Joe Shindelar: A Passion for Open Source

Joe Shindelar of Osio Labs chats with Ivan about making interactive sculptures, snowboarding and his long history with open source software.
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Joe Shindelar

Lead Trainer and Lead Developer, Osio Labs

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How debugging software is akin to interactive sculpture

Working at Lullabot


Lullabot Education becomes Osio Labs


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today is Joe Shindelar, a lead trainer and lead developer at Osio Labs, whose mission is to empower anyone to build websites using open source tools. Joe is passionate about open source technology and has a rich and interesting past, having started out at a small agency here in town called Triangle Park Creative, moved on to Lullabot, Drupalize.Me and now Osio. He’s also a snowboard instructor, teaching kids how to snowboard. I have lots of questions about pronunciations as well. So, good morning Joe. Welcome. It’s so nice to have you on the podcast. 

JOE SHINDELAR: Good morning. So, pronunciation. My last name is Shindelar, so close, but not quite. Then Osio, we say Osio (pronouncing "OH-SEE-OH") Labs. It’s technically a made-up word, so I don’t know that there’s necessarily a correct pronunciation, but we all say Osio Labs. It stands for Open Source Inside and Out.

IVAN: So, it’s actually an acronym. I love that that’s the name. I think the reason I said Osio (pronouncing "AH-SEE-OH") is because the I kind of looked like an l to me and I must’ve thought Oslo.

JOE: Sure.

IVAN: Osio. Okay. Open Source Inside and Out. I love it. And, I actually was going to say "Shind-e-lar," but I thought I heard someone say your name "Shindler," without the e, and I thought, Oh, that must be the way you say it.

JOE: There’s a very good chance that you have heard someone say it that way. It’s a common thing. For the most part, unless I need to, I don’t even bother correcting people, because I know that they are talking to me, and it’s fine.

IVAN: I feel the same way. What’s the etymology of the last name?

JOE: It’s Czech.

IVAN: Wow, cool. So, let’s see—you’re lead trainer, lead developer at Osio Labs, but I want to go back a little further to you being at Osio, and I kind of want to figure out where life started for you, and how you arrived where you are today. So, where did you grow up?

JOE: I grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota. So, not too far from where I live now in Minneapolis. Maybe you’re familiar with the area. I grew up just north of downtown Stillwater in a house, kind of right on the riverbanks, with a vacant lot across the street. Spent a lot of time running around by the St. Croix River and playing in the woods outside in Stillwater.

IVAN: Wow. That must’ve been absolutely beautiful there.

JOE: It was awesome. I loved growing up there. I also loved that when I was 14 or 15, we moved to the cities and there were things to do. So, I was like, I want to go to the movies or an arcade, or any of those things, and there just wasn’t a lot of that to do in Stillwater.

IVAN: Did you end up at Stillwater High School?

JOE: I went to Stillwater High School for half a year, and halfway through my first year there, we moved to Minneapolis.

IVAN: Was that in the nineties or a little sooner than that?

JOE: Yeah, in the nineties. We moved in 1998 or so.

IVAN: So, you’re kind of a kid of the nineties?

JOE: Yeah.

IVAN: What’s your first memory of technology and the internet?

JOE: I kind of vaguely remember the first computer that we had at my house. My Dad worked at the Science Museum in Minnesota at the time, and they had gotten a bunch of Mac computers for the exhibits department to experiment with. They didn’t really know what they were going to do with them, whatever, my Dad got to bring one home.

So, he would bring it to our house on the weekend and we’d set it up in the living room. And kind of like today, you might set up a TV or something in the living room, and the whole family gathers around to watch a movie. My Dad would set this Mac up and me and my sisters would all gather around and watch my Dad play games. Mostly he would play this game called Crystal Quest, which every once in a while I try to find a copy of so I can play it now. But, it’s basically like little blobs floating around on the screen, collecting crystals.

