Bringing People Closer to Code

Rent the Runway's Camille Fournier on broadening the community

When I talk with developers about what needs to change in the programming world, I frequently hear two separate sets of concerns:

  • What can we do to make developers’ lives easier? Better tools, new techniques, and new kinds of abstraction are at the core of that conversation.

  • What can we do to encourage people who need software to take up programming themselves? Some of this is tools, but much more of it is social expectations. Coding is becoming ubiquitous.

The first may feed into the second, but the second may change the whole way we look at programming. Despite years of attempts with varying levels of success, bringing programming tools to subject-matter experts offers the potential of a huge reduction in human-to-human communication breakdowns.

Last month, I talked with Camille Fournier, VP of Architecture at Rent the Runway about ways to make programming more accessible. She suggests changing the priorities of the development conversation, to invite many more people in.

Highlights of our conversation included:

  • “Enable many many more people to write some software” (1:26)
  • Not just a matter of increasing development speed (1:58)
  • Tooling can help achieve basic programming literacy (2:51)
  • Rent the Runway’s efforts to help its non-programming employees learn (3:48)
  • What options are there for training beginners? (4:35)
  • The importance of “a taste of success” (5:20)

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topic: Programming
  • Katya Kean

    The challenge of cross-department programming education is so fascinating, I’d love to hear what experiments Camille ends up trying for it.
    Earlier this year I decided to start learning web development, but I knew college wasn’t an option (as it isn’t with many who are super busy, poor, or hate spending so much time in administrative hoops). So I found a home-schooled teen in Alaska who needed a final elective credit and offered to teach her HTML, to which her school agreed. We both bought an O’Reilly pdf book, Head First HTML & CSS, and met weekly on G+ to review a chapter and quiz. In teaching, I had to learn it thoroughly!!
    This spring she graduated, and my learning-accountability structure was gone!
    Realizing that a peer-group was what I really needed, I started an online Web Development Mastermind Group, and we’ve met every week for about 5 months now. Even though we each have our own projects, not group projects, it still provides some accountability to follow through on our stated goals (they’re posted on a shared Google Docs spreadsheet). Hearing everyone else’s progress provides positive peer-pressure to keep focused, and when someone gets stuck, another usually can provide a resource or answer.
    So maybe companies can use that model of learning, in small groups of 5 or so, with personal development goals. It’s structured, yet flexible, and creates a learner’s culture.