convinced him to apply at Last Call.
Alex: I do remember that, yes. Yeah!
Kelly: But more than anything else he has been really good moral support.
Alex: That’s… I love that story… so much. I wanna like, film a reenactment of it and play it at Christmas, it’s amazing.
Alex: So what is something that… I know we talked a little bit about what you’re doing in your free time and your personal life and stuff, but what’s something coding-related… mass.gov or otherwise, that you’re working on right now?
Kelly: Ummm… I know that at one point I had talked about, I was writing a novel, and there’s this piece of software, an open source piece of software that you use to do outlining for writing, and every time I use it, there’s this one thing about it that, it really just irks me. You can’t, if you’re like trying—
Alex: [Laughing] Sorry, I’m getting really excited because every time I talk to a dev and they’re like, “I was using this thing and there was this one thing, that I was like, why does it do this,” and then they just come out with this amazing story about how they resolved this really difficult issue, like I’m sorry… I’m just… go ahead don’t let me interrupt… I’m really excited, go ahead.
Kelly: Oh god, I feel like I’m going to let you down now.
Alex: No, no, it’s going to be great.
Kelly: Well you can do like character outlines, and it just lets you add a field to this like one like thing. It’s like basically, you can think of it like a spreadsheet where you just add more rows and you would just define what each row is. It would be like name, height, hair color, but the thing that really irked me is that if you have multiple characters, you can’t just copy that set of fields to the next character. So I’m like if I have a hundred fields in here am I just gonna like rewrite all of those fields? So I went into the code for this thing, because it is open source, so you can just go in and look at the code, and it was just gnarly. It uses a thing called QT and it’s written in Python but it’s using QT and it’s in GTK, and I was like, “There’s no way that I’m going to deal with all these generated XML files.” So I’ve been rewriting the program in GTK because rather than just try to figure out how to fix this one field I’d rather just rewrite the entire program.
Alex: She’s rewriting the whole thing.
Alex: Oh my god that’s amazing.
Kelly: I started prototyping it in… because I thought maybe I could just do it as a web app so I started prototyping it in Symfony, but then I was like, “No, I really just want this to be a desktop app.” So yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing and it’s fun because Python’s one of favorite languages to write in.
Alex: And what… I know you mentioned a little bit about what you’re doing on mass.gov right now, but could you break that down and explain it to me as if I don’t know anything about web development? Because I sort of don’t.
Kelly: It’s funny you should want that. I just wrote a six page document.
Kelly: Detailing everything I’ve done with this migration.
Alex: Well here we go.
Kelly: Would you like me to just read it?
Alex: Take it from the top.
Kelly: Well essentially what I’m doing is, mass.gov when it was built… I wasn’t around for this part, but I’m assuming very close to the beginning of when it was built, they implemented a module called Workbench moderation, which allowed them to make content… to put content into different states of moderation, so content could be draft, it could be published, it could be unpublished. And they did this kind of as a temporary measure while waiting for Content Moderation, which is a core module, to be stable. Recently… a couple months ago, Core Moderation did become stable, it’s no longer in alpha. So now that Core Moderation is stable we need to migrate all of the content that is using Workbench Moderation to use Content Moderation, and that’s what I have been working on. The biggest hiccups I’ve had have been with the fact that the mass.gov site has quite a few revisions so we’re looking at migrating something like six hundred thousand entities.
Alex: Oh my god.
Kelly: Yeah, so in and of itself the migration takes just a lot of time. It’s something you’re gonna have to run overnight. On top of that it’s just… there are some known issues with Content Moderation duplicating revisions and if we go a route that we don’t have that happen there’s issues with timestamps getting updated when we don’t want them to because we don’t want it to look like this content is getting republished or re-edited, we want it to maintain the same timestamps. So these are all just kind of the issues that I’ve been dealing with for a little bit and we’re gonna kind of like—this is why I had to write this document—we’re gonna kind of go over this and try to see what our options are going forward and see if we can get this resolved in a manner that doesn’t involve us just abandoning our efforts.
Alex: Is that an option at this point?
Kelly: I hope not! We’re probably gonna look at what it would take to prune back on some of the current revisions because a lot of them are unnecessary. They’re the byproduct of other modules not properly doing garbage collection.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Kelly: So they’re just like, orphaned revisions, essentially.
Kelly: So, we’re gonna try and see if we can figure out how many orphaned revisions there are versus valid revisions, if that puts a large enough dent in that six hundred thousand number, if we can then deal with having those duplicate revisions after running the migration.
Kelly: Yeah. It’s been a fun couple months.
Alex: Yeah, it seems like a puzzle. Like a really intense crossword.
Kelly: Yeah, but like I said, I like the puzzles, so.
Alex: Sounds like you are the right person for the job, then, that’s great.
Alex: Well… is there anything else you want to tell the world?
Kelly: Ummm… I don’t know. Can I tell them I love them? Because I do.
Alex: Please, please do. I think they need to hear it.
Kelly: I love you, world. I do.
Alex: Well thank you very much for joining me on this, it was really nice to talk to you.
Kelly: Thank you very much for having me.
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Alex: Thanks for listening. Yeti Village is produced by me, Alex Noonan, and we do our best to make our work accessible to everyone. We have transcripts for every episode of Yeti Village available at lastcallmedia.com/blog. Please subscribe to and rate our podcasts on the Apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, or your podcast service of choice. You can also drop us a line at lastcallmedia.com and tell us what topics you’d be interested to hear us explore for this podcast.