In episode 61 of JAMstack Radio, Brian speaks with T7 Chicken creator Nick DeJesus. They discuss developer sponsorships, coding bootcamps, Gatsby themes, and Nick’s personal experience maintaining use-shopping-cart.
About the Guests
Brian Douglas: Welcome to another installment of JAMstack Radio. On the line we've got Nick DeJesus. Welcome, Nick.
Nick DeJesus: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Brian: Excellent. Nick, we can just jump right in.
I'm just curious, do you want to tell the listeners why you're here and what you do?
Nick: I'm here because you invited me, which I'm very happy about. Thank you.
Nick: I've been coding for about five years and I'm self-taught.
To break things down, I am a Tekken player first and foremost, and what inspired me to get into coding was wanting to make an app for my community.
We all travel for tournaments and stuff and we want to hold on to certain information and whatnot, so I had no idea how to code but I just knew that I had an app I wanted to build.
To just basically condense everything since then, I've just been making projects based on itches that I want to scratch.
Right now I'm working at Resilient Coders, which is a boot camp focused on black and brown people getting into the tech industry.
We pay them to learn how to code, and after about 20 weeks we place them into some pretty well-paying jobs.
We try to keep them away from the titles of "Junior" or internships or apprenticeships and whatnot.
Brian: That's nice.
Nick: That's kind of where I skipped a whole bunch of stuff, obviously, because it's just so much. But that's pretty much me.
Brian: I'm curious if your story is out there, maybe other people can catch up on how you got to where you're at.
I'm also curious too as well, you said you wanted to build an app for your community. Do you want to talk more about what that is?
Nick: Yeah. I'm a tournament player, so I've traveled to tournaments throughout America. I've been to tournaments in Thailand and Scotland--
Brian: Tournaments for what?
Nick: Tekken tournaments. It's a fighting game.
Brian: Oh, Tekken. OK, I missed that.
Nick: Yeah, sorry. I just assume everyone knows it because my whole community is centered around Tekken right now.
Basically we study information on the characters and the fighting mechanics called frame data, and it tells you how fast attacks are, what they do when it hits people, what happens when attacks are blocked and whatnot.
That's pretty much where I was as far as my hobbies and interests and stuff, and somebody released an app that would help you get ahold of this frame data offline.
Because people were doing weird stuff, they were downloading HTML pages and stuff like that.
I paid for the app and I don't know if you are aware, but it is very hard to get an Android user to pay for anything.
Brian: I've heard that, yeah.
Nick: So I paid three dollars for this app and after using the app I was super unsatisfied with the content, it was like all the top ten moves of every character.
Each character has 70-100 different moves, and I was like, "This is not enough."
I was so disappointed that I actually decided to step up and learn how to code so I can build what I think that app should have been.
So right now it's in the iOS and Android store called T7 Chicken Plus.
It's actually my third version, and the reason why it's called "Plus" is because it's a huge upgrade from my second one, because I've been growing as a developer.
I think that project alone has attributed to pretty much all of my growth.
It helped me dive more into React and Redux, working with React Native.
I was working at an agency where I wasn't learning anything at all and the only way that I can get the experience that I wanted was by working on my own personal projects, so T7 Chicken is a manifestation of me wanting to learn and grow and also bring value to a community.
I think it has over 30,000 users right now.
Brian: That's amazing.
Nick: I'm a little ashamed because I kind of abandoned it post-Covid, so I've got to dust it off one of these days, but I'm not sure when that will be.
Brian: That's not too long. I've got projects I haven't touched in years.
Actually, one project I'm working on right now, I didn't touch in probably a year and a half, and I'm just now actually starting to pick up.
I don't have 30,000 users, I have 65 users as of today.
Nick: That's something.
Brian: It is something, and I had one before I actually started cleaning up, which was me. I'm happy to have more than one user, that's for sure.
Nick: I think if you've got a personal project, I just work on it when I feel like it. I don't want to feel pressured to always consistently--
Especially if it's not making me money, you know?
