Each week as a complement to the Console newsletter we interview founders, CTOs and lead engineers who have built the tools we review.
These interviews offer an insight into both the working practices of the individuals we speak to as well as the challenges faced when developing their tool.
Since the start of the year, we’ve spoken to twenty five engineers, and what’s clear from our conversations is that there is no cookie cutter route to launching a successful tool. Every journey is different. We hope these interviews give an insight into what it takes to the build a successful developer tool.
Our interview process
Once a tool is selected for the Console newsletter, we’ll typically get in touch with the tool’s team to give them notice and request an interview with someone heavily involved with the project.
We select tools for inclusion against our criteria first, then ask for a review afterwards. Sometimes people are too busy or not interested, which is no problem. We don't require an interview for inclusion - the process is completely independent.
When we started out with a small audience we were worried that teams may be unwilling to share their valuable time with us, but we were lucky enough to connect with individuals like Scott Gerlach at StackHawk, Christian Weichel at Gitpod and Sam Scott at Oso who understood our mission and saw the potential of what we’re building. We’re thankful for their early support and undoubtedly their involvement helped ease the way forward to speak to other founders and CTOs.
The goal of our interviews is to understand the approaches that both the individual (and where relevant, the company) adopts when building their tool. We’re interested to learn how they began coding as well as the challenges they’ve faced in development. We’re also always excited to hear about the new tools that they enjoy using.
We use a standardised set of questions, but when something captures our attention, we’ll dig deeper to learn more. This means all the interviews have a familiar format, but there are always a few additional context-specific questions.
Having started and ran start-ups before, we know how these types of requests on time can become a distraction, so we always aim to keep our interviews to under forty minutes. Most interviews last around half an hour.
We want our interviewees to feel at ease, and always send the questions in advance to allow them to plan any answers where they may have a more nuanced point to make. Interviews are conducted via Google Meet and we record all interviews allowing us to later transcribe them.
We originally planned to transcribe the interviews ourselves to save some money, but luckily we spotted Rev, an online transcription service, which is an efficient and affordable way to convert our interviews to text.
Given the technical nature of the conversations and the reality that people often ‘um’, ‘err’ and sometimes take their answers down dead ends, we proof and copy edit every interview twice. I will typically do a first proof of the interview, editing it down to the meat of the conversation, then my co-founder, David, will do a second review. Our aim is for the interview to read well in prose, but still sound like a conversation. We never change the substance of what interviewees have said, but we will edit parts of the conversation so that they flow well as text. That's not always how people speak!
Finally, we share an edited draft of the interview along with the original transcript to the interviewee for review. To date, nobody has requested any major changes, but as a courtesy we want to ensure the person we spoke to feels comfortable with what we are about to publish.
I’ve been interviewed many times in the past by journalists promoting start-ups, and journalists have taken a generous interpretation of what I was trying to say to fit their own agenda. The Console interviews are here to serve our community of readers AND the engineers building tools.
From the initial interview to publishing it live on the Console website typically takes 1-2 weeks. Sometimes these go out alongside the review of the tool, sometimes afterwards.
By asking the same core questions each week, we're also building an archive of responses that will enable us to do some interesting comparative analysis in the future.
At the end of the year we plan to share our findings from the 2021 interviews and pick out the trends we’ve spotted. For example, the most common challenges faced by engineers building their product or the most popular tools recommended by our interviewees.
At the end of the interview we ask a few fun quick fire questions, and my favourite question: 'what does your desk set-up look like?'
One of the surprising successes of our interviews has been their popularity on Hacker News which has helped further raise the profile of the company we profile. Our interview with rsync.net CEO John Kozubik even made it to the top of the home page on Hacker News delivering 50,000 visits to the interview in 24 hrs!
Who should we speak to next?
We’re always looking for new an interesting tools to review and to speak to the founders and teams behind these tools. If there’s a tool you think we should feature, please let us know.
Check out the full archive of our interviews here.