So, I remember that part of it, and then I remember my Mom really got into playing Tetris. I remember this rivalry between my Mom and our babysitter at the time. Greta would play Tetris and get the high score. Then my Mom would come home from work, and she’d sit down at the computer and immediately start playing Tetris in order to beat Greta’s high score. Then the next day Greta would show up to take care of us, and she’d be like, “All right, you guys can go outside and play.” And she’d sit down and start playing Tetris to try and beat the high score. This went on forever. And that kind of stuck with me in some ways. I played a lot of Tetris as a kid, and I still do occasionally now.

IVAN: Did you ever try to beat your Mom’s score?

JOE: I’m sure I tried to. I don’t really recall how that all played out. I imagine today I would probably win, because I don’t think she plays Tetris much anymore.

IVAN: [laughing] You could beat your Mom now. Okay. Nice, Joe. Mom, if you’re listening, I think that’s a challenge. That’s great. And so, that was the family computer. I guess that wasn’t connected to the internet in any way right?

JOE: No, it wasn’t. My first memories of being connected to the internet are later. We had another Mac at the house, and I remember getting connected to AOL Instant Messenger. Specifically my cousins had come to visit, and they had AOL, and I think we were able to dial into their account while they were at my house. And I was like, This is awesome. So then when they left, we had one of those free month trial discs, and we signed up.

I remember spending a lot of time going into the AOL chatrooms and chatting with my cousins. That’s my earliest memory of doing things on the internet, and eventually that led to looking at websites and such. But mostly I just remember going into random chatrooms and saying hi and trying to figure out who else was in the chatroom with you. In retrospect I’m like, That is awkward and terrifying. Like, I wouldn’t do that now.

IVAN: I feel the same way. Did you have one of those external US Robotics modems?

JOE: Yeah, we totally did.

IVAN: And you could tell when it was connecting. I would always have trouble getting it to connect. Boy, memories, huh? Geez. That was awesome. But you learn so much about how the internet works having those issues, because you’d really have to try and figure out what the heck’s going on.

JOE: Totally. In comparison to now, where it’s like, you connect to Wi-Fi and maybe it goes down every once in a while, but rarely. It’s just sort of like every device you have is connected all of the time and there’s none of this, I have to turn on the internet and then wait for it to connect and hope that my sister doesn’t try and make a phone call at the same time. It’s amazing how much this stuff has changed.

IVAN: It is. It’s really amazing. I remember my parents getting really mad at how much time I was spending on the internet, but mostly because local calls in South Africa were not free. So, internet service you’d have to pay for, but to dial in you’d have to pay for the time that you were on the landline as well. And, the first month’s bill, like anyone with the original iPhone knows, right? You use all that data that you don’t know that you’re using. [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] Right.

IVAN: Yeah. That was bad.

JOE: How could I possibly use more than 1 gigabyte of data? Then you’re like, Oh, apparently I can do that in a day.

IVAN: [laughing] That’s awesome. So, Stillwater High and then what happened after that? What did you do for education after that?

JOE: When we moved to Minneapolis, I went to South High School for about half a year. A kind of a funny story there, where, we moved from Stillwater to Minneapolis in the middle of the school year, and Stillwater High School operates their school year on quarters, and South High School operates on trimesters. So, we moved at the end of the quarter from Stillwater, but I couldn’t get into South High until the beginning of the second trimester. So, there was this almost one-month period of time where, as like a 16-year-old boy, I didn’t have to go to school in the middle of my school year.

Which was amazing, except for in order to make this all work, my Mom had orchestrated this deal with South High School that was like, “All right, we’ll give him credit for the full year even though he’s missing a month. But in order to do that, he needs to spend a bunch of time doing some research and writing a report while he’s on this break.” So, I opted to write a report about U-boats, and so I did all this research on German U-boats and wrote a report, made paintings of U-boats and collected all of this and put it together. Gave it to my Mom so she could hand it into the school, started school, went on from there.

Like 10 years later, I learned that my Mom made this whole thing up. There was no requirement to write the report. [laughing] My Mom was like, “Well I can’t have Joe and his sister just sitting around doing nothing for three weeks, so I guess I’ll make them write reports.” And, she dug it out of some box in the basement and was totally like, “Oh, yeah. That’s right. This thing.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] That’s amazing. So, you ended up studying art in high school?

