In this episode of Podcast Awesome, we chat with software engineer Jason Otero about his recent work on Font Awesome Kits, the benefits of working on six-week splits, and his love for playing guitar in two different bands. Tune in for an engaging discussion on tech, business, and nerdery.
[00:00:36] Six week splits vs two week sprints.
[00:05:57] New method of loading Kits.
[00:07:18] CSS-only web font Kits.
[00:09:47] Project management methods.
[00:12:41] Full benefits of 'cool down' time.
[00:18:33] WebAssembly and Rust technology.
[00:19:09] Programming language preferences.
[00:22:14] Favorite icons and hobbies.
[00:26:33] Guitar gear obsession.
[00:31:38] Music and Band Promotion.
Stay up to date on all the Font Awesomeness!
00:00 Jason: Welcome to Podcast Awesome, where we chat about icons, design, tech, business, and nerdery with members of the Font Awesome team. On today's Nerd Show and Tell, I'm joined by Jason Otero, Font Awesome software engineer. We talk a little bit about his recent work on Font Awesome kits, the benefits of working within six week splits rather than two week sprints. He's quite the guitar aficionado, plays in two different bands. We talk guitar gear, guitars, and then that time he was a teenager and he was allowed to play with fire in a controlled environment. I mean, come on, who wouldn't want to get paid for playing with fire? So Jason Otero, welcome to the Nerd Show and Tell.
01:18 Matt: Thanks for taking some time to chat today. Yeah, glad to be here. Yeah. And around the office we call you Mr. O because we have another Jason, Jason Lindean, and
that helps us to keep you guys straight. The danger of hiring bull who are within about five years of my age is you have about a 50% chance of having another Jason. I'm pretty sure that about a third of all baby boys from the late 70s, early 80s were Jason: named Jason.
01:34 Matt Right. Yeah, it's like girls from the, some time in the 70s were all named Jennifer, you know. It's all good. I have the most generic name of all time. I think the only way you can make it more generic, no diss on the Joe Smiths out there, but you know, Matt Johnson is pretty, pretty all American standard. I'm curious to know what's your professional background and what is your role at Font Awesome now?
01:55 Jason: Well, I started installing and troubleshooting alarm systems back in the day, which unknowingly probably helped me when I moved into software back when I was in my early 30s. I went back to college and got a degree in information systems at that point. Then is when I started my software engineer track. So I've been doing that now for six, seven years. Yeah. So at Font Awesome, I am a software engineer, so I get to mostly work on the backend of things. I'm not great on the front end, but I can pack together a site if I need to. But we have people on the team that are much more adept at that than I am.
02:31 Jason: So I mostly tinker around with all the backend code, making sure all that works well. What was the lead in from security systems?
02:39 Matt: How did that kind of lead toward you getting into IT?
Jason: Setting up alarms and figuring out, you know, why they're not working, et cetera, was, is really the part that I think helped my brain kind of mold itself in a way that really works well as a developer, because a lot of what we have to do is figure out how something should work and then if it's not working, why it's not working and how to create good solutions to fix those problems when they crop up or to create a new solution that we haven't even thought of yet, because it'll create a great thing for customers. So that process of logical deduction that you have to do whenever you're troubleshooting something I think kind of helped lead me toward the development side of things as I started getting into IT.
03:18 Matt: Yeah, I can totally see that. When you were done with school, what was your sort of career trajectory leading to Font Awesome?
03:24 Jason: Well, I started developing at the university that I graduated from. I was there for three years or so, then went on to another small company in the area. My first connection with Font Awesome was actually using them at the university. I used Font Awesome when I went to the company that I was at before Font Awesome. I met Ed, he knew Travis, who's one of the co-founders of Font Awesome. That was about the time they were doing the Kickstarter was shortly after when I started at this company and we were all excited about Font Awesome doing really well because he knew them, he had a personal connection and I had a connection as a user. And so we were really excited for him. We both backed it and that was just cool to see. And then later I met Travis through Ed. Then when I was starting to look for different opportunities, I went and talked to Travis.
04:11 Jason: Then here I am now I've been with Font Awesome for going on four years now. Nice. Font Awesome years, you're like an old schooler now.
04:27 Matt: Yeah. Yep. Do you ever miss being out in the cold pulling cable and crawl spaces and up on rooftops?
Jason: I do not, amazingly enough. I get to crawl under my house to insulate some pipes this winter and I was reminded why I like software engineering.
04:39 Matt: It's nice and warm and dry.
04:40 Jason: Indeed. Nice. It's nice to be in a climate controlled environment.
04:45 Jason: That's right. Is there any chunk of work that you've done maybe in the last couple of splits that you'd like to share?
