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Jamstack Radio
23 MIN

Ep. #117, Unpacking RedwoodJS with Amanda Giannelli of Okta

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In episode 117 of Jamstack Radio, Brian is joined by Amanda Giannelli of Okta. This talk focuses on the full-stack web framework RedwoodJS, how it helped Amanda learn JavaScript, and her experience as a core team member and contributor. Other themes includes insights on getting started with open source and engaging with developer communities.

Amanda Giannelli is a full-time engineer at Okta and a contributor and core team member of RedwoodJS.


Brian Douglas: Welcome to another installment of Jamstack Radio. On the line we've got Amanda Gianelli. Welcome, how are you doing?

Amanda Gianelli: Hey, Brian. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Brian: Yeah. It's a pleasure. We crossed paths, it would've been September.

Amanda: Oh man, it was. Okay, it's been a while.

Brian: I joined the, I don't know what you would call it, the Redwood-

Amanda: Redwood Talks.

Brian: Redwood Talks?

Amanda: That's the working name.

Brian: Very cool. Well, before we jump into Redwood, let's actually just introduce who you are and what you do.

Amanda: Right. Well, my name is Amanda Gianelli. Professionally, I was originally a .NET dev, so I've been in software professionally for over 10 years. I was in the .NET world for most of that 10 years, and then I, last year, switched jobs to work at Auth0/Okta, and started as a JavaScript dev.

Brian: Oh, so first time in JavaScript? Or did you have experience prior?

Amanda: Redwood was my experience, starting in January, 2021, so very limited. But yes, newer to JavaScript.

Brian: Okay. So I'm curious, before we jump in. We have had Redwood, we had Anthony Campolo come on to talk about Redwood and what it was trying to accomplish back in 2020. Now Redwood has crossed 1.0, folks are leveraging it for their businesses, their startups, there's a vibrant community on Discord. So much has changed since then, but do you want to give us a quick pitch of what Redwood is and what it's trying to accomplish?

Amanda: Sure. So Redwood JS is a framework that allows you to build apps very quickly. It gives you all the tools from design to test, to make your app secure. It gives you all the tools you need to get up and running, so you can go from proof of concept to production pretty much without rewriting your app.

So I think Redwood is an excellent tool for both startups, we have a lot of startups, that's kind of our focus right now, but I also think it's an excellent tool for learners, people wanting to learn web development and all current tools in the space.

Brian: Cool. Excellent. Yeah, I've had the opportunity. Actually, shortly after my conversation originally with Anthony, we actually built together. We livestreamed building a new project in Redwood, and it became this infrastructure... We were building an admin page for OpenSauced, and the admin page was to add and remove repository data and repository subtract within our database, which was powered by Superbase.

That was so much fun that we ended up building an entire project around that which was Hot.OpenSauced.Pizza. Not currently on Redwood, we ended up going with just a pure React and Vite experience. Anyway, long story, it was Astro, we went back to React, and it's like our company's side project at the moment. So we might rebuild it again in the future, but TBD.

Amanda: Nice. Although, if there's one thing Redwood is good at, it's building out those admin interfaces with the scaffolding and stuff so if you want to test your data layer, you can test it without a lot of work.

Brian: Yeah, and that's what I loved about it too as well, because the opinions that it shipped out of the box to be able to say, "I just want a user, I want an object called a repo," you can scaffold all the interactions and it connects to Prisma, it connects to your database URL and everything like that, and you have an app that you can standup. So if you want to create a blog you can do it pretty quickly.

You have users post comments and you're good to go. That style of application building is actually how I learned how to write code, which was Ruby on Rails, so I know Tom was originally involved early, Ruby On Rails community built up, GitHub, and that pattern is what... that's how I learned to code through my bootcamp. So out of curiosity, how did you get involved in Redwood?

Amanda: So I mentioned that I'm a mom, I think I told you that before. I was coming back from my maternity leave and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to finally start getting into open source." Which, by the way, spoiler alert, trying to do new things when you have a baby is the worst thing you can do, but I tried and here I am.