JOE: I did. There’s a school here in Minnesota that’s called the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

IVAN: Oh, I know that school. That’s a good school.

JOE: Yeah. So, I went to Perpich for two years. I was in the media program there, studying media arts. It ended up being really fascinating for me, because about the time that I was there, like 1999/2000, the program was transitioning from a lot of analog media stuff. So, photos in a dark room, creating video using VHS and two editing decks, and transitioning to do a lot more. The school had just gotten its first digital cameras, and first digital video recorders, and there was an iMac that had the very first version of Final Cut Pro on it. So, it was like, my first year there I did a ton of stuff in the dark room, and the second year there, all of a sudden, we were using Photoshop and computers, and I was like, This is cool. This is what I want to do.

IVAN: And so, you knew you wanted to be involved in computers right away in high school. So, what was the next step? I know that you went and spent some time in Rhode Island.

JOE: When I graduated high school, my initial plan was to move to New York City and become an ActionScript developer and make millions of dollars writing Flash applications.

IVAN: Of course. I mean, yeah, Flash, absolutely. [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] But, that didn’t pan out. I never actually left for New York, and I decided I should go to college instead. Then I bounced around a bunch. I went to a handful of different schools because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I started out as a computer science major at University of Wisconsin Stout. So, I did that for a semester, and then decided This is way too hard and I’m not good at it, so then I switched to math and I was going to major in math, then I decided I didn’t like that either.

So after a semester I dropped out, and didn’t go to school at all for about a year. I followed a girl out to Rhode Island, and I ended up going to the community college out there and taking a bunch of art classes, and, kind of falling in love with art again after having not done it for a few years. Then I moved back to Minneapolis and finally about eight years later, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Bachelor of Fine Art with a focus in sculpture.

IVAN: Wow. A BFA with a focus in sculpture.

JOE: Yep. [laughing]

IVAN: That’s insane. And it’s so interesting, all the people we’ve had on the podcast, all of the different paths that lead to Drupal.

JOE: Yeah, totally.

IVAN: And, it seems like a lot of them go through the fine arts degree of some sort. You know, journalism. So, sculpture eventually turns into Drupal, or was Drupal happening at the same time you were at the University? Because I know there’s all these overlaps as well.

JOE: I was starting to do Drupal at the same time I was going to school. I had a job working for a company here in town, Triangle Park Creative. I was working there pretty much full time while also going to school. And so, I was learning to build websites on the job at Triangle Park, and at school I was studying sculpture and in a lot of ways, trying to figure out ways to incorporate technology into the sculptures that I was creating. So, microprocessors and sensors and that kind of stuff.

IVAN: That was hard so long ago, right? Things weren’t small.

JOE: Oh my gosh. I was talking to somebody about this the other day, where, not that it’s by any means easy to do this stuff today, but, there is a plethora of different microchip boards you can buy, like Arduino and Raspberry Pi and all of these kits that you can get with sensors, and assemble them together, relatively easy in comparison to even like 10 years ago. You could do all that stuff back then, but you had to do a lot more of the behind-the-scenes work to flash your program onto the memory of the board and get it to run and solder things together.

All of these things that, as an art student, I was like, I have no idea how to do this, but what I really want is for this light to turn on when somebody walks past my sculpture. And, so, I spent a lot of time tinkering with hardware stuff like that in order to incorporate it into the art that I was making. I had this idea that I wanted to make sculptures that would evolve by virtue of the fact that someone was viewing or interacting with the piece. So, you go and see the sculpture and instead of it just being a piece of concrete, or something that never changed…

IVAN: Like a sculpture that’s static of David, right?