Brian: Yeah, that's wild. I haven't played Tekken since probably the Dreamcast days, so I'm pretty-- Talk about dust y, that's my skill level for sure.
But I've actually, I did play a lot of Street Fighter recently, but I don't know if there's a whole rivalry between Street Fighter and Tekken or not.
Nick: No, not really. Especially now in Tekken 7, they drop Street Fighter characters in it.
So now all the Tekken players are mad about that. Akuma is insane, but we can talk about that another time. Like, over drinks or something.
Brian: We'll save it for the picks, we'll pick our favorite Tekken and Street Fighter players.
But yeah, I'm curious, maybe we can chat about the project that I was really interested in hearing about, which is the shopping cart. Use-Shopping-Cart?
Brian: I'm curious of how you got to that point. Is that also related to T7 Chicken?
Nick: Yes, actually. Pretty much everything I've ever done as a developer is-- Like, at the start of it all is something to do with T7 Chicken.
Brian: Which is like, maybe create a different name that had more of the origination.
Nick: I know. So basically, I got the 30,000 users and I'm not making money from this project, and I've said "OK. 30,000 users, it's time to try to cash in on this somehow."
I wanted to make a little swag store, and of course there's Shopify and all these other things.
But as a developer, you never want to use someone else's stuff. You want to roll your own.
Brian: Also, you're an Android user so you don't want to pay.
Nick: Exactly. So basically, I started trying to make this happen on my own and there were so many pain points I came across.
And then to sidetrack myself I also was like, "I might want to do this multiple times, and I hate boilerplate code."
Like, copying and pasting and stuff. That's when I caught wind of Gatsby Themes.
Gatsby Themes pretty much allows you to you can create whole entire websites and do something called "Component shadowing."
Like, you can leave it as is or you can shadow a component to override it in a way and manipulate it in the way that you need.
I was like, "That sounds really cool."
So instead of learning Gatsby directly, I jumped right in and decided to learn how to build themes.
So I started building this Gatsby Stripe theme for the e-commerce experience, and I think that's where I got a lot of my traction because Gatsby was doing a lot of promotional stuff at the time and people were trying to jump in and learn Gatsby.
Then I realized there's a whole series of events I'm going to skip over, but I realized what was significant about the Gatsby theme wasn't so much the ability to launch a e-commerce store in a matter of minutes by itself, but the shopping cart logic is what people wanted.
So people were trying to use my theme and some people aren't even interested in Gatsby.
They're like, "What if I want to use Use-Shopping-Cart but I don't want to use Gatsby?" And I was like, "Huh."
I am supposed to be creating an egghead lesson around how to actually make this library, and they were telling me that their process is to have a workshop before it becomes an actual course.
I was thinking to myself, "I wrote such horrible code for the shopping cart. There's no way I can do this live for a workshop. That's just not it."
So there was two things I was trying to do there. One, trying to make it available for any React developer, it doesn't matter what framework or platform or whatever you want to use.
And then the other piece was "I did this so I can skip over trying to tell people how to build the shopping cart live in a workshop."
It ended up getting a lot more traction than I expected. I was really just trying to scratch my own itch, which is what motivates me to do anything.
I'm pretty excited for it, especially because I know right now it's branded as a Stripe-powered shopping cart thing, but we do have plans to open up to other platforms.
Just recently I have had some conversations, and I know that in Africa there's basically no support for e-commerce at all.
So I'm working with somebody who is interested in trying to help me make this shopping cart work for African payment systems.
Brian: Nice. Are you talking about Flutterwave? Is that one of them?
Nick: I am not 100% sure. Whoever is helping is starting with Kenya, and I think they used something else.
Brian: Flutterwave is based out of Nigeria. They might cover other countries, but they come to mind because they helped me out with one of the Hackathons we did for GitHub.
Brian: That's wild though.
I'm just blown away that you-- because I have a lot of side projects, but nothing that obviously has got 30,000 users, but also nothing that I've ever been able to peel off an idea into another side project, if that makes sense.
