Cover image for I'm a co-founder of dev.to (this website), ask me anything!

I'm a co-founder of dev.to (this website), ask me anything!

jess profile image Jess Lee (she/her) ・1 min read

Hey, I'm Jess!

Here are some things that make me interesting, maybe:

  • I am Taiwanese American.
  • I like to rock climb.
  • I studied piano in college.
  • I went on tour with the KIDZ BOP Kids (not as a performer).
  • I went to a coding bootcamp.
  • I product managed at a nonprofit tech company.
  • I co-founded dev.to
  • I deal with operations.
  • I code, mostly in ruby & JS.

I also kicked off our monthly progress report today, so if there's anything in there I can clarify, ask away!


Editor guide

What has been the hardest, most difficult, or challenging aspect of founding and running the dev.to platform? And what turned out to be much easier than you expected? πŸ™ƒ


The most difficult --- remembering to give feedback! Sometimes I get stuck in the weeds and forget to set time aside to give feedback -- we have retros every Friday but even then we have a tendency to blow through everything quickly in order to 'get back to work.' I think positive feedback tends to get overlooked and we have a tendency to focus on 'what went wrong and how we can be better.'

We're getting better at it since we started doing Rose, Bud, Thorns at retro. A rose is something we celebrate, a Bud is a new 'thing' we're excited about, and a Thorn is something we need to do better at next time.

Must easier...making connections! People have been overwhelmingly supportive of dev.to and we've been given a lot of opportunities to talk about what we're doing, and have gotten a lot of great advice from people we look up to.


A lot of engineers I know (myself included) started out as musicians. What relationship (if any) do you think music has to writing code?


For instrument-playing musicians I always thought an 'obvious' relationship was the ability to play notes/type keys quickly. But that doesn't account for our vocalists and percussionists that might not be using their fingers like mad, that have also become engineers.

I think the biggest relationship is how code is written and how music is composed. Both can be broken down into smaller parts and both require attention to detail but a high level understanding of the bigger picture. Every developer has their own style and interpretation when approaching a problem, as does every musician.

Here's a huff post article that was an interesting read.

I will say that I use the same profanities when I'm stuck on a coding problem as I would when practicing a chopin etude.


My older brother Mikey recently took up coding in his early 40s. He's been a hardcore musician his whole life. I think there's also a similar thread on one's capacity to really try hard at something. Trying, failing, not giving up, and enjoying the journey either way seem to be skills that benefit both coders and musicians.

This thread made me realize that I had the same exact feeling of frustration when starting to learn music and starting to learn coding.


What dev.to feature that's not already in the works are you most excited about?


Whoops! Answered this below

But in short, I want to host office hours where devs can ask a programming/career/life question and know that there'll be another dev at the other end of the socket to answer it.


Would the mentor host be a dev.to dev or a community member? πŸ€”


Who is your favorite former coworker?


Do you prefer top-rope rock climbing, or bouldering? Any tips for someone who likes bouldering but kind of sucks at it (can't get past V1s...bleh)?


OH MY GOSH, YES! Ok. I bouldered for a couple years and couldn't really get past V1s comfortably. I was still terrified of the height and always struggled on the last move -- it was super frustrating and I never ended up climbing consistently because of it.

This past year, I started climbing again...but instead of bouldering, I went for top-roping. I found a buddy in @angaither so she pushes me to climb at least once a week. Top roping has helped me focused on the actual climbing and not the fear. I feel a lot more confident in my technique and I have a much higher level of endurance because the climbs are so much longer.

Now that I'm top-roping consistently, bouldering has become a lot easier and the fear aspect doesn't play as much because those muscles have gotten stronger.


(so the tip is to add some top-roping into your routing!)

That's great advice! Thank you!


What's the hardest part about building a community?


Communities take time to blossom so we could never have a 'build it and they will come' mentality. We spent a lot of (enjoyable) time building relationships with early adopters and listening to their feedback. But the difficult part is being patient and thinking hard about which pieces of advice/feedback to take and which to move on from. So, the hardest part is figuring out what's best for the community. At the end of the day, it's all of you that make this work because our tech isn't anything to write home about.


Damn, really well put.


Ms. Lee: How has dev.to changed in the last couple of months? What kind of workload does the PBJ have in these days with the increased userbase?

Also, what is the reasoning behind open sourcing dev.to? What does the company hope to/expect will happen when the codebase goes open source? Looking forward to learning how dev.to was built!

Also also, thank you for the must-read emails!


Let's see...well, we started doing AMAs πŸ˜›, but feature-wise we've added: reactions to articles (the unicorn reaction is up for interpretation!), notifications, a smarter home feed, and the ability for organizations to self-create their own accounts (we used to have to do that manually). Oh! And the #hiring board.