JOE: That the fact that you had been there to visit that sculpture would reflect in the art for the next person that saw it. That was the dream. I would say 80% of the projects that I worked on were like duct tape and bubble gum and the fact that it held together long enough for a critique was always the highlight of the sculpture. I was like, Wow, it didn’t fall apart. [laughing]

But, I had a lot of fun doing that. I learned a ton about computers and programming and problem solving and debugging. Just things I think about a lot today, even working on writing PHP for a Drupal module, and you’re trying to figure out why a particular aspect of it isn’t working. That the process that you go through to debug it isn’t all that different than trying to figure out why your mechanical switch doesn’t actuate when somebody walks by. And, initially you’re like, Those are two totally different concepts, Joe. It’s like, Yeah, but the debugging part of it is roughly the same, trying to isolate what the problem is, and figure out what’s causing it, and see if you could replicate the problem, and so on.

IVAN: Are you still making art these days?

JOE: Not really. Not in any kind of professional capacity. I have two little kids. I do a lot of coloring and painting with them, but I wouldn’t call it art, per se.

IVAN: Yeah, well I kind of miss doing that as well. It’s definitely something that rejuvenates and, kind of, re-energizes oneself when you do it.

JOE: So, then I was also working at Triangle Park, building websites. And initially the goal there was I needed a way to pay for school. I had a job and more and more people kept asking us to build them websites, and I kept getting paid to do it. So, I thought, Well, I’ll keep doing this until I grow up and get a real job. [laughing] And here I am, 15 plus years later, and I still make websites.

IVAN: Still waiting to grow up. [laughing]

JOE: Right. I found Drupal through all that initially. I think what a lot of us have done, and have been doing this for a long time, you went through the process of trying to craft your own website, and maybe your own content management system, and in my case, learning PHP along the way. I would go and look at the code and things like WordPress and Drupal. Mostly I would copy and paste wholesale things from Drupal into my code, and then eventually I was like, This is kind of dumb. I should probably just pick one of these and use it. And I did. For various reasons it meshed well with me. It solved the problems that I had at the time and it continued to evolve, and here I am.

IVAN: It continues to pay the bills.

JOE: Like, 15 years later, instead of being a starving artist, I build websites with Drupal and teach other people how to do it.

IVAN: It’s a good story. So, eventually you left Triangle Park and started with Lullabot, a completely distributed company.

JOE: Yeah.

IVAN: What was that like? Why the change?

JOE: I was looking for an opportunity to work with other people who were doing Drupal. At Triangle Park at the time, there was just a couple of us, and we were doing Drupal, but mostly we were doing it in kind of isolation within Triangle Park, and I was interested in figuring out ways to participate more in the larger community. I was also looking to have an opportunity to work with people who were better at this than I was.

At Triangle Park, I think we all kind of grew up and evolved together. It was an awesome opportunity to learn, but you were never working with someone who had been doing this for a few years longer than you had. I was looking for some of that. Then the opportunity at Lullabot—I wasn’t specifically leaving Triangle Park to go to Lullabot—it was more one of those scenarios where I was in a fortunate position to be able to say If I don’t quit here, I’m never going to put the work into finding what’s next.

So, I left Triangle Park and sort of had some ideas of what I wanted to do next, but nothing concrete lined up. And the opportunity to do some contract work as a trainer for Lullabot came up, so, I jumped on that. I applied for the position and didn’t hear anything back for three months, and I was like, Well, I guess that didn’t go anywhere. My recollection is that I didn’t even get an email in response to the fact that I had applied. Like, “Hey, thanks for your application.” It was just like radio silence. Then one Thursday afternoon I got an email and they were like, “Hey are you still interested in helping do some training? Can you be in New York tomorrow?” [laughing] I was like, “Yes, I can. Sure.”

IVAN: Wow.

JOE: Again, I was in a fortunate position to be able to make that work, and it did. I started doing a bunch of contract work for them, then more and more over the course of about half a year, and eventually that got to the point where I just said, “Look, I’m working for you two and a half, three weeks out of the month, and it’s making it hard for me to find any other work. I need to either come on full time or I need to go do something else.” So, they brought me on full time. Then, I was working from home full time which, I know you know this is, it’s quite an adventure and a transition to make.

IVAN: It is. It’s been the best adventure and transition for us over the last two years, when we started doing it two years ago. So many good things about doing it. For me it's just the ability to see my kids and my family as much as I can. It gets a little long toothed sometimes in the summer when the teenagers are all around, but otherwise it’s just amazing. So, yeah, it’s really great. I didn’t realize that you jumped into work with Lullabot directly as a trainer. I just thought that that kind of evolved out of your being a developer at Lullabot, but actually not.