07:15 Matt: That's great. Any challenges that you guys bumped up against when you're in the middle of the project?
07:22 Jason: Oh, yeah. The CSS-only kits went pretty well. The only thing, I mean, we ran into a couple of things where we realized some of the way we were doing things we probably should adjust because we weren't quite getting the speed we wanted at first. And so I made quite a few adjustments toward the end where we did a lot of benchmarking and testing and things got smoothed out and worked pretty well. The payment method one, that one, because of the way we integrate with Stripe, we're doing a lot of web hooks. And so if people know what web hooks are, they're giving us what is called a web hook. Essentially, they're saying something happened. A certain event happens on Stripe. A customer pays. We get a notification through a web hook that says, hey, the customer paid. So then we have to make sure we match all that stuff up correctly. And for the most part, that's not hard to do. But there are a lot of little edge cases because of various things like different plans we've had over time. Or if someone cancels and reactivates, what does that look like versus someone who buys it new? Or if someone's been deactivated for two or three years, does that look different? There were just a lot of different scenarios that we had to make sure we accounted for to make sure we didn't break any of the existing payment flow, but also add in all these new payment methods and make sure that everything flowed correctly. So there was just a lot of testing. And that one took a lot of work by several of us to make sure that we didn't miss anything. And even by the time we got to the end, once you actually have people using it, there were still a couple of scenarios that we had to make a couple of adjustments on. The first week or so, we had it out in the wild. So that one definitely had some significant challenges, just making sure we covered every single possible way that someone might interact with our stuff and have to account for all the different legacy plans and things like that that are still out there for people that are subscribers. It was a fun challenge. It was definitely a little bit scary just because that's how we get paid. So if we screw that up, then we're not only irritating our customers, but we are directly harming ourselves. That one was one we really needed to be solid going out. For the most part, it was.
09:24 Matt: So it felt good to get that out and let people start using it. And then the little bugs and extra stuff that you have to fix, that's really what the cool downs are for, right?
09:33 Jason: Yep. That's what I've been doing, this cool down, just a handful of little bug fixes. It's nice to be able to just go down the list and be like, oh, I want to get that one fixed, I want to get that one fixed. Because a lot of times during split work, we try to focus on the feature we're working on. And so if a bug comes in, unless it's truly breaking and really causing a lot of problems for people, we'll put it on the list and try to get to it when we can. But that's a great usage of the cool down time for us as the developers and the designers. All of us will get in there and make fixes and tweaks. And it's a great time for some of that kind of work.
10:05 Matt: It's a really good system in that way. The whole point of the split is that you are delivering a chunk of work that's complete. But that doesn't mean that it's going to be trouble free entirely. It just means that your goal is to get it past the finish line so you can actually ship something, something that's complete. And then that cool down period is sort of fine tuning, tweaking, putting a little extra polish or coat of paint on it.
10:26 Jason: Of the handful of different methods that we've tried, that I've worked in, in trying to do project management. The way we do it is by far my favorite.
10:34 Matt: Yeah, because it seems like you have these gigantic backlogs and you never feel like you're done, right? But if you sort of chop it up into chunks of work where you say, we're going to deliver this thing, which is complete, then you can keep moving rather than not having the work well defined. If you define it as this giant chunk of work that you're going to deliver something, there's no bottom to it. What are some of the other methods that you've worked under that didn't work so well for you?