So I wound up joining the Daily Dev, their very first monthly dev meetup in January, 2021, David was the first speaker to talk about Redwood. It was only in the V.23. That's how early it still was for Redwood, and I just remember listening to David talk about this, what was it called at the time? Full stack for the Jamstack was the catchphrase back then, back then, it's like a year and a half ago or two almost two years ago at this point.

Brian: Time moves very differently these days.

Amanda: So fast. But I just remember being like, "Wow." As someone, again like I said, .Net developer, hadn't really worked with JavaScript but I knew I wanted to try that and open source.

I saw Redwood, I tried the tutorial and I said, "For once this all makes sense to me, as a backend .Net developer." The JavaScript stuff that was so hard for me to wrap my head around became so much easier once I had Redwood to tie the pieces together for me so I can learn as I build.

Rather than trying to... Because you know what it's like when you're building an app with something new, you run into all those things with just getting it bootstrapped and working with WebPack and all that stuff. For me, I gave up every time I tried. I was like, "I'm done. I'm not going to do this." And then I found Redwood and that's really what got me started, and then of course I did the tutorials, I was like, "This is amazing."

I started talking about it on Twitter and David reached out and said, "Hey, come join our contributors meetup." I was like, "Okay, sure. I'll come join." And then I met the team, I wound up starting out, again, just helping with checking on things. I remember my first PR was fixing the docs. I found a typo in the docs when I was going through the tutorial, so the smallest PR can be a big contribution.

Brian: Yeah, that's awesome. I appreciate folks like David, he's a super nice guy. I've had an opportunity to chat with him in the hallway track of a conference recently, Reactathon. Yeah, he is really into growing community and sustainability, which is why I appeared at the Redwood Talks because I was talking about what I was working on, like getting insights into open source projects.

It's fascinating that there's all these interesting origin stories of how folks get involved in open source, or how they learn the next thing. Like I didn't know your C# background, we only met briefly previously, but that's an interesting part of your journey and now you got into JavaScript, found Redwood as a nice on the rails way to build applications, and then you find yourself now meeting with the core team and the contributor team pretty consistently. So what does that look like, being involved with Redwood as far as the community and contribution side?

Amanda: Right. The biggest selling point, I think, of Redwood is its community. I know we recently actually had a meetup of the core team in person for the first time since the project pretty much started.

Brian: Yeah, I saw the pictures. It was in the redwoods?

Amanda: Yes, one of our team building exercises to visit the redwoods, and it was just so fascinating to me to see such a diverse group of people. I mean from all different backgrounds, all over the world, come together with this one common goal of building Redwood and making it the best it can be, and the perspectives... It was just so fascinating because you see people online, you talk to them.

Like you said, you didn't know I was a C# developer because we've only spoken in such a small realm, but meeting all these people, everyone in person, we looked at each other and said, "Wow. One, you have legs. And two, we're all so different but we're all connected and we all have that common goal," and I think that's such an important thing.

The catchphrase of Redwood is, I'm sure you've heard it, "By helping each other be successful with Redwood, we make the Redwood Project successful," and I think that's been the key thing throughout this whole, since I joined, just watching that growth and seeing how everyone comes together to help each other has just been amazing.

Brian: Yeah. Honestly, it truly has been amazing and I've been, through proxy, through Anthony, because Anthony is part of my community as well in the Open Sauce community, so he's always championing Redwood for our decisions and what we're shipping next. We didn't get a chance to take part in any hackathon earlier this year, but we were also talking through ideas of what we scaffold pretty quickly during a hackathon.

This is the beauty, this is a perfect hackathon framework. It's a perfect net CLI to start with your new startup, whatever it is. It's definitely worth checking out. I'm just curious, now that it's post 1.0, are you seeing more adoption with companies and projects choosing Redwood? Do they also interact with the community as well?