JOE: It’s the other way around.

IVAN: The other way around. Wow.

JOE: I started out doing training. So, back in the day, Lullabot used to do a lot of in-person training workshops. We would do trainings at DrupalCon and Camps, but we had also organized and hosted events in various different cities. We would say, “Hey, we’re going to be in Portland this week, for these two days, and we’re going to teach theming. Then we’re going to be in Boston for these couple of days and we’re going to teach advanced module development, and if you want to attend, here’s the cost. Come to the workshop.”

In addition to that, we were also doing those same workshops, privately for clients. At the time that I came on that was really taking off as a business opportunity for Lullabot, and they needed to have additional help to do the training, because they just had so much of it going on at the time. I started doing that with them, and for me, that evolved into—I said earlier that eventually I kind of had to play my card and say, “Look, I need a full-time gig, or I need to move on,” and they brought me on full time. And then it was like, “Well, now what do you do?” The answer was I kept doing a lot of training, and then when I wasn’t working on the training stuff, I mostly worked on internal projects. One of those was what eventually evolved to become the Drupalize.Me website. In addition to doing the in-person training, Lullabot produced a bunch of DVDs for training.

IVAN: I heard about this.

JOE: Yeah.

IVAN: Yes, I’ve heard this story from someone, who shall remain nameless at this time. [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] We made a bunch of DVDs, and they were awesome and then everyone was like, “Why would we want DVDs when you could just have your training on the internet?”

IVAN: Right.

JOE: I think they did fairly well for a year, and then I was like YouTube came around and people were like, “You could put video on the internet. Why would I buy a DVD?” So, Drupalize.Me kind of started out as a, “Well, let’s take the content of the DVDs and put it online, and charge people that way.” Which is pretty much what we did. Very early iterations of Drupalize.Me, when you would go to watch a video of our training, you would sit down and it would be like, “Here’s a four-and-a-half-hour video that you could watch on how to build a module.” [laughing] We literally ripped the DVDs and put them on the internet.

IVAN: Were there any FBI warnings on those DVDs? [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] I don’t recall. There are still a bunch of them in existence. We could probably find out. When you make DVDs to sell, you have to get a certain quantity of them printed in order for it to be economic, and so we printed out thousands of these DVDs and then sold hundreds, and there are now still hundreds of them in boxes.

IVAN: Like in Jeff’s basement, or in Matt’s basement somewhere.

JOE: I don’t actually know if this is true anymore, but for a while, they were in storage. We had worked with this drop ship-type company where they store the DVDs for you, and you send them a message saying "Ship these three to Ivan." The contract that we had with them sort of stipulated that if we wanted to cancel our contract and get our remaining inventory back from them, it was going to be way more expensive than it was to just leave the DVDs there, and keep paying the monthly fee. So, for a long period of time those DVDs just remained in storage, and I guess you could call them, and they would ship one, but I’m not sure if they’re still there or not.

IVAN: I will ask Jeff the next time I talk to him. [laughing] What’s going on with that? So, Drupalize.Me then became quite successful, and then at some point it split off and it was no longer a part of Lullabot. And it was kind of run by, I think I remember, was it called Lullabot Education?

JOE: Yeah, that’s correct. So, within Lullabot we had kind of the education department, and we were responsible for Drupalize.Me and for all of the client training and in-person workshops and stuff that Lullabot was doing. Over time that business changed a bit. We were doing less and less in-person training and more and more working on

For the most part, other than myself, who was kind of full-time in that department, people at Lullabot would work on Drupalize.Me in between client projects. Which, of course, is like also synonymous with never. [laughing] But the idea was when you’re not working on client projects, you’ll have time to help work on Drupalize.Me. It meant that Drupalize.Me, while it was showing signs of being able to be really successful, was struggling a bit because it just couldn’t get the attention that it needed to get over that next hurdle.

IVAN: When it’s a services company running a product within your services business. Right?