Like, you're able to take T7 Chicken as an Android app and create a swag store, but then take that swag store and make it available to other people in addition to potentially having egghead courses and content around that too, as well.
Nick: Yeah, that's how I prioritize things.
I have this giant list of things that I would love to accomplish , and there's all kinds of variables for priorities, but a lot of things that I choose first are things that feed into others.
Just to get as much done with the least-- It feels weird saying "The least amount of effort" because it's so much work, but I'm covering everything.
Hitting one area is going to make it easier for the other areas that I'm trying to get into as well, and it also helps because I do like teaching and it helps with my engagement and stuff too, and getting stuff out there.
Brian: Yeah. I think that's a good way to look at things too as well, especially if you look at a lot of times people just want to ship something to make a lot of money or start a startup or scratch an itch.
But when you look at the bigger picture of "If I take the time to learn Gatsby or Gatsby Themes like you did, what will this lead me to eventually?"
Or, "How can I take something that's successful like T7 Chicken, but build something else that's probably going to be more successful?"
I'm not sure, we didn't talk about adoption for Use-Shopping-Cart. Like, if you're getting a lot of users, a lot of feedback?
Nick: If I check, I think I'm over-- I have 200-something stars and there are 30 people using it, and some of them are people testing things out.
Stripe has created examples on their own with Next and stuff.
Nick: Which is cool, because I'm super into Gatsby. It's nice knowing that people are building Next content, and I'm actually waiting for someone to actually launch an e-commerce store with it.
So, this is all very recent. This is all very new, probably maybe two or three months in the making.
Brian: Really? For some reason I thought this was a thing you've been working on for a bit.
Brian: I felt out of the loop, because I've never heard of it before. Like, "Why am I not building stuff with this?"
Nick: You haven't heard of it because it's literally brand new.
Nick: So, I'm waiting for that. I actually am trying to help somebody personally launch their own e-commerce thing, it's going to be a pain relief cannabis oil thing.
This guy is really good at making that kind of stuff, so I personally want to launch his site with my own tools.
I'll probably be the first to launch an e-commerce store with my own thing, but I'm waiting for that kind of adaptation.
I do have a Discord that's on the dock site , so people are joining the Discord and asking questions on how to use it and stuff like that.
So I'm getting the engagement and stuff, it's just very early, which is why I want to also focus on making all this content and stuff around it to get people to adopt it.
Brian: That brings up something I wanted to bring up too as well, I've got so much I want to ask you and talk about, and I know of you because of GitHub Sponsors when you reached out to my tweet.
Brian: I got you on there.
Nick: Thank you so much. That was really inspiring.
Brian: Yeah, and that came through--
I haven't talked about this publicly a lot, but the US particularly is coming through some really interesting changes and lots of protests, and me as a black male, I've just been really struggling on like "What is my part in this and what am I doing?"
Like, I'm not a protester.
I'm not in downtown Oakland doing stuff, but I'm really focused on how I can actually support my community, so I just looked at my GitHub Sponsors and people I was sponsoring, and it was like "All these are familiar faces, which is great, but I'd love to support-- Who can I help in my community?"
I think you were the first person to respond to my tweet on a Saturday morning, which I appreciate that, and I think a lot of other people appreciated that because they all jumped on the bandwagon.
I'm curious of your side of the experience on how that works, because I know it directly correlates to the amount of work you've been able to put into Use-Shopping-Cart and stuff like that.
Nick: First of all, I want to say thank you. I have 22 people donating from that tweet.
A lot of them are people from GitHub too, which is kind of cool, as well as I've got some people donating from Stripe at the same time.
So I'm at almost $500 a month and I didn't plan for this.
Like, I still actually have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but I think for now I'm going to be at least sending email updates to the sponsors.
I don't know if you saw that tweet the other day, one guy is making $100K from GitHub Sponsors.
Brian: Yeah, Caleb.
Brian: It's great timing for you, because it came out right after you ended up adopting a lot of sponsors, but it also sounds like -- I don't know if you're going to go into this, but Caleb was talking about how he got to the $100K mark for GitHub Sponsors through content, and engagement.
