Transcipt 096: Jenn Hillner

THE COGNICAST TRANSCRIPTS

EPISODE 096

In this episode, we talk to Jenn Hillner about dance, ClojureBridge and business development. 

The complete transcript of this episode is below.

The audio of this episode of The Cognicast is available here.

 

OUR GUEST, JENN HILLNER

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Our theme music for this episode is Thumbs Up (for Rock N' Roll) by killthenoise with Feed Me which was used under a Creative Commons License.

TRANSCRIPT

CRAIG:    Hello, and welcome to Episode 96 of The Cognicast, a podcast by Cognitect, Inc. about software and the people who create it.  I'm your host, Craig Andera.  

Well, let's see.  What have we got in the news for you today?  Well, one big thing we want to make sure we point out is the recent blog post on the Cognitect blog at blog.cognitect.com where we talk about the State of Clojure survey from 2015.  Pretty interesting results.  We go through them in detail in that post.  You should go check it out.  One of the big things that we found was that participation was way up.  It was like 75% higher than last year. 

What we kind of saw was that--again, this is all covered in details--a couple interesting bits of good news.  It looks really like Clojure is definitely moving into commercial development in a big way, so kind of cool.  Kind of seeing spread both broadly, sort of among companies, but also going deeper into them.  You're welcome to go and check the post out.  The data is available too.  Draw your own conclusions, but I thought Justin did a pretty good job of summarizing, and you should check it out again.  That's at blog.cognitect.com.

What else?  I'd like to mention Dutch Clojure Days.  That's happening March 18th in 2016.  You can search for Dutch Clojure Days and find out more about that. 

There's a ClojureBridge happening in London on February 19th and 20th.  That's always a good event, ClojureBridge, that is.  

What else?  Here we go.  Of course, Clojure/west, the news there is, well, by the time you hear this the call for proposals will have closed, so the speaker selection process is ongoing - very exciting.  Of course, the Opportunity Grant program wherein members of underrepresented communities who would not be able to attend due to financial reasons are given the opportunity to attend, given some assistance.  The application deadline is February 22nd, so make sure you head over to clojurewest.org/opportunity and check that out.  We would love to see both people applying to be the beneficiaries of that program and also, of course, anyone that's interested in sponsoring, would love to hear from you as well.  

I think that's about all we've got to say for news today, so we will go ahead and go on to Episode 96 of the Cognicast. 

[Music: "Thumbs Up (for Rock N' Roll)" by Kill the Noise and Feed Me]

CRAIG:    All right.  Well, what do you say we kick this little conversation off?

JENN:    That sounds great.

CRAIG:    Cool.  All right, well, welcome, everybody.  Today is Tuesday, December 8th in 2015, and this is the Cognicast.  Today, our guest, I'm very pleased to welcome to the show Jenn Hillner.  Welcome to the show, Jenn.

JENN:    Thank you.  I'm happy to be here.

CRAIG:    Well, we're thrilled to have you.  You are a Cognitect.  You're one of my colleagues, and I should probably ask you, in a minute, to introduce yourself.  But, before we get too far into that, I want to make sure that we do the opening question, the one about art where we ask you to relate for us some experience of art that you've had that you'd like to share.  Did you have a chance to think of something you'd like to share with us?

JENN:    I have, yep.  I recently was actually in a performance with my daughter, and so that's probably the experience that I'd like to talk about.  The dance school that my daughter is a part of does an actually really professional performance of The Nutcracker.  They get several professionals from the American Ballet Theater to be a part of it.  I don't know how they really manage that.  I think it's the director of the company is just well connected.  

 My daughter, who is getting pretty serious about dance and ballet, had an opportunity to dance alongside five ballet dancers from ABT.  One is currently a principle there.  So, for folks that aren't in the ballet world, that's a really big deal.  Then, two weeks before the performance, they actually asked me to be in it as well, so I got to see, first hand, all these kids.  

We use the word "kids."  Sometimes you kind of, at least I do, sort of underestimate what children are capable of.  Then you're put in a setting like this one where I was up close and personal with young, young girls and boys being given serious responsibility, were treated like professionals, had to work tirelessly for, we're talking, nine-hour days, so really long days, rehearsals day after day.  My daughter specifically, I got to see her up close just excel and sort of shine in this space.  

 The dancing was obviously art, and it was beautiful.  They did a wonderful job.  But, I think, seeing children sort of rise to the occasion and be given a high bar and then meeting it and seeing how hard they can work is sort of beautiful in and of itself.  That to me was the experience that I am taking away from it.  That was my most recent sort of experience with art.