JOE: Exactly. There’s this idea that your service is kind of ebb and flow and in between you’ll be able to work on a product, but a product needs constant attention. You can’t just work on it now and then. Especially something like Drupalize.Me where ultimately what you’re paying for is ongoing content. Like, yes, there’s a technical aspect of like, we have a website and you can watch the videos online, and maybe that part doesn’t change a lot, but we do have to continue to produce new content.

IVAN: Drupal 8 comes out, Drupal 9 comes out.

JOE: I’ve made videos about how to create a view in Drupal for Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 and Drupal 8. Oh my God, I've got this down. So, ultimately the decision was in order for Drupalize.Me to really be successful you need to push it out of the nest and teach it how to fly. Let it learn on its own. So, we did. The company was split off from Lullabot into—what was at the time, Lullabot Education—and it was split off on paper, so technically for legal reasons, we were separate companies, but we still had the same ownership.

We were still all in the same Slack channel. We still all went on the same company retreat. It was just from an accounting perspective and taxes and that kinds of stuff, we were a separate company. That was years ago, now. And it has continued to evolve since. The ownership has changed a little bit, there’s overlap between the two, but it’s not identical anymore. Lullabot Education, which is now Osio Labs, has grown. We still attend the same retreat—sometimes, but not always. In some ways there’s some logistic stuff about it that makes that really easy for us to do.

And we just recently started our own Slack team, so we’re no longer sharing the same Slack room with Lullabot. We now have our own. I guess over time what’s happened is, as Osio Labs has grown and we’ve hired new people, there are now a number of people who don’t have that shared history, and trying to figure out how to balance that has been an ongoing thing. Those of us who were part of Lullabot at one time, it’s often difficult to be like, “Ah, I miss that,” or “I still am part of that. These are still my friends.” But then the people that never there don’t have that history, and it just makes no sense. It’s like, Lullabot who? Who are we talking about? What’s going on here? It’s like trying to figure that all out. 

IVAN: And, it’s also may be influenced by the evolution of the things you’re teaching as well, because you’ve gone from teaching purely Drupal, and spinning that off as another company, and Osio Labs, now, you guys are teaching Gatsby and Node as well as Drupal, and this is kind of more of a generalized company that isn’t just going to take on Drupal.

JOE: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think it’s like part of the change of name, and really, it’s that going from Lullabot Education to Osio Labs is like, we’ve done a bunch of paperwork and we’ve changed our name. Everything else is still the same. It’s an indication of our evolution and growing up as a company. And, wanting to branch out into things other than Drupal and establish a name for the company.

We’re looking at things in other communities like Gatsby or Node or other open source areas that we might want to get into. We don’t necessarily need that association with the Lullabot name, where Drupalize.Me has been, and continues to be, super beneficial. Then we wanted a name that was a bit more reflective of the fact that we’re doing more than just Drupal at this point. Barely. But we’re just starting to do more than Drupal, but the long-term plan is to take all of the lessons that we’ve learned, teaching people how to do things with Drupal and the success that we’ve had with Drupalize.Me, and being members of the Drupal community and finding other open source communities that, as a business, we can participate in, and provide training, provide support for the community, help the community grow. All of those things.

IVAN: I love that you’re expanding and applying the things that you’ve learned in Drupal to the rest of the world and the rest of the community. I think that’s admirable, and I think you have a ton of value that you can bring to the open source community. I just wish you the very best of luck in doing that, and I’m excited to see that grow.

JOE: Yeah. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think.

IVAN: I think so. And I love that it’s in the name, as well.

JOE: Yes.

IVAN: Just awesome. So, you’ve been teaching for a long time. I think you alluded to the fact that it’s been probably about 15 years or so, and it’s not just technology is it? You’re kind of a beast on the ski slopes, aren’t you?

JOE: [laughing] Yeah, so I teach snowboarding as well, and I’ve actually been doing that for quite a bit longer than I’ve been teaching people Drupal. And I continue to do that today, but not nearly as much. Teaching snowboarding does not pay the bills for me, [laughing] but I still enjoy doing it.

