Scotland JS

Edinburgh, July 19th and 20th 2018

Interview with Raquel Velez

Raquel Vélez


What do you do for a living?

I am a software engineer at npm, Inc - my claim to fame at npm is that I was the first hire, so I've literally been there for the entirety of the company. On a day-to-day basis I work on the website, so anything from somebody going to, to the design, to the boxes that run the website are in the purview of my team.

Do you have any hobbies, or anything you enjoy doing?

Right now my obsession is sewing and knitting. I knit whenever I do not have a sewing machine in front of me. Mostly because I have a degree in mechanical engineering and sewing is like mechanical engineering with a fabric. It's really fun to use my hands again where you don't necessarily get to do that with software.

I also love to bake, and I love skiing, climbing and hanging out in the mountains. People might know me for my previous robotics work, which is on hiatus for now, but I still care about it very much. I'm too busy skiing and sewing!

What are you interested in personally and technically?

My whole goal in life is just to help people do better things. My personal motto is building a better internet, because it is such a huge piece of technological advancement for human beings all over the world. I want it to be the best place it can be, because we know there are pits of doom throughout the internet.

In general, I care about making life more inclusive. When I do my sewing, I think about how people are a lot of different sizes. Fashion is the worst because I haven't spoken to a single person, especially women, who enjoys the shopping experience to the point that they have never cried in the dressing room.

The point is, how can we make this better for everyone? When I work on software, from a technological standpoint I am constantly thinking, “How can we make this better for everyone?” How can we make this more accessible, easier to use, more fun - how can I get more people to be excited about this? How can I make this so that people who didn't have access to this technology can make it for themselves and everyone else around them? How do we get more people who don't look like everybody else into this industry, and not hate themselves for it? It's easy enough to get people in, but to get them to stay in and bring other people in is, I think, even harder. And so I am constantly asking myself those questions and constantly driving myself towards at least attempting to find the answers. It's not easy sometimes.

Why apply to Scotland JS?

I have serious reasons and I have not-serious reasons. My serious reason for applying for Scotland JS is that I've heard nothing but amazing things about this community, and I have heard nothing but great things about Scotland as a country. I love engaging with communities that are smaller and newer and growing.

I've done JSConf US & EU, the really big JS Confs. Those are great and have a huge impact on a lot of people, but there are so many people that it's impossible to meet everyone. Scotland JS is a smaller, more intimate community, and I want to be able to give every single person a high-five. I like that kind of environment where I can genuinely meet every single person and get to know them a little bit. At an event like Scotland JS you can really feel like a member of the community even if you're flying thousands of miles to get there.

My silly reason is that my husband's birth name is William Wallace, and I am desperate to get him to Stirling go to the William Wallace Museum, just because we can! That would be a bonus - "William Wallace, we are taking you to your museum!".

Have you been to Edinburgh before?

I have not! I have never been to Scotland. I am really, really excited. It doesn't help that Peter and I have been chatting for years; ever since we met at JSConf EU he would send me a picture of Scotland and say "you like mountains? Take a look at this one! You like lakes? Take a look at this one too!"

Yeah, they've got a lot of them up there. It's a completely different character to a lot of Britain and certainly to London. You're in for a real treat! The venue is really lovely, and hopefully if we get good weather it will be spectacular.

I am so excited! Even if the weather isn't great, I am going to have a blast because how could you not?

The way I explain it to people who haven't been there is that it is where Harry Potter was written, everything about Edinburgh leeches into the character of the book. So if you can picture Hogwarts, that's pretty much what Edinburgh is like.

Oh my goodness! That is such a fun way to think about it!

Cut: Harry Potter geeking out :-D

What is your talk about without giving too much away?

My goal is to send everyone home after the incredibleness that will be this conference. I have faith that it will be incredible, so I'm banking on that! Send everyone home with a warm, fuzzy feeling of it being their turn to go away and do something incredible.

My mother has done some keynotes, and I asked her "hey, how do I give a good keynote?". She said "Make them laugh, make them cry, make them remember just how special they are". That's what I will try to do. We'll see if I execute on that!

What are you looking forward to?

What am I not looking forward to is really the best question! I'm super excited about the talks, but I'll be honest that I’m more looking forward to meeting people and making new friends. I'm also really excited about meeting people who are already friends! The fun thing about the Javascript community is that you'll meet a couple of people at some conferences and say "hey, now I know your name", then you'll start following them on Twitter, and then you'll become friends on Twitter.

A perfect example is Lewis Cowper. I met him for five minutes at JSConf EU a couple of years ago, and since then he's appeared in four of my Slack channels. He's hilarious, and I very much count him as a friend online. I'm really excited to go to Scotland JS to hang out with him! You spend five minutes with someone at a conference and it turns into this great relationship that you can't wait to spend more time with them at another conference.

This happens more at smaller conferences like Scotland JS.

I heard something about dancing?

I don't know if I'm excited about haggis, I'm still on the fence about that. I'll probably try it, because I'm open to new experiences.

I'd like to give Nessie a high five, though I don't think that's going to happen. But you know, a girl can dream!

How do you feel about the discussion track?

I think, having give a bunch of talks at this point that a smaller, more intimate venue for Q&A would be great idea. My only concern is some people immediately after their talk need to immediately shut down for some time before they can be around people again. Some people might need to wait until the next discussion track so that they can bring themselves back to the land of the living. It's such a different experience for every single person.

It would be cool if the speakers could go into the discussion track as needed, and say that they would be there on Twitter or something. But otherwise I think it is fantastic.

I don't always like speaker rooms, but it sounds like a good cross between a speaker room and a quieter room for people to ask questions. I also hate Q&A on stage, I'm just one of those people. I think it detracts from the overall feel of a conference, because there's always the one person who is like "this is less of a question, and more of a comment!"

I totally agree with you that the best thing about conferences is being able to speak to speakers as equals, and I think it's good that the discussion track formalises that. It invites people to speak to the speakers, where they might not have done that before.

Yeah. There's nothing special about a speaker, other than they had the gall to stand up and share their knowledge. That's it. That's all that separates a speaker from a listener. Anything to help make it more accessible to ask questions. That's fantastic.

Katie Fenn

Interview by Katie Fenn