CRAIG:    That is very, very cool.  I've got to say it's funny on a couple dimensions.  First of all, we have what feels to me like a disproportionate number of serious dancers here at Cognitect.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    Right?  We have Kim, and I guess I don't know for sure, but sounds like if you were invited to participate on two-weeks notice that that's not something that's new to you.  You must have spent some time on that in your past.

JENN:    Yes.  It was not my recent past, so I was surprised they asked me, but yes I did use to dance a long time ago.  Then, Karen--

CRAIG:    Yes.

JENN:    --was very serious.

CRAIG:    Right. 

JENN:    Yes.

CRAIG:    And Jamie, a former Cognitect as well, I believe also used to dance quite seriously.

JENN:    Oh, cool.

CRAIG:    Yeah, so quite a few dancers.  That's really interesting.  Yeah, that's really cool.  I'm curious.  What was the age range of the kids involved?  That sounds pretty hard-core.  Like you say, it's surprising or at least unexpected to hear how much they were able to rise to the occasion.  What was the age range of kids involved?

JENN:    I think the youngest was either four or five years old.  They have a smaller part, but they're still required to come to hours and hours worth of rehearsals.  Then the oldest from the actual local company girls I think is probably 17.  Then the professionals, Gillian Murphy was the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, which is a big part, and she's a principal from ABT.  Actually, she, I believe, is 36, which is quite older than most ballet dancers get to dance for.  Yeah, the children start off like four or five, I think, was the youngest one.

CRAIG:    Wow.

JENN:    Really young.

CRAIG:    Impressive.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    Our listeners now know that you dance, but they don't know a whole lot else about you except that you work at Cognitect.  Maybe we should switch over to that and give a bit of an introduction.

JENN:    Yes.

CRAIG:    Would you mind explaining your role at Cognitect and maybe how you came to work with us?

JENN:    Sure.  Absolutely.  I think my official title now might be sales lead.  I think of myself as a business development person, so I actually started on a consultant basis with Cognitect.  I had run a recruiting business, and our focus had been a lot on placing Clojure developers.  Justin, I believe, thought because of that experience that I might be able to understand what you guys do at Cognitect, at least have maybe a jogging or running start, and I have always done business development, so I'm used to doing sort of outbound calling.

 I was brought on to try to spread the word, I guess, about Cognitect and about Datomic and about what we do from a consulting services side of the business.  Then, have now become an official employee where, yeah, my role is sales, but I think of it as there are a lot of companies out there that could really benefit from both our products and services, so figuring out who they are and try to start a conversation going to see if we can add value there is sort of what I do on a day-to-day basis.

CRAIG:    You mentioned business development, which is a term I've heard used a lot, but I guess I don't really know exactly what it means.  I think it sounds to me--I'm inferring--that there is a distinction between, say, sales activities and business development activities.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    Could you elaborate on what those mean to you?

JENN:    Yeah.  I have been in sales for 15 years in a variety of ways.  Some of them were very transactional where it really was making a sale, and that was really all there really was to it.  Along the way, one, I didn't find that very satisfying, and what I did love about it was sort of learning about the company and the people who were in the company, what their business pains were, and really building a relationship with them.  

 What I found was, when you really do care about what is going on at that client site and you take the time to develop that kind of relationship, you not only can get a sale out of that, if it makes sense, but you get a real client and not just someone who transacts with you one time.  You develop a relationship that continues on. 

 A lot of my sales experience has been in startups where I was responsible from getting us from zero to wherever.  When you take the time to build that relationship, it helps you increase your sales, ultimately, because people who have learned to know you and like you and trust you, refer people to you, and so I think of business development as just much more the relationship building piece of it than just trying to exchange goods for dollars.

CRAIG:    Yeah, that makes sense.  I think what it was making me think of is the question that, on the engineering side, we often get to, which is someone will come to you and say, "This API doesn't work this way."  The initial instinct for us is to start answering that question, but oftentimes what makes sense for us to do, and it sounds like the analogy is and what you're talking about is the same as what problem are you really trying to solve, right?

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    I think, what I'm hearing at least, is when you understand what the problem the businesses are actually trying to solve and not, "I want to buy Datomic," or, "I want to pay you for consulting," then that helps you figure out how better to help them.  Is that a fair comparison?

JENN:    Absolutely.  I think it also helps you understand if we are really the right choice for that business because making a bad sale is not good for anyone.  I've definitely had that experience previously, and what I mean by that is, yes, you "succeed," that you got someone to buy something.  But, it wasn't really the thing that would be the best sort of solution for them, and then you don't get return business, and you don't get referrals because you really didn't add the value that people were hoping that you would.  

 Sometimes that getting to know a client, the people behind it, and their problem leads to: This actually isn't the right fit and you'd probably be better served doing X, Y, Z.  It's great being at a company that appreciates and desires that too, that would never push to just have a sale be made.  It matters that it's a good fit sort of on both sides.  