11:00 Jason: Of course, the way we do it is more the base camp method of six week splits, which I think they call them cycles, but same idea. And then two weeks cool down. I've worked with more straight up Agile, or Scrum, which is the more two week sprints. And you're just constantly doing two week sprints. All that is definitely better than, say, the waterfall method where you have just a here's the whole thing. You have to get it all done and get to the end and find out that 90% of what you've made doesn't fit what the customer actually needs. That sort of thing. The sprints definitely work better than that. But still, two weeks is it's hard to get a very full fledged feature oftentimes done in two weeks. Sometimes it can happen. It depends on the feature, but it's hard to get especially a little bit larger chunk done in two weeks. And then you're moving on to the next thing. And oftentimes you end up because you're doing a two week sprint. When you do that, at least my experience was oftentimes we would end up doing sprints that well, I'm just working on the same thing for the next sprint and then same thing for the next sprint because it's a bigger feature than two weeks could do. And you never got the sense of exhale that the cool down affords us in the way we do things. The cool down, they're nice for many things. The way we do it because we have the six week splits, I would pretty much know that I'm not going to want to take vacation any time in the last couple of weeks of those splits. So we have them mapped out. I can look and say, I'm probably not going to want to take vacation there because we're going to be trying to make sure we have this all wrapped up and I'm not going to be able to relax even if I did take vacation because I'm sitting there going, oh, I'll have that going on the back of my head. It's hard for me to turn that off. I'll be thinking about it. I'll be thinking about, oh, when I get back, I need to do this. And so I know then that probably the first couple of weeks of the split are a little less fraught. But what's even better is if I can make plans around cool down time, then that's an even better time to take some time off because I know that there's nothing that has to get done at that point. That's their time for fixing bugs and putting on polish and trying out new things and experimenting and doing things that are helpful for the company but aren't specific projects. And so just all around, I think it gives us the opportunity to work on those bug fixes that we might not get to if we're just doing sprint after sprint after sprint. When you do sprint like I've done before, you have to say, OK, well, this is going to be a bug sprint or whatever because you can give yourself the time to do that. But oftentimes, when you go to the top bosses and you're like, well, we really need to just take a couple of weeks and just do bug fixes, oftentimes you're like, yeah, but I need you to do these other three or four things that we really, these are more important. And so because of the way that we have full on buy in on the base camp method from top down all the way through the company, it really allows us to know that those two week cool downs, we're going to have that time to work on those bug fixes. There's a little side project that kind of needs to happen. I've done little built little tools for some of our back office folks to work on some of the this little feature that would be really helpful to them, but isn't going to probably make it into split work couple days worth of work. If that, you know, and it's only for us internally, it's not going to affect the customers really particularly. But being able to take some time during the cooldown to do some of that in addition to bug fixes and then also to know how I can plot out my time off. So it's not going to become a stress when we're trying to relax. All of that I think has been are all reasons that I really enjoy and like the way we do things. Been a real breath of fresh air and just nice way of breaking up the work and making sure that we actually get stuff finished and deployed. We want to give customers cool stuff because it's cool to have customers like to use our stuff. So it's all about the cool stuff.
14:36 Matt: We want to get it out in their hands so they can use it and enjoy it. That's right. I am a non-tech guy. I have always sort of worked on the periphery of folks that work within those kinds of systems. And I can say that the general feel that I get from how Font Awesome works with these six week splits as opposed to like a two week sprint, but the feel among team members, it just feels a lot more calmer. When I think about the two week sprint method, it seems like two weeks basically only gives you an opportunity to sort of see what the problem is. Or if you go in really strong on a project, by two weeks you're going to discover some little glitches or that you have to rethink things. Anyway, in a six week split, that's almost baked into the process too. You're sort of discovering as you go and then you can kind of let go of certain things and sort of iterate as you go and say, well, you know, now we need to make a decision on what we are going to ship. We've discovered along the way that this is a lot bigger than we thought. And then you can kind of change course as necessary.
15:37 Matt: But in a two week, it just seems so frantic, you know?
Jason: That was my experience. I remember one of my first splits, I felt like I was kind of underwater. I didn't know how I didn't know any of our stuff really yet. I've only been with the company a few weeks. And you know, when you jump into a large, stable code base, it can be hard to get your bearing. And so I'm not really sure what's going on. We jumped into a feature and I can't even remember quite what the feature was. But we spent the first week and a half testing and making sure that the way we were going to do things was going to work as we expected. And then by the time we got into actually building it, we had the confidence that the solution we were going toward was actually going to work. And I remember just thinking, wow, this is a different beast than anything I've done before because there were days to just test assumptions and make sure that things would work. And we never had that kind of time to just say, hey, let's make sure this works before we just go down. It was always let's make this happen. And then like you said, we get almost two weeks in and realize, well, that didn't work the way we thought it was going to. So I guess we're going to have to pivot now or just scrap it or whatever. And oftentimes you feel like you're chasing your tail with this because we know what we want to accomplish and we can sit there and figure out some of that stuff. And then we can pivot, we can move, but still accomplish the ultimate goal by the end of the six weeks and have something that we can be proud of and that we can ship to customers.
17:05 Jason: And for me, it's been a great way of working. It's such a different way of doing the work. Whereas like in those two week type system, you feel like you kind of hit the ground running and you're accustomed to just getting right into the nitty gritty and doing the work only to find out that you didn't build the right thing. Whereas like in the six week split, the rhythm of it is so different. If you're coming from a sprint method and then you do like a six week split, the rhythm of it on the front end, it's still work, but it's a little bit slower. It's calmer because like you said, you're testing things, testing your theory and sort of hypothesis on how you're going to approach the work. And it feels so much different. And again, even though I'm not like a tech guy, there are times I've either been consulting on split work. There are times where I've done some split work and we have very specific marketing needs, That was so refreshing to know that you have to do a little bit of research and figure out what you're doing on the front end. But when you're not accustomed to it, it can be a little nerve wracking because it doesn't feel like you're actually building something. But at the end, it's way better. It's way better.
