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The Simple Formula for Success in Open-SaaS and the BigCommerce Hackathon with Katie Hoesley

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Talk-Commerce Katie Hoesley

Commerce running, talking geek

Open-Source and Software as a Service have traditionally not been aligned. The traditional SaaS model is closed code on a multitenant host. The Open-Source model is something you have complete control over, and you have to host it yourself.

Open SaaS brings the idea of open source to the SaaS Community. We talk to Katie Hoesley about the Big Commerce Hackathon and how developers can be active in a vibrant community.

Transcript

Brent: Welcome to Talk Commerce, the BigCommerce community channel today. I have Katie Hoesley. Did I get it right? Katie Hoesley. So Hoesley go ahead. Introduce yourself. Tell us what your day to day role is and one of your passions in life. 

Katie: Okay. Yeah, I’m Katie. I am the senior developer advocate at BigCommerce.

Katie: And I think the things I’m really passionate about. Completely unrelated. I’m really passionate about education and I’m really passionate about being outside. I live in Colorado and I’m from Minnesota, like you Brent. I’m really passionate about the outdoors and education. 

Brent: Good.

Brent: Today we’re gonna talk about some developer things at BigCommerce and how maybe developers could get more involved. Yep. In some of those activities that BigCommerce is doing. Tell us about what you’re doing in that role and some of the things that we can do together to encourage developers on the BigCommerce platform.

Katie: Yeah. So my position at BigCommerce, I describe it as to people as I swing on a pendulum between our product and engineering teams and then the developers in our developer community who actually use BigCommerce tools and who build on our platform. A big part of what we’re doing right now is just trying to get more people engaged in our community in general.

Katie: And the thing we have actually running as we speak is the first ever developer hackathon at BigCommerce. So it’s a two week long hackathon. We have participants from all over the world and it’s been really fun. It’s the first time we’ve run anything like it. And of course, now that we’re running it, we have 2 million ideas of the things that we wanna do moving forward.

Katie: More hackathons, more community engagement, more open source, contribution competitions stuff like that. We really want anyone that builds on the platform to join either our slack community or follow us on Twitter. Because we have a huge number of people that build on this platform and we have such a small percentage of them in our engaged community.

Katie: And so if I could tell them all one thing it’s that I really think you get a lot out of engaging in the community. You engage with us on the dev team. You engage with the other folks that are building on the same platform. And you can eliminate a lot of multiple people doing the same work, we find out that people are building something that someone built five years ago, but they just don’t know it exists.

Katie: My day to day is really trying to get people into that community and then trying to create initiatives that really bring them a lot of value. And then. We have a perfect direct line into our users to bring feedback back to product and engineering, to tighten up those loops of iterations of products.

Katie: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, like BigCommerce gets a ton out of us having an engaged community and the community itself. I think also gets a lot out of just being there and being with each other and with 

Brent: us. I think that you had mentioned open source and that’s a little bit unique to the SaaS community.

Brent: Tell us about open SaaS and open source and how BigCommerce views open source and how open source then is is participated in from the broader community. Yeah. 

Katie: Great question. So BigCommerce is moving in a direction. Like I feel like we’re partially there, but the larger initiative in general is moving towards being like an open SaaS platform.

Katie: Which means that we accept contributions from the community. You can go look at the code base of big design, for example, our like modular design library that has all these reusable components that you can use. Anyone can use them. They’re open source. And if you find a flaw or if you wanna improve it, like you can do that.

Katie: We can have all of this contribution from our community so that our community is not reliant on our developers fitting some bug fix or some feature request or whatever into a sprint, rather if you know how to fix it, or if you wanna add something, you can go ahead and do that. And I think anyone who uses a particular software consistently, or anyone that’s been a software developer knows that the community finds things that the developers on the back end don’t see, because they’re building the product.

Katie: They aren’t necessarily using it over and over and over. So the more contributions we get from our community in tandem with what our very skilled developers are building better for everybody. It’s a really cool concept. I don’t know if anyone else is doing or is as focused on it as BigCommerce.

Katie: And if I was a, if I was a developer out in the wild and I had to pick something, I feel like I would wanna pick an open SaaS platform over something that’s completely closed. And if I have any sort of issue or thing. I know I can just go fix real quick. I have to wait for it to fit onto a product roadmap where open SaaS or open source contributions in general are just a way for the community to directly affect the product that they use every day.

Brent: Maybe describe briefly how a developer gets. They find a bug, how do they get that fix into it? And how do they verify it’s been fixed? If it’s a SaaS platform. Yeah, 

Katie: that’s a good question. You would have to find either in the documentation or by contacting someone where that repository is of whatever that open.