He just laid it all out and it sounds like you're almost there.
Nick: That was exactly my plan, and it's super validating to see the biggest thing I wanted to do-- I actually have a couple plans with this.
I have this library, and there's a point where not literally, but this shopping cart library is going to be "Done."
Like, there's only so much you can do with a shopping cart. What I hope to do is create a lot of educational content for using it.
I'm starting with JAMstack stuff with both Gatsby and Next, and I also hope to have SaaS, which would be like a super mini CMS that integrates with the shopping cart library itself.
My initial MVP stuff will be product creation, inventory management, and you won't have to host your own server.
You can use my serverless implementation, and that's my starting point for now.
But I also want to open source those pieces, so it's always going to be an option.
I think I'm going to start off as a SaaS first and then when things are going well then I'll open it up to open source.
Of course, if I get the kind of donations that could allow me to put more energy and time into it, and the faster that kind of stuff will get done.
Brian: Yeah, we should chat. Because there might be some overlap.
I haven't started working on it, but I want to do a swag store for one of my projects.
I've got a nice brand which is Open Sauced, and it was like one of those deals where if you're a group or you're in a band you spend more time on the design and the logo than actually doing any playing music.
Open Sauced is definitely that for me, where I spend way more time on the design and less on the actual code and the product.
I've caught up, and now the actual product works, but for a couple of years I had a pretty sweet logo and nothing else to show for it.
So with that being said, I want to actually set up a sticker shop and a swag store, and I haven't actually messed with Stripe directly in a while, so I'm not even sure--
I know the API is great, but that's about it.
Nick: I would love to help you.
With Use-Shopping-Cart, you don't really need to know much about Stripe, you just need to know how to use Use-Shopping-Cart.
It would be perfect for a sticker store stuff right now.
The biggest hurdle right now for me is the inability to create a variance, and I think it'll be easy for a developer themselves to create something that has variants and stuff.
I wish Stripe's dashboard had a variant thing, but outside of that I would love to help.
It's perfect for sticker stores. I think somebody is actually using it for a sticker store right now.
Brian: I'm just blown away on this experience. I'm also curious, there's a lot of other--
Especially in the JAMstack space, a lot of other shopping cart stores.
I know Shopify has their thing and I'm not sure how watered down you can make that, Stripe is nice because you can put it anywhere.
Shopify is nice because it does everything for you, so I'm curious if there is talks of making a paid component around the shopping cart stuff?
Or are you just scratching an itch while still trying to figure it out yourself?
Nick: I think that paid component is probably most likely going to be that CMS aspect.
Ultimately in the grand scheme of things, I actually care more about non-technical/non-coder people. I want to help them. However, I'm not really satisfied with the developer tooling for building the things that I would like to build, so now I'd like to build the developer tooling and see where I can go from there.
The headless CMS is going to be that paid component, I don't know if I'm going to do something like what SnipCart does or What Shopify does.
With Gatsby, I've been trying to figure out ways to launch websites with no code at all , sort of like how code works.
You're speaking on something that resonates with me a lot, the questions you're asking, but I'm still so early in the game that I have to see where I fall at this point.
Like, my priorities right now. Keep the shopping cart thing open source itself, which I think was a really great learning experience for me and it was really fun to work on.
Brian: Was it the first thing you open sourced that had adoption?
Nick: I have never done anything in open source ever before.
This is my first open source thing ever. I've done small contributions to maybe docs or something for React Native or something in that eco space, but I've never been interested--
At any point in my life have I ever considered myself being any kind of open source person.
Not even just a maintainer, like I would think about open source stuff and I'd be like "I'm totally not interested in that."
So this is my first open source project, I have contributors like Thor, he's a Stripe developer advocate. He's actually a core contributor himself.
Brian: That is awesome.
Nick: I also have another contributor, ChrisBrowny 55 on GitHub. He has been a tremendous amount of help as well.
Then there's others, if you look at my all contributors list there's a bunch of people who have done little things here and there and stuff.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this is my first thing ever, and it just happened to pick up a lot of traction. I'm very lucky and grateful for it all.