Amanda: Absolutely. In fact, I would say startup founders and people, they've been building their startups in Redwood since the very early phases. In fact, some of the core team members now became involved because they were building something and they were asking questions of the community, because again, one of the key things of our community is, "Come ask us, we're here to help." So I would say our startups are actually critical in getting to V1, because they showed us like, "This is what we're doing, this is what we're trying to do," so we were able to build and find ways that work best for people.

Brian: Yeah, that's pretty awesome. This is a related question, because Peter Pistorus of Snaplet has been on this podcast as well, as well as Everfun, Everfun and Chris Burns. He's also been on the podcast, so I knew the answer, but just wanted to shoutout. A lot of those projects, and some of the newer projects that are up and coming, especially quite a few of the JAMstack Innovation Fund projects, they're leveraging Redwood in production, building the next generation of applications.

Amanda: Yeah, it's pretty amazing.

Brian: Yeah. So I've got to ask too, as well, it was funny because we started the conversation for the Redwood Talks where I think Peter was talking to David about contributions and how Peter had surpassed David in contributions or vice versa. There was a bit of like a push and pull, fun, little jab at each other.

But just curious, as you see, because Peter has rolled off contributing full time or consistently to Redwood, but curious how you see the community being managed? Because it's doing a good job of bringing people into the fold, so is everyone getting the same experience you got where it's like, "Hey, David reached out to me one day and now I'm part of the contributor squad?"

Amanda: I would say that's fairly true. I know a lot of us on the core team, we all have the same story that David reached out to me on Twitter and said, "Hey, come hang out." Or there's also been plenty of cases where people, they're just in the forums, they had a question about something they were working on and they came back with, "Hey, I want to try to do this thing," and then they end up communicating with the core team. The core team says, "Hey, we have this person on the forum, they're really engaged, they have all these great ideas," and then that's when it's like, "Hey, do you want to contribute? Do you want to come join us?"

Brian: Yeah, so I'm curious, how do you balance working with Redwood, the day job and a new mom?

Amanda: Ask me that when I figure it out. I will say it's difficult, especially at the phase... it was easier when I first started contributing because when they're little they sleep a lot, but then they hit about like 9 months and then they start becoming more active. Then now it's just I am in terrible two-ville, so I haven't been able to contribute as much as I would like, but at least being able to interact with the community and just being a part of the community, to me, I still feel fulfilled, being able to interact with all these people.

Brian: Yeah. Curiously, we go back to your origin story, we got that you were doing C# before, but how did you get into tech? Did you get a traditional CS background and then learn the stack at a job, et cetera?

Amanda: Sort of. I was originally going to school for teaching, but I was going for general education which most people at that age do. I wound up saying, "You know what? I think I want to specialize." So I decided to go for maths, and one of the prerequisites for maths was Computer Science 101, and my first day in that class I was taught C#, and I saw Hello World and I went, "I can do this for a living?" Because I had always liked computers, but it was always more of a hobby thing, rather than, "I can do this as a job? This could be my job?" So I wound up switching my major to Computer Science, so technically I had a traditional Computer Science background.

Brian: Okay, excellent. Yeah, I did not get a general or traditional Computer Science background, but I did do the tinkering, did the MySpace pages, did the copy and paste jQuery to make random sites and hangout on Tumblr. I never saw myself as a computer scientist, or that being an opportunity for me because I figured you'd have to move to California and go to one of those schools, or whatever you read on the internet as the places to learn Computer Science. I was like, "I'm just going to go to my state school, learn finance," and didn't do anything with finance.

Amanda: Well, there you go.

Brian: I'm working in tech.

Amanda: For what it's worth, I did do the traditional. I was like, "Oh, I'll go get my masters,"because that's what my teachers told me to do because they were Computer Science teachers. I remember I was in my first semester and I was working at my first job, and one of the tech leads, the senior engineers on my team, I found out he had a Bachelor of Arts in, I believe it was script writing from the University of California, and he was one the top developers on my team and I looked at my notebooks and I went, "I'm not finishing this masters degree because it's a waste of my time," because I didn't want to teach Computer Science, I wanted to build and I wanted to actually develop things. I remember my teacher saying, "Are you sure you want to go to the city and work?" I'm like, "Yes, I want to actually code things, not teach people theory. I actually want to be in there."

