Aisha Blake on accessibility, easier educating and musical conference talks

— 18 minute read

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Bryan Robinson 0:03 permalink

Hello and welcome to another episode of That's My JAMstack the podcast asked the age old question, what's your jam in the JAMstack? On today's episode, we've got the amazing Aisha Blake. Aisha is a member of the Gatsby learning team, as well as being a teacher, speaker and conference organizer.

Bryan Robinson 0:20 permalink

Now this episode is jam packed with JAMstack goodness. But before we get into that, I wanted to welcome back our wonderful sponsor TakeShape. Stick around after the episode to hear more about their content platform or go ahead and head over while you're listening to TakeShape.io/thatsmyjamstack for more information.

Bryan Robinson 0:40 permalink

Hi Aisha, how's it going today? Thanks for being on the show.

Aisha Blake 0:42 permalink

Everything is great. Thank you for having me.

Bryan Robinson 0:44 permalink

All right. So So obviously, you're on the show to talk about the JAMstack stuff, but go ahead and give us a little introduction for who you are, what you do for work, what do you do for fun and that sort of thing?

Aisha Blake 0:52 permalink

Absolutely. So I am a brand new senior software engineer on Gatsby's learning team. I am -- I do a lot of things. I do a whole lot of things. I am an organizer for two conferences in Detroit. One is called self conference is half tech talks, half people focus talks. It has really, really great community and one is new. I am also organizing a conference called