Brian: I would say that was wild, but honestly out of all the open source maintainers I've chatted with, either here or outside of this podcast, a lot of people fall into things.
Like, it's very similar. There's some people who are just serial open source maintainers.
They will just have an idea, spin it up, make it work and it grows, and then they walk away.
Or they continue to maintain it, whatever it is.
But then a lot of people sort of just fell into an idea, and I think what's interesting about your approach of building tools for non-developers is that there are a lot of non-developers out there that have really great ideas but don't know how to code, and there are a lot of developers who have no ideas, but know how to code.
Being able to mirror that mix of individuals and think outside the box for things, because it could have been just as easy for you to sign up for Shopify and add a bunch of a bunch of your logo stuff to Shopify and then you're good, and then you pay whatever the 25%, the 15-- I'm not sure what it is for Shopify, but pay the cut and then you move on.
Nick: We wouldn't be here right now.
Nick: And I'd probably be making money from T7 Chicken. I still never did that.
Brian: There are other realms, I guess. I don't know.
But I guess GitHub Sponsors is working out well for you, so hopefully that continues to grow.
It's really a testament of how open source doesn't have to be 100% free, it doesn't have to be all your free time and then you get no glory or glamor, and it doesn't have to just be. A lot of people use open source as your resume building experience as well. It can be all that stuff, but also if you want to work on something and something you care about the most and maybe until people figure it out and find it's a good idea.
There's so much inspiration in this short chat that we've had so far , but I'm curious too as well, I'm definitely going to check out the shopping cart and I'm definitely going to set something up, probably super simple up front and try to figure out how to get my stickers out to the people and all that sort of drop shopping stuff like that.
I'll figure it out eventually, but I'm curious of some of the stuff you also are associated with.
I'm curious about this one thing that I'm really interested in, which is a black tech pipelined.
Are you able to talk about that a little bit?
Nick: Yes. A Black Tech Pipeline is going to be a hiring resource, resources page, and job board all in one. It's focused on black and brown people.
For years the conversation has always been like, "Employer. There's not enough black and brown people here. Why?"
And it's like, "It's a pipeline problem, we're not getting enough black and brown people in the pipeline."
So Paris, she blew up on Twitter.
It's funny you said that you didn't really know of us until maybe about six or nine months ago or something like that, and so we are both actually kind of new to Twitter in that regard.
She blew up with that tweet and there are thousands of black and brown engineers and technologists or whatever in that thread.
I have to admit for myself, even as somebody who was a software engineer at that time, if you had asked me "Nick, how many black and brown engineers are in the industry?"
I would have started counting on my hands.
Brian: We probably would have had the same list too, as well. That's the other sad part.
Nick: Exactly. So what Paris is doing is creating that space for employers to hire black and brown candidates, so it's going to start off and I'm building it with Gatsby and we're using forestry as a CMS.
Brian: Nice. Both guests on this podcast.
Nick: Nice. So the plan is there's going to be a recruitment thing where a company can say, "I have this role. Can you find somebody out of your database?"
She's got an Airtable database full of black and brown engineers, and she's going to handle the recruitment piece. I'm not going to go into the business specifics of that, but that's a thing.
Then there's going to be if a company doesn't want her to actually go and find candidates, they can post on her job board.
Then there's going to be a resources page, which I could be wrong, but I think that's free.
Where if you're running something, some kind of program where you have some event going on that's catered to black and brown people, you can just be on that page.
Then it also ties into her newsletter.
Brian: I'm definitely on that.
Nick: I'm very proud of her. This is something she's really passionate about, especially herself being an engineer and experiencing the micro aggressions and all that stuff. Like she has her own history of dealing with this and she knows how necessary this is.
Brian: Yeah, that's awesome. I look forward to leveraging that and pointing people to that when it's available, and I hope listeners will also check it out as well as the BlackTechPipeline.com. Is that going to be the--?