CRAIG:    Yeah.  I've certainly been on the consulting side of that.  Nobody bats 1,000, right?

JENN:    No.

CRAIG:    Sometimes we do that, and we make our effort, and we still wind up taking an engagement or we miss a clue somewhere or something.  I've been on the other side of that, so I certainly appreciate when people farther up the sales engagement process or whatever you call the process, make an effort to keep me from winding up sitting there going, "Um, why am I sitting here programming device drivers in Pearl," or whatever inappropriate thing.

JENN:    Right.

CRAIG:    I'm curious.  Do you have a list in your head of things that you're looking for that are sort of contraindications?  Someone comes to us and says, "I read your website.  It sounds perfect.  I want to do X," and you have a conversation with them.  Of course, in that conversation, you hesr something or some things that tell you this is not going to be a good idea.  Do you have any sort of broad categories of things that fall under that category?

JENN:    I think there's the technical sort of pieces of it that come into play as well as then the softer side of it.  It certainly took me a long time to learn what you do here at Cognitect and, on the consulting side, the kinds of problems that we excel at solving and the kinds of systems that we excel at developing.  That took a long time, and learning Datomic, what that is, what it's really great for, and what it's maybe not great for, that took a while too.  

There are things related to those two aspects of this job that I'll hear something from a client and be like, "Uh, that's not really the best fit."  Not so much on the consulting side, but, like for Datomic, that comes up where they're looking to do something that wouldn't be best served with Datomic, or they're approaching me with a problem thinking about it in a way that, the way they're thinking about it, might not be the best way to currently use it.  

There's the kind of hard stops there where it really just technically does not align, but that doesn't happen as frequently as when you hear folks who just are looking for staff augmentation sort of help because they know that we have great Clojure consultants here, and that's not something that we really do.  Or, if they are kind of just in the information gathering point of their process, which is great and fine--you have to start there--maybe now is not really the time when they're ready to get serious about engaging with us.  And so, sometimes I'll pick up on that, but every conversation to me is kind of a good conversation.  

I think that you always learn something, and so sometimes if it's not technically a great fit right now or it's not the right time for them for budget reasons or decision making process, whatever that case may be, there's always something to be learned from that person and that client, and so keeping that relationship going.  What doesn't happen today might happen, might be right 12 months from now.  And so, I try to walk away from any of those interactions learning something and then keeping that in the back of my mind to then touch base with them again later on.

CRAIG:    Yeah, that's interesting.  As you were talking, I was reminded of one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show.  First of all, I think it's really interesting to hear from various parts of the business and certainly the part that you are involved in is critical for us.  But, I think your perspective is especially interesting for our audience, which does tend to be technical, because you have had to come in to an environment, as someone who does not -- I'm going to put words in your mouth.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

JENN:    Sure.

CRAIG:    But I think it's fair to say that you would not self-characterize primarily as a technologist.

JENN:    Absolutely not. 

CRAIG:    Right.

JENN:    Correct.

CRAIG:    But, you've certainly had to be able to have those conversations.  And so, I'd love to hear more about how that's been and sort of how you view things like Clojure and Datomic, and specifically how you feel you view them in contrast to how someone like me, who is immersed, who is focused on the technical aspects and the sort of application of the technology less in a business context and more in a, "Oh, wow.  Transducers are sort of inherently cool," that type of thing.  I just want to kind of get your perspective on what it was like to come to these things, how you perceive them, and how you think you maybe perceive them differently from--if I can kind of average out--over the consultants in Cognitect, if that makes sense.

JENN:    I think, coming in, I already knew of Clojure.  I think, learning more about that has taken a different journey than learning about Datomic.  I was a technical recruiter for 14 years, so recruiters dabble in what they are recruiting for.  They don't really know.  Even really great recruiters, and I think I was a really, really good recruiter, you know about programming languages from a recruiter standpoint.  I think, actually, before I started here, I think I thought I knew more than I actually did.  

CRAIG:    Me too.

JENN:    Right?  For me, that piece of it was more initially just learning what we have done with it, so our customer stories were really very important for me to get a handle on because I think that what I've learned through that process was: Here are the kinds of problems that we have been solving and our application and use of Clojure.  I think that that was very eye opening.  I had no idea just how far reaching our work with Clojure had gone.  Obviously I knew that you guys had built your consultancy around that over the last couple of years, but the magnitude to which it was being used, the companies that were using it, to learn about places like Staples and Walmart.  I'm just making sure I don't mention any ones I can't.

CRAIG:    We'll bleep them out later if we have to.