after one of my favorite musicals, which is going to be a musical tech conference.<p></p><h3>Bryan Robinson 1:33</h3><p>What?!</p><h3>Aisha Blake 1:33</h3><p>Oh, yes. Yes. So all of the performances, they'll be performances are going to be musical and/or theatrical, similar topics to any other tech conference. So the idea is that we're teaching people through performance art. I'm really excited about it.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 1:56</h3><p>I'm now like, run through like, how would I do that? Like, because I speak at a few different conferences, how would I artistically render CSS talks</p><h3>Aisha Blake 2:05</h3><p>It was largely inspired by TailCall Optimization: The Musical, which was a brilliant, brilliant Disney parody. So three different Disney songs, teaching you about tail call optimization. At !!con last year. And I have been surprised like I this is like the intersection of everything I love. And I've been surprised how many people were already doing this kind of thing. Like, it's, it's really cool.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 2:41</h3><p>Very nice. And when's that coming up?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 2:43</h3><p>That's going to be May 7 in Detroit, and self.conference is actually the following two days. So anybody who is interested in attending either one, you will have a little bit of a discount on the second ticket.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 2:58</h3><p>Nice, very cool. Alright, so So obviously, we're not gonna be doing a musical here today because no one wants to hear me sing. That's for sure. So let's go ahead and talk about the JAMstack a little bit. So what was kind of your entry point into this idea of the jam stack or static sites? That sort of thing?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 3:13</h3><p>Yeah. So as far as static sites go, and it goes back to when I was learning to be a web developer, I was a volunteer, a Jesuit volunteer here in Detroit. That's how I actually came to the city. And I knew that I wanted to be a web developer, but I didn't really have I didn't really know how to connect to the skills that I had. So I have an Information Science degree. But I really didn't know how to take the computer science concepts that I had learned and apply them to something that was practical in my immediate life.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 3:57</h3><p>So during my year of service, I got started. started doing like small freelance jobs. And one of the one of the things that was really helpful was working with Jekyll at that time, and so I did a handful of static sites for people that I found either through word of mouth or through fivrr. It was, it was interesting.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 4:22</h3><p>So getting introduced to like, the more modern, what you think of is the JAMstack, though, was actually Jason Lengstorf. Jason has been like one of the guiding lights of my career in that he was the one that got me started speaking conferences. But he also actually turned me on to Gatsby. Like, before he even he was working at the company. He was like, hey, yeah, I've been you know, working on this project. The people working out seemed really cool. They're been really helpful. And, you know, then he was working at it. Gatsby for a while. And that was what got me interested in Gatsby as a tool and as a company to begin with.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 5:08</h3><p>So, it's a very similar pattern that I've seen a few different times. Hey, I got started in static sites long time ago, it was Jekyll. That's pretty typical. And then, oh, let's figure out what's new. And what's what's really happening. And Gatsby tends to be about 50/50 what I'm hearing from people. So so you, you kind of did you dive in the Gatsby a long time before you obviously got hired very recently by Gatsby. What was your kind of your career pre employment from Gatsby with Gatsby,</p><h3>Aisha Blake 5:38</h3><p>So I had no professional Gatsby experience before being hired to get speaking. I was working on a react project. Part of the project was in React. It was a really large metrics app that I was working on full stack, our full stack anyway. And so I had react. experience and then sort of on my own, I was like, well, I need a new blog. Well, my conference needs a website. And like, just sort of getting bits and pieces, and really enjoying the developer experience. And so when I saw that there was an opening on the learning team at Gatsby, and it's really this combination, much like title of calm. It's a combination, like all of the things that I love to do in a job. It was, I knew that I would regret not not applying.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 6:30</h3><p>And on top of that, Marcy Sutton is my manager. Yeah, she's so I have from my entire career been really heavily interested in and, and passionate about web accessibility. And so Marcy Sutton is continues to be now that she's my manager.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 6:59</h3><p>Well, and the cool thing It's like you learn all sorts of stuff from someone like Marcy too. like I follow her on Twitter. I didn't even know there's accessibility about hashtags on Twitter until I followed her.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 7:08</h3><p>Yeah. So it's been really incredible to be able to learn from her. And I can only imagine what's going to happen past my first three weeks on the job.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 7:19</h3><p>Sure, yeah. And the amazing thing to me is watching Gatsby specifically hiring people who care about this sort of thing and and there's perhaps a misguided stigma around react that react sometimes isn't always like JavaScript isn't always the most accessbile unless you really know what you're doing. And so I love that probably the premier company that's using react and the JAMstack is focusing so heavily on that.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 7:44</h3><p>Yeah, and there's definitely a long way to go. To be clear. But the but we do have Marcy, as well as Madeline working really hard to get us to a point where we can say yes, like by default Gatsby is going to be a really great choice for somebody building an accessible application.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 8:07</h3><p>So what's a little bit of your of your history with accessibility? Cuz I know that you you have talked about it and worked on it in the past.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 8:14</h3><p>Yeah. So I got started with web accessibility through. I'm actually wearing the sweatshirt right now a goalball, sweatshirt. goalball is a sport for blind and visually impaired athletes. Okay. And I was for a really long time, a volunteer for the New York goldball team. And before that point, I really didn't know anybody, personally, who needed assistive technology to access the web. And when the guys on the team asked me about potentially making a website for them, which I never wound up doing. I was like, Okay, I could do that, but I'm not sure You're I can't I don't know whether or not that website is going to be usable for you. Because I'm used to building websites from the perspective of a sighted person. And so that was kind of where I started delving into like what it means to build an accessible website and or web application.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 9:25</h3><p>And so I've started watching watching Marcy Sutton videos, I start reading Hayden Pickering book, and just sort of picking up bits and pieces as I go along. And of course, talking to my friends on the goldball team, like Hey, does this work for you? And it was a really, it was eye opening in a couple of ways. One, I was just learning a lot but also the realization that Lot of actual web developers because at this point I'm, I'm aspiring a lot of, you know, actual employed, web developers are not doing these things. And I was sort of like, Well, okay, well, I guess I know, kind of what I can do what I can bring to the table from the beginning.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 10:23</h3><p>The interesting thing to me also is that it's not always even just a employed web developers. It's also web designers like knowing, knowing what to do is a design task as well. And I've managed a team of designers in the past and pretty things aren't always accessible things. Yeah. So yeah, having to think through all that is a is a task, but it's an important one.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 10:43</h3><p>Yeah, absolutely.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 10:44</h3><p>Cool. So so let's let's get back into the jam stack a little bit. Obviously, you're going to be using the jam stack pretty heavily in your job at Gatsby. I assume you're going to be continuing in the jam stack for for your side. projects for your conferences up in up in Detroit. But what's going to keep you obviously other than employment in the jam stack? And what's kind of your passion in the jam stack right now?