Katie: Thing, you’re looking at, say, it’s the big design. You could find the big design repository and you would submit a poll request for whatever change you’re making. And then someone on our end would either accept the poll request or they would reject it. You would find out, probably get like a GitHub notification.

Katie: I’m guessing if that’s how you’re doing it. And if there’s some major thing that you wanna change, they’re not gonna. Users create like humongous features, I don’t think at this point any platform would let users create something huge, but you would just submit a poll request and then you would know whether or not that got closed, like rejected or closed 

Brent: accepted.

Brent: Are there, are you recognizing those people in a way, in any way? 

Katie: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know if we have a system for like recognition of con contributions. I don’t know if we’re at a level where we’re getting enough contributions to think about it.

Katie: But we should, we definitely should. There should be an incentive. There’s an inherent incentive because it’s improving the product that you use, but there should be a greater incentive for people to continue contributing, cuz that’s the goal, right? Like people they start contributing and then they get the bug and they want to contribute more and everybody wins.

Katie: As of right now, I don’t know if there’s like a true incentive outside of the product being improved. 

Brent: Have you looked at other open source communities that are doing the same thing that wouldn’t be SaaS? An on-prem open source software has a lot of these things that we’re talking about already

Brent: ingrained in ’em because people can run the whole system on their local machine and find those things directly. Have you looked to see what other communities are doing to see how BigCommerce can evolve in that as a SaaS company? 

Katie: I don’t know if Magento qualifies for this, but when I first started in devel, I was like talking to everyone I could find online about dev and about their experiences, wherever they are.

Katie: And I kept hearing that Magento’s software is over 50%. Open source contributions. And that creates this awesome ecosystem where people want to contribute. They’re saying their contributions recognized developers love it because they don’t have to sit and fix all these things or add all these these little tweaks that they trust their community to do.

Katie: And I heard over and over these like rave reviews about just that. I think right away, I was sold on uping the open source. Just like upping people’s knowledge or awareness that like, you can do that here. And so our hackathon is our first big thing, but an open source contribution competition, or some way to get people to contribute to our open source content is definitely on the top of the list of things we wanna do next.

Katie: So yes and no, I think I don’t have a lot of direct things to look. There’s not I don’t know that there’s an exact parallel to what we’re doing for me to look at, but I heard over and over from people who had worked both in develop as a developer and in other roles at Magento that that was a huge thing.

Katie: That was a huge reason for their community growing so much and staying so big. And like I said, there’s so many devs using BigCommerce and there’s so few of them proportionally active in our community. Active in slack or active on Twitter or wherever it is our forums. And I’m hoping that more initiatives like that can get people in, people can see this is fun and it’s not that hard.

Katie: And you can solve your own problems, which I think for a lot of developers being able to solve your own problem. Is why you became a developer most of the time. You can do it yourself, you can build it yourself. So yeah, Magento is the big one that I kept hearing over and over.

Katie: Obviously you’re familiar with Magento. And so just hearing that alone, inspired me to really keep that on our developer relations roadmap of a really cool thing. We can get people. To be aware of and to 

Brent: contribute to. Yeah. And I do know a little bit about Magento but I do also think it’s a good if you look back in history, it has a good roadmap of things that have worked and haven’t worked in a community.

Brent: And it’s a good way to collaborate with another community to find things that are working from one community, the other. And I think as a community leader the core of it shouldn’t be commercial. The core of why we’re in a community is to do great things together as a community.

Brent: And I applaud the hackathon. I think that’s very exciting. Is it the first eCommerce hackathon for a SaaS platform? 

Katie: It might be? I’m guessing other companies have done one. I know Shopify did one years ago. I know it’s the first one at BigCommerce. We’ve never done an external hackathon before.

Katie: And when I looked around to try to find examples of other hackathons, so I could figure out how to run one and figure out what I needed to do in order for it to work. I really couldn’t find a whole lot of stuff. So I don’t know if this exact model of us running one, not in tandem with an event.

Katie: It is its own event on its own. I think that setup is fairly unusual. Normally a hackathon would be, the final two days of a week, long conference or something like that. So I didn’t have a lot of examples to look to. I just had my previous experience of being in hackathons. So we could stitch together what we thought we needed to do. I’m not sure if we’re the first oh, SaaS company to do one. I doubt it. I’m sure someone has but yeah, it’s our 

Brent: first one. I think it’s super exciting. It’s the first one of a SaaS company I’ve heard of, but then, okay. I’ve been involved in another community for a long time that’s not SaaS, so I’m not the best expert in that.

Katie: We have, I think like a third of our participants are in Asia.

Katie: A third are in north America and a third are in Europe and 1159 central time is like 8:00 AM someplace, it’s all over the place.