JENN:    These really big banks, and then the type of problem that it was applied to, I think that was a big piece of it.  And understanding, at some level, what are micro services and what does it mean to be able to build the infrastructure that then a place like Walmart can build things like your receipts off of.  What did that sort of story look like, not so much from a technical standpoint because, ultimately, I'm never going to be able to speak fluently enough in your language, the technology language, to do that any justice.  But, I did want to understand, at least be able to talk to another businessperson about it, and so learning that was more of the journey of Clojure for me here.  

Datomic, on the other hand, was so different from any database I ever even thought I knew about before I came here, so that was a much bigger learning curve.  I find that I'm not alone in that for people who are coming from using a different sort of database or database tool.  I think that lumping it in with just database also doesn't really do it full justice as well.  So, understanding the way that Datomic was built and the concepts behind how it's architected, then getting comfortable with just the verbiage of being able to talk about that, then what it really means from a technical standpoint, and then trying to take all of that and translate it back to then being able to tell a businessperson, who is not technical, about it.

 I don't know if that makes a lot of sense, what I just said.

CRAIG:    It does.

JENN:    Okay.  It's like learning a whole new set of vocabulary around a whole new technology that I've never heard of before.  And so, what was extremely helpful was everybody here.  I had a lot of one-off conversations.  I tried to spread it around so nobody knew how much I was asking, but I got on the phone with a lot of the developers here to have them explain and re-explain Datomic to me.  Then I did a lot of reading on my own.

 It's funny.  I think it was probably about five months ago I had my own kind of ah-ha moment.  I was like, "Oh, I get why that that's important.  Oh, I get why separating reads and writes enables it to have that kind of scalability.  I understand how the processes work."  Just a lot of it just sort of became clearer.  Then the business application for where it would be best used or where people could benefit from it then became even clearer.  

 Knowing that it has this history built into it and that audit trail that's sort of there for you, and you don't need to develop it.  There's healthcare and finance just scream Datomic, and so now that helps point me in the right direction on who to try to talk to about it.

CRAIG:    It's funny that you say that.  I'm kind of trying to think why is it.  I had the same impression, which is Datomic is pretty different.  I know that's qualitative, but it feels pretty different to me from a lot of the databases, all of the databases I have previously worked with.  Yet, I think Clojure is different too.  I guess, though, that there are maybe more categories where I could say I've worked with things like it before.  It's a Lisp, and so, in many ways, it's like other Lisps that I've worked with, or it's functional and so it's like other functional languages.  

I'm just kind of grasping at straws here trying to see if I can figure out why, because I agree with you, and figure out why it is that Datomic feels more different to other things that I've worked with than Clojure does to other things that I've worked with.  Although, now that I say that, it was a pretty big adjustment too, so maybe it's just a timeline thing.  What do you think?

JENN:    Yeah.  Well, I think understanding some basics around Clojure was easier because I had been placing software developers and sort of knew.  When I heard the differences between object oriented development and then how Clojure approaches things, it was easier to understand Clojure because at least I knew what the other programming languages were like, and so I had a baseline of some understanding.

 However, I say that and then recently I took ClojureBridge, and so I really didn't really understand it until maybe just recently.  Then I think, once you learn something a little bit, you realize how much more you don't know.  

 I got to see it and use it, and actually be taught it at a very introductory level, and I think now I have a much different perception of what Clojure is.  That was really, really cool because I don't.  Until you live in someone else's shoes, you don't really know what it's like.  I don't know what it's like to be you or any of the other developers and what your day-to-day truly is like.  And so, getting my hands on coding and doing some of that myself was very eye opening.

CRAIG:    By the way, if you ever want to a pair for a day, let me know.  I'd be happy to do that.  

JENN:    Hell, yeah.

CRAIG:    Yeah.  I think that's the sort of thing that lots of people in the company, I would venture to say everyone, would be open to, but certainly I'll extend the offer to you right now.

 I want to talk more about ClojureBridge.  You mentioned that.  It was definitely one of the things I wanted to mention and have you talk about today.  Like you said, we've talked about ClojureBridge a bunch.  We think it's a great program, but you've actually gone through it recently.  Can you talk us through maybe your decision to enroll and then what the experience was like and anything else you think is worth mentioning?

JENN:    Yeah.  My decision to enroll was for a couple reasons.  I don't know if people know this, but Rich Hickey is my brother, so I've heard of Clojure for quite a long time.  Then I placed Clojure developers, and I've talked with him about it from his perspective, but not in the trenches, not knowing exactly what the language did or looked like.  

I've been curious about it for a long time.  Then, now that a big piece of my job is to sell our consultancy services where we develop in Clojure, I felt like I needed to understand it better than I currently did.  Yeah, so I signed up.