We're in a unique position where the community has the ability to build itself. When we open source, we hope people will jump in and start building out enhancements they want to see. We can make dev.to more robust, very quickly. We're also excited for our codebase to generally improve because we'll have more eyes on it keeping everyone accountable. We come from the belief that sharing work is what's best for the world and open source software is always the best software, so that's where we want to be.


Biggest Achievement so far ?


Hm, I have a tendency to associate an 'achievement' with a certificate or badge, which I can't say I've really acquired in the last few years aside from graduating from a coding bootcamp.

But something I'm definitely proud of myself for accomplishing this year is venturing into public speaking. I gave my first talk at Write/Speak/Code, an awesome conference for women based in Portland, OR. It was exciting and nerve wracking to talk about dev.to (and your developer identity) in front of a group of incredible women.


Do you have any advice on attracting diverse candidates?


Yes! At the top of the funnel:

1) I'd focus on eliminating unconscious bias from job descriptions. There are a lot of articles and tools out there that can help with this.
2) List the job on platforms that care about inclusivity and have a diverse demographic (like dev.to!)
3) Promote the job at events that are also inclusive and diverse.

Reviewing process

1) If you have the resources, eliminate as much personal info from the each resume as possible. This will help prevent you and your team's own biases to get in the way.

2) Instead of reviewing resumes together, add your feedback to a form. This way, everyone on your team has a say on whether or not a candidate should reach the next level. Avoid group think.

3) Same as the above after each in-person interview. Have you ever been in a situation where you really liked someone but then a peer says they thought that person was a terrible fit? In that moment, it's easy to doubt your original opinion so giving everyone an opportunity to provide feedback without groupthink is crucial.


Also don't give up! Like any hard problem it's way too easy to say "welp, that was hard, but at least we tried".


What are the biggest differences between a bigger engineering org and a "scrappy startup"?


More processes and more stakeholders with less change and less experiments. In my experience, decision-making takes a lot longer at bigger organizations. I've been told that a successful MVP is something that works 80% of the time -- but it's hard to take that mentality to heart when there are biz dev folks who really need everything to be running perfectly all the time, especially if the 'clients' will freak out if the padding on the user profile photo changes by 3px.

In order to not fall into that, scrappy startups should think hard about their boundaries/culture/relationships with stakeholders early on.


What is the one feature (or initiative) you are personally passionate about seeing on dev.to that is not yet announced or built?



Office hours and mentorship. We're planning to host office hours where devs can ask programming/career questions and know that someone will be there to answer them. We don't have the details sorted out so I can't really elaborate further than that, but that's the idea.


How was your bootcamp experience? What did you have trouble learning? What did you pick up easily?


I thought I picked up CSS easily until I realized it was the worst.

Overall, I want to say I had a good bootcamp experience but I definitely adjusted my expectations a few times. While it was happening, I didn't feel like I had enough 'support' -- there were too many students and too few professors. But in hindsight, having less support forced me to self-teach which I think is the most important skill I got out of the experience. The ability to find, read and interpret documentation has been crucial to becoming a better dev. The bootcamp taught me how to try & fail and ask smarter questions.


Do you think studying piano contributed to your extreme typing speeds?




What’s the best way to get better with JavaScript?


I think the best way to get better at anything is to practice. Challenge yourself with new problems everyday and find people to provide feedback on your approach.

Here are some articles that might be helpful:


Hi Jess! What was it like working at a tech nonprofit, and what drew you to that particular company?


I was drawn to DoSomething.org because of the mission: empowering young people to take social action. And with that, the people behind the mission. I was in a place where I had the luxury of choosing where to work and given that option, I wanted to work for an organization that was adding to the world in a positive way.

DS was run like a startup, so it honestly didn't feel that different. Our KPIs were organized around activating young people, and not 'revenue', so that was pretty cool. DS is also well-connected so we were able to pick the brains of a lot of smart people.


Ms. Lee: your website seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?


Hi, Ben Halpern, thank you for your question. I had to look up the speed of Canadian freight trains. A class 4 train can go up to 60 mph, wow! And if you add on the runaway aspect, that's really quite fast..though not as fast as some high speed passenger trains. Well anyway, I'll interpret this as a compliment, even though I think we'd prefer to go at the speed of runaway passenger trains.

We're popular because of our community. We believe in sharing knowledge and ideas (the most important riches in the world!), and people on dev.to are actually nice and supportive.


nice and supportive

That's exactly what I like about this place!


Got a strange feeling of a deja vue. Can't pin it down right now, but I am sure I will... But let's eat that donut first. Or 10. πŸ˜‰


If you don't mind my asking, does dev.to make money yet (I read the progress report)? Are you bootstrapped, or did you get financing?


We're currently operating off of a friends & family round of financing from Peter & Ben's previous startup. We're not currently making money, but we are putting our efforts into #hiring to see if that's a viable path.


Hi Jess,

I haven't been so happy to be part of a community like dev.to and I would love to make a donation!

I'm sure I'm not the first that ask you that but don't be shy about donation : if it's optional and not intrusive, everything will be fine.