Nick: That will be it. If you go in there right now, it's a Shopify site to get stickers. We're not ready to drop it just yet. Right now, she's actually having back-to-back meetings all week for clients who want to be part of the launch, the initial launch.
Brian: OK, excellent. I look forward to that. Hopefully its soon.
We've sort of already transitioned, but I have this part of the podcast called The Picks where it's things you're jamming on.
Jam picks could be music, could be food, could be tech-related. And if you don't mind, I'll go first.
Actually maybe you go first because you already mentioned Black Tech Pipeline. Yeah, do you have any other picks you want to mention?
Nick: That would be my first pick, Black Tech Pipeline , and I want to choose Resilient Coders as the next pick, which is my current place of employment.
I've been a mentor there for a couple of years before joining and whatnot. Again, coding boot camp focused on black and brown technologists.
We pay them to learn how to code and we hold the hiring partners to very high standards when it comes too recruiting from our boot campers.
Brian: Is this for a specific city, or is this online?
Nick: Right now it's just in Boston. We are doing remote classes, but we're still keeping it to Boston.
The main reason is because we understand the needs of Boston Tech companies, we have better relationships and it's easier to support our students.
We would love to expand to other cities, even if that means not necessarily making Resilient Coders available in another city, but helping other organizations create their own version of Resilient Coders.
I think that's in the books for maybe two or three years.
We're still perfecting our formula in Boston right now.
Brian: All right. Excellent. I super appreciate organizations like that, myself being a black engineer I figured it out eventually, but it wasn't an option for me.
Despite me having decent grades and a college degree, I didn't take the route of computer science because I didn't think that was a path that made sense.
In hindsight I wish I took that decision.
But again, I'm sure you deal with a lot of college-educated people, people who had a whole other degree, a whole other career.
I think especially the days of Covid too, as well, where unemployment is the highest that it's ever been.
Nick: It's pretty scary.
Brian: There's a lot of people who are looking for jobs.
Nick: The most recent cohort who graduated a few weeks ago, I think it was maybe 17 or 18 of them right now, we were able to place half of them.
Which is crazy considering the times and stuff.
Brian: Yeah, the times and the influx of-- Because engineers are not omitted from the layoffs.
There are definitely companies who have laid off a lot of their staff, including engineers.
So there's an influx of experience now in the market too as well, looking for jobs, in addition to people who just learned out of a bootcamp.
So, it's a challenging time and I wish everybody the best.
But with that being said, I'm going to move into my picks, which is going to be a little less deep but also deep as well.
Anyway, I gave a talk at Juneteenth Conf. Juneteenth is a day that commemorates two years after the emancipation proclamation in the US, it took two years for the last group of slaves to actually be freed, and they had to be told because that was information that was not accessible at that time in the 1800s.
The talk itself goes into open source as another information not being accessible.
You just being near open source, like it's a thing that's been around your entire career as an engineer, and same with me, but there's a piece of valuable information that is not being shared widely with the tech community, especially developers, and that was that's what that talk was about.
So please check it out. Juneteenth Conf for Brian Douglas on YouTube. Then my last pick is going to be less serious, but I just ordered some pie online.
Brian: There's a pie shop in Oakland called Pietisserie and this has definitely a bit of a hard week, it's been a hard month and I'm looking forward to some cherry pie and p ecan pie. Me and my wife--
Nick: I've never heard pecan.
Brian: My wife and I-- My wife is from Louisiana, and I'm from Florida.
So we say things different, but she's a fan of the pecan pie and I'm looking forward to get that. I'm actually going to get it tomorrow, but if you could order pie from home now is the time.
I would look forward to perhaps we can build a pie website using Use-Shopping-Cart and then that way everybody can have pie whenever they want it.
Nick: Something in the JAMstack.
Brian: Yeah, the pie JAMstack. For sure. All right, I'm really getting into this.
Nick, thanks for coming on and chatting about your open source, your efforts.
You're touching a lot of stuff, which is amazing.
Nick: Yes. I am spread so thin, but I'm also very happy.
Brian: With that, listeners, keep spreading the jam.