 Honestly, I thought the curriculum was awesome, I think, for a person coming with zero programming skills.  I was an occupational therapist major in college, and all my classes were science related, but not computer science related.  I had never even took an intro to programming class in any way, shape, or form in high school or college, so I really was coming in with zero experience.

 I don't know if it's more of a nod to the language itself or the curriculum that has been put together with ClojureBridge, but it was extremely easy to understand descriptions of what a function is and parentheses, why they're used, and what a REPL is and all these things that they put together.  It was just--I keep saying--easy, but they made it very simple to learn, to the point where I have sat down with my kids and started walking them through the curriculum because they will totally get this, and they'll probably get it way better than I did even.  

 Yeah, I have to say that it brought me -- you know, you don't go terribly far in an introductory class, but I was able to make turtles move and then write functions of my own.  I left the two-day session knowing at least the basics of Clojure over a very, very short period of time.  It's a great program for people to try to be a part of.

CRAIG:    That's very cool.  I'm glad that you had a positive experience.  I have a high opinion of the people running it and I've heard other people say good things.  It's nice to hear that you had a similar experience.  And, I think it's especially cool that you've taken that back to your kids.  Not that I speak for them, but I feel like the ClojureBridge ethos would very much embrace you spreading the word.

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    This is a question that comes up from time-to-time in the ClojureBridge world, and I don't know.  Maybe it's not fair to ask it to you because it has to do with other languages, which I know you said you hadn't had much, if any, experience with.  It sounds like you didn't have any -- here's the thing that comes up.  People say, "Is Clojure a good first language?"  Again, I don't know whether you feel like you can offer a perspective on that, but I'm inferring, from what you said, that you had no trouble with it, like there wasn't.  But again, I don't know whether you have any thing to compare it to.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

JENN:    I don't have anything else to compare it to, but there is a simplicity built into it.  It's meant not to be--that's my understanding--overly complex.  The words that are used to do things are written in English.  I could probably read somebody else's function and try to get some sense of what is being said there.  I think that made it very approachable, and I don't know.  I've seen code, other types of code, and it looked just extremely confusing and just a lot of different numbers and symbols that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  I feel like I could look at a page of someone's Clojure code and obviously not get the whole thing, but make some sense out of it.

 I think that the fact that it--I don't know if this makes sense--is kind of written in English, it makes it a little bit easier.  Then, the kind of themes behind it and the descriptions of what goes into it just made sense.  It was all pretty easy to understand.  Even my son was like, "Oh, yeah.  No, I get it," so I don't know what people's experiences are when they first learn Java, but that's definitely what my experience was learning Clojure.

CRAIG:    That is absolutely fascinating.  Thanks for that.  It's really, really cool.  You know I'm pretty far removed from being a beginner myself.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    It's really cool, temporarily, if nothing else, but that's really cool.

JENN:    Well, what was neat is that it left me also wanting to learn more.  During the course, one of the things they have you do is move a turtle across the screen.  I think it's using an application called Quil, maybe.

CRAIG:    Mm-hmm, yeah.

JENN:    I hope I get that right.

CRAIG:    That's right.  

JENN:    You'd write these functions like forward 90 and right 45 or whatever, and the turtle would do it.  Writing that function was not that hard to pick up, like, okay, this makes it go forward, and this makes it go right.  Those words all make sense and the degrees or the amount of steps all make sense.  But, what I couldn't get over, I'm like: How does the computer even know "forward"?  How does it even know "right"?  

 Russ and I started talking about libraries and the things that are  already built into the application itself.  Then I was like, okay, but where did they get it from?  Then where did that come from?  It's sort of like when you start learning about evolution, you want to know.  You want to bring it all the way back to, like, where did it really first, first, first begin?  I never realized how developers kind of worked.  

 Every time something was made by developers, I know I kind of always assumed that it was always from scratch, like every single bit of it, and that there wasn't this use of, like, a library that then could catapult you to the next level of thinking, and then the next level of creativity that you build upon that.  And so kind of understanding that was completely new for me sort of that there's some building blocks out there.

 Then the fact that developers spend so much of their time in order to find a good solution, like just learning on their own, like, "Oh, this is this library that does this, so maybe I can apply it to this problem."  That whole self-guided education or contribution to the open source community blows my mind.  I'm trying to think of any other profession where people dedicate themselves to both contributing and learning about what's out there in the programming world.

CRAIG:    I suspect that there are lots of other disciplines where the learning part goes on.  I imagine that, in your work as a recruiter or as a physical therapist, you read, for example, trade magazines and so forth.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    However, the opportunity to contribute to the body of knowledge might not be unique, but I think the barrier for us is lower because the thing that we're working with is information.  It's a lot easier for us to just sort of put something out there or walk up to another group of people and say, "I have a way to help out," whereas a physical therapist, occupational therapist I believe you said.