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 11:10</h3><p>I think for me, it it's been partly about the fact that it makes my work as a teacher easier. That has really made it easier for me to kind of bring people into the fold who are interested in beginning to their like web developer journey or even just getting into tech in some form. I've found that in teaching and teaching the jam sack specifically, it gives people a more complete way to build a site so you have a working site that you could launch and also that gives me a jumping off point then to teach you about react to teach you about JavaScript. But you still get those quick wins, that you're able to get when you begin teaching, using methods that are not necessarily teaching people how to build production ready, application.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 12:22</h3><p>Yeah, the thing I really like is that you can just you can upload HTML and you have a website and then you can add the next thing and the next thing to the to the learning process. Absolutely. So where are you teaching and how are you? Are you mentoring what what sort of teaching are you doing?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 12:37</h3><p>Yeah, so right now I am teaching part time at a coding boot camp called grand circus here in Detroit. And that was actually my first job was at Grand circus on the instructional stuff. And I was out for I was gone for three years, came back part time, teach at night, did not anticipate how difficult those two jobs when I happens to get the get the job at gaspee Around the same time, which was certainly not my intention. But it's been really, really challenging, but also really wonderful to be back in a classroom for that length of time again, because in between, you know, I'm teaching workshops, and I teaching online, and all those things, and those are wonderful, but to have a class have a course, where you're interacting in person with people. It there's something there's something special and important about that, in my opinion,</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 13:44</h3><p>and so nice to actually like get next to somebody and be like, Oh, no, that you forgot the semi colon or capitalization matters or, you know, stuff like that. Yeah,</p><h3>Aisha Blake 13:52</h3><p>I joke that I'm a professional rubber duck</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 13:56</h3><p>Yep. I taught a an HTML and CSS class and I walk over to the students computer and like two seconds later to be like, you should have like an aura around you that makes it work like Well, no, but Sure, I like to think that maybe sometimes. So are you actually teaching jam stack there? Or is it more full stack or front end?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 14:14</h3><p>So the so the course is a front end course. And it's actually focused on Angular. But a lot of folks are interested not necessarily in getting entirely new jobs specifically with Angular. It's more about kind of becoming programmers. And so it's been really cool to see them go from. I just don't know what I'm doing at all. I don't know what any of these words mean, to getting getting used to the idea of a JavaScript framework, any JavaScript framework, and then being able to translate that. So while I'm teaching them while the curriculum is an Angular curriculum, they are now branching Now into all these other things are they're getting interested in react? They're getting interested in Gatsby. And those are and those especially using Gatsby, those are accessible now. Because they've got that T's, they can now go off and start building these side projects, even though they've only just begun to learn kind of what a framework is.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 15:27</h3><p>They've got the taste for side projects, though. Exactly. It's pretty easy to get that taste as a developer. Cool. So uh, what sort of technologies are you really into in the jam stack? I mean, obviously, Gatsby, and we could talk forever about Gatsby or anything else</p><h3>Aisha Blake 15:43</h3><p>like that. And so that's really my kind of pet battle right now. That is like, I'm very focused on learning as much as I can to be the most effective learning team member. So really, it's Combining, combining Gatsby in different ways, so really using that content much to the fullest. So, and I and I have so many ideas for things that guess really lends itself to. So we're kind of starting, we're starting at the ground level. So building more intro projects in service of learning materials. So you know, we have plenty of like building build your first blog with Gatsby, but also getting into and you can also use Gatsby as an application. So I'm focused right now on ecommerce with Gatsby. So all of the various ecommerce tools, bringing them in and making sure that we're presenting an experience that makes it makes it straightforward makes it a little easier for people to to get going and potentially then make money. themselves off of the side fresh chicks. Wouldn't that be nice</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 17:03</h3><p>is nice when that happens. Cool. So while kind of keep keep our episode length in check a little bit. So let's go ahead and talk about what your actual jam is right now. What's your musical jam? What were you listening to?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 17:17</h3><p>So, you may have already guessed based on my title of information earlier, but I am very much a theater person. And so most of what I listened to is show tunes right now. I am listening to Dear Evan Hansen. It's coming to it's coming to Detroit soon. And while the story is pretty twisted, obviously, the music is beautiful. And I'm really excited about seeing the show. And it's also given me a lot of inspiration for my own parodies, which is I'm unlike it's not my thing I don't I don't write a lot of musical parodies. But it's been really fun to to do that for the conference. And it has given rise to yet another side project that I'm using gets before. Perfect.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 18:15</h3><p>Awesome. Cool. So so let me put you on the spot then. So you're big in the in the theater. What is the best musical in your opinion of all time?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:24</h3><p>Oh, my God.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:25</h3><p>Okay.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:27</h3><p>I think</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:31</h3><p>that's that's a tough question. I don't know that I've ever been able to answer that question. I will say, my dream role. And one certainly one of my favorite musicals is would be Aida,</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 18:46</h3><p>that's aspirations right there. Right?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:49</h3><p>For sure.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 18:51</h3><p>So So let's talk about is there anything that you'd like to promote to go to the jam stack community at large?</p><h3>Aisha Blake 18:56</h3><p>Yeah, absolutely. So we do. I'm not sure when Air. We do have Gatsby days coming up at the beginning of February. And that's going to be a really great way to connect with the whole team. We're going to be, we're going to be in LA. And we are going to be presenting two workshops. So one is going to be an intro to Gatsby, and another is going to be building accessible applications. Matt will be with Marcy. So it's a really, really awesome opportunity to come hang out, learn more about Gatsby and what's coming next. And connect with the community.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 19:42</h3><p>Amazing. All right. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. And I hope that you keep doing amazing stuff, both the Gatsby and just I. I'm hoping that at some point, I can see title of cop because that sounds amazing. Yes.</p><h3>Aisha Blake 19:56</h3><p>Thanks very much. Awesome. Thank you.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 20:00</h3><p>And of course, a big thank you to the JAMstack community for listening, subscribing and sharing. This podcast is an absolute blast to host and produce. And it's because of the amazing community that we're all part of.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 20:11</h3><p>With that it's time to talk about our sponsor this week, TakeShape.io. They're a content platform for the web, with a developer, and user friendly, headless CMS, which isn't always easy to do a GraphQL API and a powerful static site generator all built in all kind of one piece that you can use on your project. Now, if that sounds like exactly what you need, head on over to TakeShape.io/thatsmyjamstack and find out more.</p><h3>Bryan Robinson 20:39</h3><p>That's it for this week's episode. So until next time, keep doing amazing things and keep things jamy.</p><p>Transcribed by https://otter.ai</p><p>Intro/outtro music by <a href="https://bensound.com">bensound.com</a></p>