18:25 Matt: I'm curious to know what kind of tech developments outside of Font Awesome are you paying attention to these days? Do you sort of keep an eye on the news headlines of techie stuff?
20:21 Matt Jason: What I'm hearing from you, though, is that programs like Rust, as opposed to Python, maybe it sort of makes things real neat and tidy.
21:07 Matt: Now we come to the very important part of the conversation.
21:11 Matt: What icon pack do you think needs to make it into the Font Awesome canon that doesn't currently exist?
Jason: Most of my nerdy favorites already existing music, RPG playing, video games, books, all that we already have a lot of that stuff existing. But I do not think we have a one ring icon and it feels like we should.
21:26 Matt: Yeah, I want to say that we do have a ring or rings. I wonder how they would convey the one ring.
21:38 Jason: Yeah, I don't. I mean, you have the hidden writing that shows up. I wonder that would be.
21:43 Matt: Yeah, I'm sure that there's a way now. You have to get the right script. That's right. There's probably an option for it with the icon wizard is my guess. So if anybody comes up with any creative solutions to create the one ring to rule them all the icon wizard, let us know.
22:00 Matt: We're definitely curious. What are your favorite Font Awesome icons?
Jason: So I typically lean toward the music icons because that's probably the biggest thing that I'm outside of work. And so I like the guitar icons, the banjo icons. I play both of those instruments. So those are favorites. And then the whole role playing game icons like that entire set is just fantastic.
22:28 Jason: So really music and gaming are probably the ones that I'm most excited about constantly.
Matt: Yeah. The joke is that with the RPG icons that Travis applied a little pressure to get Jory to create those. The joke is that he threatened paycheck if he didn't complete a whole series of D&D icons.
22:46 Jason: I can't quite tell if there's any truth to that or not. If I had to guess, I'm going to guess that he joked about it, but probably Jory wanted to do it anyway. So it gave him a really good excuse to do what he already wanted to do.
23:04 Matt: Exactly. He's like, oh, gee, do I have to boss? Oh, darn. Come on.
23:09 Jason: I have other stuff to do. That would be my guess, but I was not any of those discussions. So I can neither confirm or deny any of it.
23:14 Matt: So we often talk about the weirdest or lamest jobs we've ever had. And you have something here related to building weird things with foam. What's that all about?
23:38 Jason: Yes. When I was probably 15 or so, 15 or 16, there was a couple that my parents knew from church who had a business that I believe they would build these. I think they were called American paneling or something like that. And they would build these panels that would go in freezers. And I think they put them in car washes. What I would do, I would mix up this glue that would get spread out on one side of a like four inch thick piece of foam. So it'd be like four feet by 16 foot inch. And you'd put this glue on it. And we would be either gluing like plywood to the side to it or fiberglass. So if you've been in a freezer or a car wash, that interior fiberglass that's on those walls, this was what we were essentially building. And the foam was, I guess, a good insulator. And that would be what I would build. And their son literally called it. He said, it's basically a company that builds weird things out of foam. And so I helped mix that glue and would help turn it over and make sure that everything was aligned right when it got glued to the side of it. Making glue sounds a little hazardous to me. It was a little hazardous. I used like a big old mixer, handheld mixer that's like three feet long. And in order to clean it, I guess that they would literally the mixing arm, I don't know what you'd call it, but they would take that and set it on fire to burn off the glue.
25:02 Matt: Which is awesome for a teenage boy. I mean, fire.
25:11 Jason: Come on. Cool. Fire.
25:14 Matt: Fire. Fire. Fire. Yes.
25:19 Jason: Hands down, the weirdest place that I've worked.
Matt: Yeah. Well, you got to be able to make 7-Eleven money. You got to get the Nacho Fund and the candy fund covered. So you do what you got to do.
25:40 Matt: What are you nerding out about these days?