JENN:    Yes.

CRAIG:    I suspect that sort of thing would be harder to do just by the nature of the work.

JENN:    Mm-hmm.  Yep.  Also, I think that there's a community, such a sense of community within your profession that when I was an OT or a recruiter, it's not like there were forums where myself and lots of other therapists would just try to work out things or add to the solution of things in sort of a community setting.  That never happened.  

CRAIG:    It should.

JENN:    Yeah, it should.  I think there's something to be gained from tapping into what everyone knows or can contribute.  Yeah, I find that part of what you guys do really, really interesting and cool.

CRAIG:    I find it really cool to hear it reflected back.  It's always different.  You take things for granted, I think, is probably the right way to put that, and to get the fresh perspective.  It's super cool to hear your perspective.

 I want to loop back to something though, because, as we were talking, I don't know what reminded me of this, but here we are.  It's sort of the end of 2015, roughly, and we have had a seriously kick butt year from a business perspective.  We've seen significant growth in Datomic.  The consulting business is crazy strong.  We'll probably touch on this with Justin in the year-end wrap-up, but we've had a really, really good year.

JENN:    Yeah.

CRAIG:    Very rare that we've had a December even as strong as this one.  I think a lot of that can definitely be traced back to your work because you're out there pounding the pavement.  You're drumming up leads.  We track these things.  We know that you're responsible for introducing us to the people that we're doing business with.

 But, I wanted to hear from you about what those factors are.  First of all, I think you're a very modest person.  You're likely to undervalue your personal contribution, so I want to definitely recognize that, but maybe not force you talk about it.  What I do want to hear about is your perspective on the market because we're kind of sitting here.  We have maybe a bit of a unique position in that.  

 Rich works here, and we were one of the first Clojure companies, and we help maintain.  There are all these things where Cognitect is sort of central.  But, I think there's another question around what is the market doing in general.  I think you are well positioned to answer that because you are out talking to people, including people that we don't work with.

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    I only would talk to people that we do work with.

JENN:    Right.

CRAIG:    You talk to plenty of people where they say no or we say no.  I guess that's a longwinded way of asking: What does the landscape look like to you in the Clojure and Datomic world right now?

JENN:    I don't have data to back this, so this is just--

CRAIG:    That's okay.  Yeah, that's fine.

JENN:    --this is my opinion based on what I've seen and heard.  I think, as a company, we're kind of modest, right?  When I first got here, I was like why aren't we telling everybody about what we're doing?  This is amazing.  The companies we work with and what we've built here.  

 Any other sales organization that I would be a part of would be screaming that.  I think that there is sort of a modesty to us a bit.  But, as the word got out, and as people learned our customer stories, I think that was a big, big thing for us is that it takes sometimes knowing that places like Walmart--I keep going back to that as an example--or Consumer Reports work and trust us to work with them on their hardest problems makes a difference in somebody else deciding, "Well, okay.  I'm going to check these guys out and I'm going to give them a chance."  

 I think that, in general, people are ready to start finding solutions that work, and they have spent a lot of time and money working on things or with companies or with products or riding the trendy wave of a "big data solution" and then have ended up at a place where years go by and things aren't better, the problem is still there, and now they're two years out, however many millions of dollars out, and they're still sitting there not being able to make use of, like, legacy data to build new products, and it's frustrating.

And so, I think, when you're talking to the right people who are having those kinds of problems, and that's the kind of problems that we're great at solving, you're able to explain sort of what we've done for others, they're ready to take a chance or to begin the process with something that is very new.  If you don't know us already, there's a learning curve there to get to know Datomic, Clojure, our products, and what we do.  But, we've been able to now articulate how it's worked for others and then have built credibility with people who weren't already in our fan base.

 Our fan base, our community of Clojurists and people who know Datomic already, they come to us already, so that's great.  But, it's getting the folks that don't know us to take maybe that leap of faith in starting to begin the conversation with us and start evaluating us is what I have seen change a lot.  I think that people are ready for something that will actually work.

CRAIG:    Yeah.  Bring it on.

JENN:    You know, and are kind of tired of hearing kind of the same old same old from a lot of other ways of solving problems.  I think we are inherently different, and I think that that is a good thing.  I think that we come to the table first and foremost as being people who stop to think around the problem space and really think first and then try to build something eloquent that solves that problem.  That alone is such a different and fresh approach that I think people are really ready to hear that, and it's obviously that's why this year has, I think, been so great. 

 Did that answer your question?