Today, the web community is used to donation because we know that it's a way for creators to provide better content with less inconvenients for the community :)

Keep it up, Dev.to, and we will follow ! <3


How did dev.to get started? What's the toughest thing about building and maintaining a product with so many users? Being a co founder do you get any time to relax?


As our userbase has grown, changes that used to be 'little' are getting noticed because everyone has a shared sense of ownership over the site. This is great but filtering through all the different feedback we get can be challenging because we know we'll never be able to serve ever request or ask.

It's also more obvious when we occasionally break the site so we're really trying to not do that anymore. One of our goals for this quarter is to increase test coverage πŸ˜…

I'm not physically working around the clock, but it's definitely difficult to find time to take my mind off of work. I've been trying to exercise more, and I eat dinner with my partner almost every night :)


What inspires you to keep working on dev.to? What motivated you to get into the "startup" space given the amount of work/life tradeoffs this entails?


Oh man, I love the energy startups have -- especially one in the early stages. There's a sort of (organized) chaos that I deeply appreciate and feel like I thrive in. I love that we have the flexibility to experiment and try new things. The community inspires me on a daily basis, especially because everyone is so supportive of not just us, but each other!


What does "Operations" entail on a daily basis? I see you all juggling a zillion things and exploring so many new ideas, connections and content. How do you organize & prioritize your decisions?


I love the "PBJ" moniker for the leadership team. And I was curious to know - does your gender, ethnicity, age or other bias ever factor into conversations either internally (when the three of you make decisions) or externally (when you reach out to collaborators, sponsors or partners)? How do you deal with it?


I think we all carry our own set of unconscious bias around, so yes, it affects our decision making. But topics like gender, ethnicity, and age are alway top of mind for us. We're really hellbent on creating a welcoming environment for all developers and that fundamental value dictates every decision we make. I don't have an answer for how we 'deal' with it, but I can say that we keep an open dialogue and hold ourselves accountable for speaking up.


Looking to transition from freelancing to being a full-time in-house front-end dev. What sort of work should I show on my portfolio?


Since you're looking for a front-end role, I'd say recommend showing off your best designed projects because regardless of implementation, similar to 'first impressions', your work needs to 'catch their eye.'

Aside from that, I'd research the technologies the company uses and leverage your experience with those technologies if they match up.


You've been asked to give multiple talks in the past year. How does give talks? and how does one become good at it?


I've learned that giving talks can be really different for people. I asked @jennschiffer how she prepared for talks and she said....

i write my conference talks in my head for like weeks in advance and will sometimes take notes in a personal slack i use. i don't really make slides until a few days before and leading up to the talk (slides are my least favorite part of giving talks) and i do not practice.

Note: i do not practice

I'm the exact opposite! I'll make my slides and then spend hours and hours running through the talk with friends. I tend to black out on stage so the more I have memorized (things I can grab onto), the more confident I feel.


What resolution are you making for 2018? (Anything new you want to learn, do or try?)


My reoccurring resolution tends to be 'blog more' but if you count all the weekly #ICYMI posts on dev.to, then I might have actually accomplished that goal this year :)

A few months ago, I would have said I wanted to learn more about progressive web apps, but @andy has since built that out...so next year, I'm interested in learning iOS. I'm always curious about iOT (esp. after the code lab at I/O) but I'm not officially writing that down on my list of goals just yet.


When describing dev.to to friends, I have a short "pitch" to help them understand what kind of content lives here. How do you describe it to people curious about it?


Non-programming friends: dev.to is like facebook for developers and all our status updates are about programming.

Programming friends: dev.to is a place for you to learn and discuss new ideas and concepts. Developers from all backgrounds and skill levels share their work experiences and technical learnings. It's also a place for you to make connections with other developers and grow your developer identity.


Are there values that you follow as a co-founder of a company and a developer?


As a founder: do your best to communicate effectively and be as transparent as possible with your team.

As a dev: ask for help sooner than later.


Buen trabajo Jess, un saludo desde Madrid. This is my favorite dev community right now. Regards


Thanks Isra! ❀️


Hey Jess, thanks for all the hard work you've put into this awesome place! :)

What book/film/other media has caught your attention recently? Technical or otherwise.


I'm reading Reset by Ellen Pao right now --- it's honestly been a devastating and captivating read that hits way too close to home. I haven't read the whole thing, but I can confidently recommend the first 30% of the book so far.

Another book that I absolutely loved is "Startup" by Doree Shafrir, it's a fictional take of the startup world and it's hilarious.


What do you mean exactly?


Imagine you're 60 - where do you live and what do you spend your time on?


In the woods, growing my own produce, raising chickens and the max # of livestock allowed on whatever property I'm on...

So uh, working remote. 60 is way too early for me to retire. I can't really imagine where the tech will be in thirty years, but I'm sure I'll be dabbling in it.