IVAN: When did you start that? Was that around the same time as you got to the city, moving away from Stillwater?

JOE: I was in college.

IVAN: Oh, so you didn’t do one of those Saturday camps where you get up at 7:00 a.m. and spend the day out on the ski slopes and Mom and Dad pick you up later?

JOE: I did not participate in one, but I teach for one now. But I was never a part of it. I teach for a ski school here in Minnesota called Blizzard. One of my friends had been in Blizzard when she was younger and we were both in college. She and her family had remained connected with the people that owned Blizzard at the time. Snowboarding, as a thing that students were interested in, was really taking off and they were basically desperate for snowboarding instructors and they were like, “Joe, Katie, you know how to snowboard right?” We’re like, “Yeah.” They were like, “You want to be teachers?” We were like, “No, I have no idea how to be a teacher.” They were like, “That’s fine. Mostly we just need warm bodies on the hills.”

IVAN: Usually the case. [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] It’s really more like we need someone to make sure this group of kids returns safely at the end of the day. And if they happen to learn something along the way, I guess that’s a nice side effect.

So, I was like, “Sure, I can do that.” And I got into teaching through that, and that kind of evolved over time too. After a couple of years as a pseudo-instructor, I found some training that I could take to help learn be a better snowboarding instructor, and then got certified through a program called The American Association of Snowboard Instructors

Over time I continued to learn how to be a better instructor through that. I think part of what happened there is I had spent a number of years teaching snowboarding, getting certified, getting to a point where I was doing training for other people to become certified as snowboard instructors, and this opportunity—I mentioned earlier Lullabot was looking to hire trainers and I applied for the job—and one of the questions is, “Do you have any previous teaching experience?” I was like, “Yeah, I do actually. Not formal in a school sense, but I had all of this background from Blizzard teaching and helping with certification programs, and that kind of stuff.”

In retrospect, I think that was a big part of why they eventually called me back. Like we just said, everyone in the Drupal community at the time, it was like, “Do you know how to teach people?” I was like, “No.” They’re like, “Oh, that’s fine. We just need warm bodies to stand up here and flip through the slide deck.” [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] Right.

JOE: I was like, “I could do that.” It’s awesome.

IVAN: My son loves Blizzard. He’s been skiing for about eight years. He’s been skiing since he was three or four years old, and this last winter was the first time he did the Blizzard program. He’ll be thirteen pretty soon. He loved it. He complains about getting up early on a Saturday morning. You know, “Oh, I have to get up at 6:30 and be there at 7:00.” But he comes back with the best experience and people, new people he’s met. And, you know, they have a rating system on which ski slopes have the best refreshments and fries.

JOE: So, how it works is Blizzard is a traveling ski school. So, we go to different ski areas around the Twin Cities Metro area instead of just going to the same one every time. And you show up at one of these places, like you show up at Trollhaugen and as a snowboarder I’m like, This is awesome. We’re at a new place. I can’t wait to get out and go snowboarding. And then, as a teenage kid, they’re all like, “Hmm, what videogames do they have at Trollhaugen?” [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] Yeah, the perspective is a little different.

JOE: One of the things I enjoy most about being a snowboard instructor is the opportunity to take my passion for snowboarding and display that in a way that someone else gets to see it and sort of be like, “Wow, he’s really excited about this and he’s having a lot of fun. I want to do that too.” And, especially working with kids, you have this opportunity to like, yes you can teach them the mechanics of how to make a toeside turn, but also you can have a lot of fun. So, then the next week, when they’re getting ready to come back, they’re excited to come back, and they’re excited to go snowboarding again. And hopefully they grow up to be adults that are excited to go snowboarding.

IVAN: I appreciate that work that you do as well. I know Cooper evolved from not wanting to get up and try and go to Blizzard to like, “Yeah, don’t mess with my Saturdays in the winter because I have Blizzard to go to.” Yeah, it’s just been great to see him do that. Now, I’m going to ask you maybe a little bit of a controversial question. So, this is a heads up.

JOE: Okay.

IVAN: Have you biased your kids one way or another, ski versus snowboard?