CRAIG:    Yeah, it does.  It does.  What I want to do as well, because I think I think that's a really good answer in the context of people coming to Cognitect.  But, it occurs to me that I have a wonderful resource, you.  Maybe I shouldn't refer to resources, but someone really knowledgeable about a problem that I think a lot of our listeners have and I think you are well suited to help them with.  

I think a lot of our listeners are in the position of they really already like Clojure or maybe Datomic.  They like something that we talk about on the show.  That's why they're listening, and they really want to use it, but not everybody around them is in the same boat, yet, or at all.  

They're in a company that's using a lot of Java.  They're like, "Well, I feel like I can do better than that."  Like you said, "Something that works."  I like that.  These people are often faced with a task of selling Clojure or whatever into their organization.

JENN:    Yep.

CRAIG:    I think it's maybe something that they haven't thought a lot about how to do or whatever. 

JENN:    Right.

CRAIG:    Yet, here you are.  You do it all day, so what advice?  You're talking to these people.  You're doing it right now.

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    What would you tell them?  How should they go about that?  What are the things that they can try?

JENN:    I think a couple of things.  I think becoming aware of and a lot of people are not aware of how many companies--I'm not talking about our clients alone--companies far and wide that are using Clojure.  I think, once you get a sense for that of just how many Fortune 100 companies, Fortune 10 companies, are using Clojure, that alone, if you let your boss know that, that hopefully will get them to pause and take a look or at least listen to you maybe a bit further.  

 Because I am the person who has the opportunity to sell this, I think getting on the phone to hear and get your questions answered is a big way, but that's not something that you can do on your own without me, necessarily.  I think the biggest thing would be to take a look at just how it's getting used or who is using it.  

 We also have to do, and I think we have done, a better job of drafting those stories up, blogging about them, and then spreading that word over social media.  There are tons of examples of customer success stories within our website now, both on the customer success story page and then on the blog that we put out.  We're sort of recycling other people's success stories.  

Again, sometimes they're our clients and sometimes they're not.  It's really not about that.  It's much more about getting to understand the different places that it could be applied and how it's being used.  Actually hearing, I think, from people that aren't our customers is a good thing because that's not why we think it's good because these people are working with us to build something with it.  We think it's good because it's just good, and it solves the problem better.

 Yeah, I don't know if people who are listening to this often go to our blog too or have seen some of those stories.  We have some of them now in the marketing materials that we send around.  Then attending user groups or, if you want, like I participate in user groups and have gone to talk about kind of where Clojure is getting utilized.  I'm happy to always do that, so people can always ping me for that as well.

CRAIG:    Cool.  How would they reach you?

JENN:    Email me at jhillner@cognitect.com.

CRAIG:    Cool.  We'll put that in the show notes as well.

JENN:    Absolutely.  I'm always happy just to answer any questions too, so if anyone wants to call just to find out more first-hand from me, I'm happy to do that.

CRAIG:    Excellent.  Super cool.  Yeah, I think that's something I agree with you, user groups are great.  But, I think it's something that people definitely struggle with.  It's interesting that you cite that one example.  It's not something that would have occurred to me right away is just tell people, "Hey.  Walmart is using it.  Consumer Reports is using it.  These other really big companies, or maybe these other companies that aren't so big, but are like our company are using it."

JENN:    Yes.

CRAIG:    That you find that to be very persuasive.  I guess maybe it just gets past the bozo filter.  That's really the main thing because there's so much out there.  

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    This is a good question for you.  This is the sort of thing that you deal with all the time.  Is it that you're just proving legitimacy or at least providing a counter example?

JENN:    Yes.

CRAIG:    I think the default reaction just has to be dismissal; that you can't deal with the onslaught of information in this world any other way.

JENN:    Right.  Right.  Yeah, I mean a couple of months ago when I did my little presentation for us internally, you have to sort of figure out how people learn or begin to know or begin to trust and like something.  It's really different for everybody.  It's a very unique thing, person-to-person. 

Some people need; some people it matters that it's widely adopted in well-known companies.  For some people, that doesn't matter.  Sometimes it matters more what the actual problem is that was solved.  You have to tell them the technical story behind it, and that matters to them.  

 I think that you can't just do one thing.  You kind of have to know that your audience varies so greatly and to assume that this one way of getting information out will get in to all those other people's heads is misguided.  I think you have to be willing to know that you don't know what's going to work necessarily for everybody, and you have to try a lot of different ways of communicating.  

Yeah, I think that that's kind of a life lesson that I've learned through all my varying careers is being comfortable with not knowing sort of what you're getting into with a person each time you interact with them and knowing that it's an opportunity to learn.  Once you learn, then you have a chance at influencing them, hopefully for good.  

CRAIG:    Yeah.  I bet you and I could talk psychology for a whole episode.  Actually, maybe we will do that.  I've always found it very interesting.  I'm going to babble for a moment, if you'll pardon me.