Jason: Music is a constant nerding out, I guess you could say. And you're a guitar player, right? Yes. I'm both in listening to it. I hang out with friends and we just hang out and listen to music sometimes. But also playing it, mostly playing it. I'm in two bands. I play usually probably two or three shows a month between the two bands. Yeah, two bands. That's got to keep you busy. It does. It does. It's a lot of fun. They're both very different bands. One's a rock band and the other one is me and another guy on acoustic guitars and singing. Yeah, we have a lot of fun with it. I've been playing it for years and can still have fun with it and still meet interesting people through it. Most of my best friends I probably met through playing music in one form or another. So it's been a great thing and I still nerd out about it all the time. I also nerd out about music gear. Are you a guitar or a guitar pedal guy or both and? Both. I haven't counted up recently the number of guitars I have, but it's probably in the range of 15 or so. Oh, geez. But I mean, I can go through and talk about why they're all different and what I like about them and all that. But because each one has its own little unique thing. Then I've also got a full-on pedal board and a handful of other pedals. I haven't gone quite as crazy with pedals, but I do have several. I mean, I'm staring at a few right now that are not connected to any of my boards. I've got my main electric board for when I'm playing with the rock band and I have an acoustic board that I use when I'm playing with the acoustic band.
27:07 Matt: Yeah. So there's a lot of boutique guitar pedal companies out there now.
Have you ever put together a pedal of your own, like from a kit or anything?
27:12 Jason:I haven't. I haven't. I've thought about it, but I've not pulled the trigger on it. I've got just a little bit of electronic knowledge, but not loads. And so I'm not great at soldering and all that kind of stuff. So I've kicked around the idea a couple of times, but haven't ever pulled the trigger. Maybe I will at some point. I like to nerd out about different guitars, different pedals, whatever, but I really don't fiddling with them too much. So, yeah, you just want to work. People like to, yeah, mod their stuff, mod their guitars, mod their pedals. I like to just get one that works well. And, you know, I can do a guitar setup. I can, you know, I'll change my strings. I'll do all that kind of stuff. I might new pickups on a guitar or something like that. But, you know, some guys just love to do that constantly and, you know, when it's necessary and that's about it. So I'd rather just let somebody else have their fun doing it. I'll pay them the joy of using the pedal or the guitar or whatever.
28:09 Matt: What's great too is that a lot of pedals that have become sort of famous, eventually these companies go out of business or they make a new iteration of a pedal. It's not quite the same. But you have these boutique pedal companies that basically recreate these maybe old pedals that are hard, either hard to get or are super expensive, which is pretty neat.
28:32 Jason: Yeah, I have a couple of, I have a clone of a pedal called the Rat, which is a very famous distortion pedal. Classic. Which we've seen them around. Yep. And then I have a clone of the Klon. It's a Klon clone, which is an overdrive pedal that is ridiculously expensive. If you want to get a real one, you're paying multiple thousands of dollars, probably because it's that exact thing where it's I don't think they've been made in quite a while now. I can't remember the full story on them. I just had seen somebody doing a clone of one and they were it seemed like they had a decent clone and I was like under a hundred dollars. I was like, you know, why not? I'll try it. I like it. I like it. And it's got a spot on my board right now. So, you know, sometimes the clones can come through for you.
29:26 Matt: Yeah, for sure.You're playing in two different bands now. One sounds like it's a little mellower, maybe acoustically and the other one's more of a rock band. What are the bands that you're playing in and where can folks find information?
29:35 Jason: The rock band is Blister Soul. If anyone recognizes that, they might recognize that from the good old art alt country band from the 90s called Vigilantes of Love.
Matt: Oh, that's right.
Jason: It's named after their song slash album of the same title. All big fans. But yeah, Blister Soul.
Matt: That's Bill Mahoney, right?
Jason: It is. Right. Yep. Which, you know, everyone should look him up and give him some support because he's amazing and never got the never got the kind of attention he should have. Right. He's got some masterpiece albums out there that are just incredible. Oh, for sure. But but yeah, you can find blister soul on Spotify and Apple Music and all those kind of places. We've got an EP out. We should be releasing a new song, hopefully first quarter this year. It's currently being mixed. So we'll see. Don't have a firm timeline on that one yet, but should have a new single out early part of 2023, I think. The other band is Dr. G and the Tall Man. And it's a little on the nose. Dr. G is he is a high school principal and literally has his doctorate in education. So he's Dr. G. And then I'm the tall man. Six, four. And, you know, so but Dr. G and the Tall Man. And we also have music on Spotify and, you know, all the places. Both bands have, you know, social stuff, Facebook, Instagram, all that kind of stuff. If you're interested, check us out.
31:02 Matt: Nice. Well, you know what to do, people go out there and check out those streams. Let's make Jason O famous, shall we?
Matt: Thanks for listening to Podcast Awesome. A special thanks to Jason for coming on the show. If you like what you've heard, please subscribe to Podcast Awesome wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast was produced and edited by yours truly, Matt Johnson. The theme song was composed by Ronnie Martin and audio mastering was done by Chris Enns at Lemon Productions. And now please enjoy Jason's band Blister Soul and their song “All That Remains Are Shadows.”