Why I Decided to Join the Themes Team

April 15, 2020

As promised, a “more than a twitter thread” post on my new job!

Here are the headlines:

  • I’m still working at Gatsby!
  • I’m still a Staff Software Engineer (even if I neglected to mention that publicly prior to this)
  • I’m now a member of the Themes Team!
  • My former team, the Learning Team, is undergoing some changes of its own

My time on the Learning Team

I loved working on this team ❤️. And without the prompting of organizational changes, I likely would have stayed there for a while longer.

Some of the wonderful work I got to do:

  • Open source maintenance for Gatsby docs
  • Driving forward a vision and implementation of the Gatsby Cloud docs experience
  • Community teaching through webinars, talks, etc
  • Development of documentation for undocumented features
  • Mentorship and collaboration within and outside of the team

It was a great role, focused on the content-based work I’d found myself gravitating towards in the previous year.

But over time I started to realize there were drawbacks.

Being a constant editor made it harder to write.

I was a bit of an internal consultant. Something I have considerable experience with and had actively chosen to move away from for a while.

Developing docs and instructional materials meant building small projects from scratch time and time again. I missed some of the larger architectural deep dives and team-based code collaboration.

So what happened?

Well, startups are always evolving. For Gatsby, that meant looking at how we did content and aligning a few different teams and focus areas into a larger group. This is an exciting direction for a number of reasons and I look forward to seeing what this talented group of people will accomplish.

However, as these conversations developed, I realized that the role I was going to take on in that team was always going to focus more on “filling holes” than anything else. I want to be clear that this was no one’s fault but my own. But in my heart, I’m a completionist. It was too easy for me to focus on the firehose of community contributions and constantly push code exploration down the road.

So I started thinking.

Themes Team

I realized that I was always going to gravitate towards content in some ways, but I’d likely be more effective in that work if it wasn’t my full-time job.

I’m also very proud of the engineering work I’ve done over the past decade. That was essential knowledge and experience on the Learning Team; it’s not easy figuring out how undocumented stuff works! However, there were “typical” software development tasks that I missed.

I missed collaboration on larger projects. I missed some of the bigger architecture discussions. I missed bug fixes!

While on Learning I’d made themes a bit of a pet project. I was fascinated by what the team was working to develop. Really innovative thinking and development around next-generation tooling.

It’s worth noting that the Themes Team needs a new name! It’s a team working on Gatsby themes, but they’re also working on Blocks, Theme-UI, and some upcoming libraries. Recommendations for names are always welcome 😅.

Having interacted with this team quite a bit on documentation, and even some community input on points of friction, I felt it was a great fit to combine what I loved and what I was missing.

So I asked our VP of Engineering if I could be a part of it - and I cannot thank Gatsby leadership enough for their support. Every single person I talked to was wholeheartedly in favor of this new direction for me. After working out the logistics of the transition (which will be ongoing for the next couple weeks) I had a green light!

What’s next?

And now I have a lot of codebases to learn! In all seriousness, I’m ramping up and it’s going to take some time.

But I can’t imagine a better place to blend my skillsets and interests. The opportunity to take my user and product-centric development style and have a direct impact on tooling. The ability to learn from a truly amazing group of people - often referred to as the “magicians” or “mad scientists”. And the thrill of diving deep into JavaScript and the surrounding ecosystem.

This is the exact right place to be as I move into the next decade of my career. And I’m hopeful the work I undertake will result in even more cool content for all of you!


A blog by Laurie Barth.
Teacher of all things tech.