Brent: Great. Is there, so is there plans to do an in person, like maybe in Austin, an in person hackathon it is 

Katie: top of mind. I think running a virtual one has been awesome, but it just makes me that much more excited to run something in person.

Katie: I guess anyone on the internet knows it’s much more difficult to connect with people via discord or even via zoom. So we would love to have some sort of developer-centric event BigCommerce traditionally. I don’t think we have very large developer events. But as we dig a little bit more into like developer relation, as we invest more in our developer relations team and our community team I think it’s become clear that we have a ton of people in Austin.

Katie: We have a ton of people that would travel to Austin if we were doing some big, awesome things. There’s no date but it’s on our like mental roadmap of when can we do this? And we are excited. I really wanna do something 

Brent: soon. Yeah. And I know John Woodall of space 48, and I know Tom Robertshaw who just did big DevX.

Brent: It was a virtual event too. Yeah. Our first event with him was in Austin. Okay. It was called ma Titans. And I think there’s probably a lot of opportunity. And I know Space 48 is fantastic in the collaboration space and especially in the developer space. And Tom is such a great person to lead that.

Brent: It seems that type of event would be a big hit in Austin. And I would be one of those people behind it that would be pushing for it. And it is fun. We have organized a number of the Meet Magento events, and typically after the event, we would do a full day hackathon in conjunction Adobe slash Magento always sent their community leaders there to help put those pull requests in at the end.

Brent: At the end we would have some scorecard items around how many bugs were squashed and how many pull requests were accepted. And it’s always a fun time. And then the developers, if their bug does get into the core. I think with the open source that you can download, you can actually see your name inside of the code base.

Brent: What is that? But it is it’s, I think from a recognition standpoint, it’s always fun to know that, Hey, I’ve contributed back to this software and it’s a good talking point for BigCommerce as well that you can participate and then give back to it. 

Katie: Totally and like doing a hackathon like that too, a really short, like one or two days is a completely different energy than this two week one, this two week one, I think is gonna primarily be people working on or starting to work on apps that they do plan to bring to the marketplace, so I think we’ll have a lot of like MVPs that will get iterated on after. I’m sure Space 48 is gonna come out with some fully done app within two weeks. I don’t even know what those guys could do. Probably a fully completed app, but the energy of a two day one is really fun. Yeah, if we did some sort of open source competition or, whatever it is.

Katie: And also we have so many partners that are doing such interesting things. It’d be so fun to have speakers from somewhere like space 48, someone like you to come up and talk to the other developers in a real, in person forum. I’ve never even met my coworkers or seen our office, so it would also be cool for me.

Katie: But yeah, something in person is like definitely top of mind and being able to in incentivize and encourage open source contributions would be huge. 

Brent: Let’s make sure we do a follow up after the hackathon and see how it goes. And definitely we have a few minutes left here and I have a new project that I’ve started personally it’s called the free joke project.

Brent: Okay. And I’m working on telling a joke during the podcast rather than. just Having a joke prior to my podcast, which I give away a free joke prior. I’m gonna tell you a joke right now.

Brent: And and then you can decide if it’s free or. Should I charge for it? That’s the question. Should it be an open source joke or is this one of those jokes that we want to really tie it down. We don’t want even anybody to modify the payment gateway on this joke. 

Brent: That’s how closed it is. All right. So what do you call it? What do you call a detective who just solves cases accidentally? What do you 

Katie: call detective who just solves cases 

Brent: accidentally Sheer Luck Holmes. 

Katie: I think you got charge for that one. Really? I think that’s gotta go behind the paywall. That’s a good one.

Brent: Behind the paywall joke. You’re the first one who has said that. Thank you so much. Katie, at the end of every podcast, I give the guests the opportunity to do a shameless plug. What would you like to plug today? 

Katie: Okay I think what I’d like to plug is joining our developer slack space or following BigCommerce devs on Twitter.

Katie: That is me. I constantly retweet myself, so you’ll know right away it’s me, but that is I think the top of the funnel to joining our developer network and to really seeing what we offer and being able to engage with people just like yourself and people from my team. We’d love to have more people join the community and really see that it’s a great place to be.

Brent: Yeah. And I will just add that we’ve started a BigCommerce community channel on Twitter. Yes. That we’re trying to get more people. It does have more people than another platform that starts with an M that now starts with an a, but also has a large following. So I would encourage everybody to go to Twitter and join the BigCommerce, Twitter community channel.

Brent: Yeah. And we are trying to post something in there almost every day. Katie, thank you so much for being here today. Thank you for having me. It’s been a great conversation and I wish all the luck for your hackathon. And lots of bugs, squashed, and lots of new features seen. 

Katie: Yes, exactly. Thank you so much.

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