Brian: Yeah, so did you start with startups or did you get a job? C# I assume Microsoft or something similar.

Amanda: Yeah, I wound up getting a contract job out of college at CBS Interactive Music Group, it was. Do you remember Last FM and Scrobbling?

Brian: Yes.

Amanda: That's the team I was on for a couple months, and then I wound up switching to a company called MediData Solutions that was also a .Net shop, so I kind of went where the .Net... I was also working with recruiters, they were like, "We have these .Net positions." I'm like, "Okay." So I just went where my skills were at that time, but then I got stuck there.

Brian: Okay. And then one day like, "You know what? C# is great, but JavaScript seems like something I should learn"?

Amanda: So because I guess I was from that world where when I started in development, JavaScript wasn't what it is now, right? That was what you used to make alert forms pop up and text scroll across your screen, so a lot of the people that I worked with always had this disdain for JavaScript.

I came from a world of people hating on JavaScript all the time, so I always had this, "I don't want to work with JavaScript."But I knew it was something that I should work with, because we were trying to use Angular at my last company and we were using all these different things, so I was like, "Oh, let me give it a shot." And that's when I found Redwood, and I was like, "Oh, this is going to make it easier for me to get into this."

I was ready to do something different. To be honest, I was getting burnt out at my previous job. I had been there for too long. I came back from maternity leave all excited and then I was like, "Ah, the fire's out again." So I just started looking around, and Auth0 happened to be a partner with Redwood, I happened to notice that when I was looking for jobs. So I was like, "Oh, I know that name. I remember that from setting up Redwood." And I wound up applying, and here I am, and it was probably one of the greatest career decisions I've made, I'd have to say.

Brian: Yeah. Taking a step back, this is fascinating. You've got the traditional background, you learn C#, got the jobs, but for you to pivot into something that you have, I guess, more excitement into coming out of your experience with Redwood, it's actually pretty fascinating. I think a lot of folks sitting and listening to this right now are maybe trying to break into tech and they're just listening to a bunch of podcasts, I'd love our folks to take away from that you don't have to be a whizz. You're a whizz, you know a lot of cool stuff, just making assumptions.

Amanda: Thank you.

Brian: But you can also join a community and learn the ropes, and approach a Redwood that makes some opinions for you and get most of the way there and get some exposure in other concepts, other companies and et cetera. So, I don't know, I'm bullish on Redwood. I don't know how much you're into tech Twitter right now, but NextJS announced their Next 13 and folks were a little curious about are there any other frameworks that don't have a VC backing, and Redwood actually came up in that thread multiple times.

It was nice to see Redwood, shine some light on it because it is a really good choice and I think that's what most people are looking for, is everyone learns JavaScript, learns how to build on the web. But sometimes you just want to build stuff fast, and I think what some other frameworks give you is you can build stuff fast and what Redwood gives you is you can build stuff fast. If that's what you want to do, is just build a project, I honestly am adamant, try it out. It's definitely worth trying because it's a little bit of a magical experience.

Amanda: It really is, and obviously we're constantly putting in improvements. I think even with our recent V3 we added in the ability to almost do your site like it's a static site, with our cell pre-rendering and stuff. So we're always making improvements, I think currently we're at V3.3 as of this recording. Yeah. Well, I don't know if you heard, Tom threw major versions out the window. We're now doing epochs.

Brian: Okay, interesting. I didn't hear that. I'll have to catch up on the blog posts.

Amanda: Well, that's one thing I'll say, our upgrade notes are always fantastic too. I remember back in the day when I started, going from version to version, because you know in the beginning it's very fast. Before V1 you're constantly iterating. I just remember being amazed at how easily I was able to upgrade. Any time I had a problem it was user error because I skipped a step, ran the wrong command.