JENN:    Yeah.  I've been babbling for 50 minutes.

CRAIG:    Oh, not at all.  No.  Fascinating stuff.  Absolutely fascinating.  I knew that you would make a good guest, and I have been made confident that my decision was the correct one.  

JENN:    Oh, good.

CRAIG:    Yeah, but I've said this before.  Software is about people, right?

JENN:    Mm-hmm.

CRAIG:    And so anything you can learn about people will help you write software better.  That's a good one.  I've got to remember that one, the idea that you should go into any interaction with people with a level of uncertainty about what will reach them.  Is that a fair way of saying what you said, because I want to remember that?

JENN:    Yeah, absolutely.  I think that.  I learned that through being an occupational therapist, and that is, I think, what has helped me the most throughout my sales career, which might sound so odd, but there's a humility to learning, going in knowing what you don't know and being okay with that, and letting what genuinely is their problem or their way of learning or their issues or their business needs guide the conversation.  Through that, I think that that's where you really get to some better solutions.

CRAIG:    Yeah, I really like that.  I'm definitely going to think more deeply on that.  It's a good takeaway for me.  Cool.  Well, we are sort of coming up towards the end of our time, but I do always like to leave room because sometimes our guests have things that they're like, "Hey, Craig.  I wanted to mention this to your listeners," or, "It would be cool if we spent some time talking about this."  I don't know if you have anything like that on your mind, but if you do, then now would be a great time to share that.

JENN:    Well, I think it kind of ties into a little bit about what we've been talking about, although I think it can be applied in life in general.  I say this a lot.  I've said it as a manager to my sales employees, and then I've said it to my kids, and I say it to myself that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  I really do think that people should spend more time listening and less time talking.  Not that they shouldn't talk, but the more time listening piece is the key there.  

 I think that there's a tendency, in a lot of different ways in life, where people sort of never really start with listening, and so the conversation never gets to where it could go.  I think some people fill the room with a lot of verbiage and then really nothing gets said because no one is really listening to each other.  So I have found that you can learn a lot more about people by listening more to them instead of talking as much with them.  Then the communication that happens from there tends to be a whole lot better and more productive in all ways.

CRAIG:    That's certainly good advice for a podcast host.  I know I've observed, when I was editing the show, and I've said this before, I could look at it and see how much I talked and how much the guest talked.  My favorite episodes are all the ones where it's more them and less me. 

JENN:    Mm-hmm, yeah, yeah.

CRAIG:    Cool.  Well, so that's really awesome advice, and I guess I wonder whether that was the advice you had in mind with which to end the show or if you have other thoughts.  It seems like we've come to that point where we close down with a piece of advice.  Was that it, or did you have something else for us as well?  I kind of hope you do because they've all been pretty good.

JENN:    No, that's kind of what I had in mind.

CRAIG:    Yeah.  No, that's good.  That's great.  That's actually great.  I was actually thinking to myself, "If she has something else, that'll be awesome," but that's actually a really good one to end on, I think, really fantastic.  Jenn, thank you so much for coming on the show.  I've been looking forward to recording with you for quite some time.  It's taken us a little while to finally coordinate our schedules, but I'm thrilled that you finally made it on the show.  Just thanks so much for coming on and sharing your thoughts.

JENN:    Aw, thank you for having me.  I'm glad you wanted to have me on the show, so thanks for having me.

CRAIG:    Oh, absolutely.  I think we'll have to do it again.  I think your perspective is absolutely fascinating, both as someone who is an expert in what they do, but also someone who is not an expert in what I do, but who has a unique and really, really interesting viewpoint.  I learned a lot from you today, so I'll thank you again for that.  It's been great.  I hope to have you back.  It's been a thrill.  We will close down there.  This has been the Cognicast.  

[Music: "Thumbs Up (for Rock N' Roll)" by Kill the Noise and Feed Me]

CRAIG:    You have been listening to the Cognicast.  The Cognicast is a production of Cognitect, Inc., whom you can find on the Web at cognitect.com and on Twitter, @cognitect.  You can subscribe to the Cognicast, listen to past episodes, and view cover art and show notes at our home on the Web, blog.cognitect.com/cognicast.  You can contact us by tweeting @cognicast or by emailing us at podcast@cognitect.com.  

  Our guest today was Jenn Hillner, on Twitter @JennHillner1.  Episode cover art is by Michael Parenteau.  Audio production by Russ Olsen.  The Cognicast is produced by Kim Foster.  Our theme music is Thumbs Up (for Rock N' Roll) by Kill the Noise with Feed Me.  I'm your host, Craig Andera.  Thanks for listening.