JOE: Yes, I’m sure I have. [laughing] I have not intentionally told my children, “You will snowboard, and you will never ski.” But at the same time there are no skis in my house. My kids are really young. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. So, neither of them are skiing or snowboarding yet. We did get Wesley a snowboard last winter, no bindings, just a plastic thing with a rope on the front, and I’ll pull him up and down the alley, and he thinks that’s pretty fun.

We’ve been talking about maybe starting them on skis, in part because, generally kids can start skiing a lot younger than they can snowboarding. Snowboarding just requires a different amount of muscle. You need more physical strength to control a snowboard, initially, than you do with skis, and to be able to do things like stop. Whereas for younger kids, it is relatively easier to put on a pair of skis and make a wedge, pizza, French fries, pizza, French fries.

IVAN: I started skiing in my late thirties. I’m very familiar with pizza. [laughing]

JOE: [laughing] Right. That’s about the extent of my skiing skills too. So, if I was to teach my kids how to ski, it would mostly be, “Here’s some skis, here’s a hill, I’ll see you at the bottom.” [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] I think that’s awesome.

JOE: I will absolutely teach them skiing or snowboarding. As far as I’m concerned, they should choose one that’s exciting to them. I would rather them be really excited about a winter sport, than me dictating what it is. Ultimately, I just want us to have things that we can do that get us outside in a Minnesota winter, and enjoy being outside instead of cooped up inside all of the time.

IVAN: Totally agree. My kids were in the Buck Hill program when they were three and four. My wife would take them out, and here’s this South African immigrant [Ivan] who has never skied ever, sitting in the chalet watching them. I thought to myself, What am I doing? I got to get out there as well. It’s never too late to learn anything. They’re going to be much better than I am, and still are, but so what, we’re out there. That’s what counts. That’s awesome. Okay. One final question. I want to talk about your handle. I’ve always thought it was the greatest handle that someone has on Twitter. So, it’s eojthebrave. What’s the etymology of that?

JOE: Eojthebrave, eoj is "Joe" spelled backwards, and then "the brave," with all the spaces removed. And it’s a funny thing, because I now have this online moniker that everyone knows me as that was never intended to be something that people could pronounce. It was supposed to be just a bunch of characters that you saw on the screen. I never thought about would someone be able to say my name. But now I attend all of these Drupal events and open source community events, and people are like, “You’re eojthebrave,” and I’m like “I guess you could say it that way.” It’s kind of like, is it OH-sio or AH-sio? I don’t know.

IVAN: It doesn’t matter. It’s important that we’re talking.

JOE: So, years ago I was really into playing Warcraft 2, and you could play online, and I needed to have a nickname that would inspire fear in the hearts of my enemies, [laughing] especially in a medieval war game. What better than something like "Joe the Brave." And I was like, online you’re supposed to be anonymous. People shouldn’t know that my name is Joe. So, if I just spell it backwards, no one will ever know.

IVAN: Clever.

JOE: And then it evolved over time. Initially I think it was like eoj <space> the <space> brave, and then I probably signed up for something where you couldn’t have spaces in your name so I used underscores. And then I probably signed up for something where you couldn’t have underscores in your name. So, it just kind of all merged together. And now, here I am, twenty years later being like, “I should’ve just picked Joe.” [laughing] But, this works fine.

IVAN: [laughing] And, do you have all of the domain names as well. and all that?

JOE: No, I don’t.

IVAN: Oooh Alright. I’m buying it right now. It’s going to be a little more valuable in a little bit here.

JOE: Yeah, totally. [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] That’s awesome. Well, thank you very much for giving that explanation and talking with me. It was just really wonderful to find out more about you and what you’re doing. Yeah, come back on the show, and maybe we’ll talk about some big ideas in the next episode.

JOE: That’d be fun. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and just catch up.

IVAN: Yeah. That was awesome. Joe Shindelar is passionate about open source technology and is a lead trainer and lead developer at Osio Labs. You can find him on Twitter and on where his handle is @eojthebrave. You can also check out his personal chunk of the internet at You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

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