Brian: Amazing. Okay, cool. So if folks wanted to get started either using Redwood or joining the community, what are places folks can look out for?

Amanda: Plenty of easy links for you, RedwoodJS.com/community. That'll take you straight to our forums. Again, we love for people to join us there, ask questions, introduce yourself. We have a Discord. You could do the tutorial, RedwoodJS.com/tutorial. I've done the tutorial so many times just because I find it's so much fun just to do. There are stickers, RedwoodJS.com/stickers. I got plenty of RedwoodJS.com links with plenty of fun stuff.

Brian: Excellent. Well, I mean everyone check out RedwoodJS.com and you'll eventually find your way to whatever you're looking for. Amanda, appreciate you coming on and sharing your updates, and how you got involved in Redwood. I think it's a pretty fascinating story, and I hope other folks can follow suit and join a community and keep it growing.

But I wanted to transition us to picks, these are JAM picks, things that we're jamming on, could be music, food, could be tech related. Not required, but it could be tech related. And if you don't mind, I'll go first. I have one pick, it's a pick I binged very recently. I was a little behind the eight ball on this one, which is Midnight Mass. It's a Netflix show. Have you seen it before?

Amanda: Yes, that was an excellent show.

Brian: Yeah. Honestly, so my wife watched it, she binged it without me. It was one of those situations where before bed, which surprising that she watched this before bed because it's kind of scary. But yeah, so she binged it, I just recently binged it on a quick trip to All Things Open, which is an open source conference. Check out my keynote, maybe that's my pick. Check out the keynote for All Things Open, I got to speak on Open Sauce.

But binged the show, which I won't give away too much of the show, but it's essentially there is a island, I don't know even know where. It's off the coast of somewhere. But there's an island where people live, very small island, and there is a priest that comes back home and stuff happens, and it's all a mystery, you have no idea what's happening. You think things are not happening, but they are happening, and it's kind of like... It is mind boggling, to be quite honest. It's a mini series so there's only seven episodes, it's called Midnight Mass.

Amanda: Yeah. That's definitely one of those shows where you can only say so much, but it was definitely... I was definitely surprised by some of the stuff that happened in it. I was like, "Okay. That's what's going on. All right." But I definitely would recommend that as well, so I'm not going to steal your pick from you. I do have my own. But that's definitely a good one.

Brian: Yeah. Well, I will say if anybody's watched Friday Night Lights, which is a show I binged years ago on Netflix, actually, Matt Saracen which is one of the quarterbacks for the football team, he plays one of the main characters. It's a different role I've never seen him be in before, so it's actually really good. Everyone else, I'm not sure if they're famous, I don't know if I've seen them before, but definitely worth checking out. It is a bit of an intrigue and scary show, so if you're not into jump scares, probably skip this one. But if you are, definitely check it out. Excellent. You got a pick for us, Amanda?

Amanda: Okay. I'll have two, I have one for music because I'm a big music person, and one for watching. I'll start with the watch, it's nothing new but I've been binging, rewatching with my husband lately because he's never seen it, Parks And Rec. If you haven't watched that yet, I think it's so funny. It's one of my favorite, when you just want something to watch that just makes you laugh, makes you feel good. That'd be my pick for watching if you just want something to binge. Then for listening, I've lately been on a huge... I'm a rock music fan so I've been on a Coheed and Cambria kick lately, their new album Vaxis II, is so good, so that's my pick for music.

Brian: Are these like a mainstream band? Or is this like indie, Spotify playlist?

Amanda: I would say they're mainstream at this point. I saw them in September and the lead singer was like, "Thank you for 20 years." And I was like, "Ah, I remember buying that CD when it came out." So I'm old now.

Brian: Okay. Well, I'm intrigued. Now I got to listen to it.

Amanda: I love Coheed and Cambria, but anyway.

Brian: Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing and I look forward to definitely checking out more Redwood. And with that said, folks, keep spreading the jam.