just dans

Making programming (everything) more accessible

08 Jun 2021

Gatekeepers

At Replit we say we’re out to demolish gatekeepers. Learning to code helps people plug in to the fast-growing parts of the economy and we’ve helped millions of people do just that. Billions more to go.

Yet when it comes to hiring we are very much gatekeepers. Our interview process is geared toward finding good matches—people who will help us achieve our mission faster and better than we could without them. We have to very choosy because it’s hard to scale groups of humans. You can’t have an arbitrarily large group of people, with new people joining whenever they feel like, and expect it to accomplish much.

What’s tickling my brain this morning is that you can learn some of the skills you need to get a software job entirely on your own on YouTube and Replit. But there’s a limit.

Most companies work in the old world: develop on your own computer, push changes to centralized source control, deploy at the cadence your company can tolerate. Even we, who build as many internal tools as we can with Replit, spend most of our days developing locally and sharing our code in pull requests.

In the old world, you essentially have to learn on your own with feedback from more experienced folks. The program-ask-questions-submit-pull-request-get-feedback loop can take hours or days. You can (and should!) pair program, but that takes a lot of time from experienced engineers, time that companies treat as an investment or a tax.

In the new world, people can pop into your repl, see the same exact running state as you do, and help unstick you in minutes.

In the new world, you can replay an experienced engineer profiling a system, or fixing a rare bug, or adding a new feature that touches multiple parts of the system. You can learn the hidden parts of the job on your own.

People ask us all the time if we build Replit on Replit. I’ve always interpreted that question as them asking how powerful the product is. That’s not the most interesting framing, though. Are we reaping all the social benefits of Replit ourselves? Are we building the product in such a way that newer folks can figure out what’s going on right away?

We’ve had one foot in the old world and one foot in the new for many years. That’s what it’s like to build a new way of building. We’ve treated placing both feet in the new world as a technical milestone, something that will happen when the time is right. It’s just a technical milestone, though. We should take the next step in order to raise the odds that someone outside the gates can make it inside, whether it’s at this company or another.