Engineers make hardware and software for humans. It should go without saying, but remembering and staying true to that axiom is complicated depending on where you’re standing. With each passing year, it seems that things get more complicated, more random, more uncertain. This year was no different, especially in the realm of technology.

Facebook and Twitter are defending their platforms amidst allegations that they were used for interfering in America’s 2016 Presidential elections. Net neutrality seems to be going by the wayside with nary a peep from the so-called “Big N”, many of whom participated in protests in 2014 when the issue first came to the public’s attention. Uber dug itself into a hole as scandal after scandal rocked the company; the first of which was a female engineer lifting the veil and exposing a misogynistic and Darwinian culture, followed by revelations that the company had written software to avoid local law enforcement agents in areas where Uber was prohibited from operating. Meanwhile, the threat of automation and the looming specter of artificial intelligence have every working professional worried about the future of employment in this new economy.

The list could go on and on, and doesn’t end when last year began. As long as corporate greed and bad company culture are not only allowed, but praised, problems of this ilk will continue. The problem as I see it, is that it’s most troubling in the context of computers.

Computers are designed to manage repetitive tasks and data for humans. If the design of their software is such that the task they are doing and the numbers they are crunching are used for some unethical purpose, then the acceleration of the problem is, well, frightening. One human sifting through data to enact some evil plan is not nearly as scary as one computer doing the same task.

So what to do?

It’s all too easy as an engineer to say, “Not my problem.” The issues most engineers face are so complex and difficult to wrangle that adding a layer of ethics on top of that is almost too much to handle. Unfortunately, engineers are also at the point where ideas become actions in this new world.

As Jeff Atwood puts it over on Coding Horror:

Programmers don’t think of themselves as people with the power to change the world. Most programmers I know, including myself, grew up as nerds, geeks, social outcasts [….] What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us … like we wanted it to be?

So what do we do in this new world, where a keystroke, a function, a feature could lead to Donald Trump being the President of the United States?

Personally I’ve found that it’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people and mission. If the people around you have good motives and the thing you’re all working toward is to make the world better for the people that use your services/product, then you greatly increase the odds that the next decision you make won’t be subverted and used in an unintended fashion. It’s a huge reason I work at LexBlog, and it should be a factor in every job searcher’s mind.

We have a finite amount of time on this world, and even less time to work toward making it a better place (I have to eat and sleep, after all). Endeavor to do some good with that time.

Over the past few days, the Product team at LexBlog has been busy launching a few bodies of work that have been a long time coming. While our Success team launches sites and solutions on a hourly basis, the product side of LexBlog has the luxury of spending weeks, sometimes months, working on new features (what luxury!). It’s a truly fortunate situation, and one that we don’t take for granted.

This week, our team had the pleasure of being in the same offices together with our Lead Developer, Scott Fennell – who blogs over at Code in the Cold – and Director of Design, Brian Biddle making their quarterly visit to the LexBlog Mothership (now at WeWork!), and we made sure to capitalize. This Thursday and Friday we celebrated our team’s geographical unity, short-lived though it may be, by launching a new admin color scheme, a redesigned LXBN – named The LexBlog Network from here on out – and LexBlog Network subscription options for each author on LexBlog’s publishing platform.

While our authors may not find the new admin color scheme groundbreaking, this update was the source of some headaches for yours truly, and served as a great technical opportunity for Mr. Biddle and Angelo Carosio, LexBlog’s in-house DJ and developer extraordinaire.

Continue Reading LXBN as the New LexBlog

In my time at LexBlog, I’ve seen three different office buildings and worked in two.

The first LexBlog offices where my first “real” desk job began was on 95 South Jackson Street in Pioneer Square. The building was near the waterfront, and a stone’s throw away from the Seattle Ferry Terminal. Our CEO, Kevin O’Keefe (he of Real Lawyers Have Blogs), lives on Bainbridge and so LexBlog has always stuck near the ferries. The offices were nice; brick walls, open layout, corner offices with good views, but toward the end of LexBlog’s lease we were neighbors with one of the largest construction projects in Seattle’s history.

Continue Reading LexBlog is Moving to WeWork

This post was written using Gutenberg, the code name for the WordPress core team’s effort to overhaul the WordPress post editor.

One of the things that we strive to do at LexBlog is help data drive decision making processes. The fetishization of data in business is somewhat akin to the fetishization for new specs and frameworks in development, but data is still a helpful tool (just like arrow functions in ES6) and should not be ignored. And so we track actions in the admin – clicks, navigating to a certain page, performing an action – all the data that a product manager like myself craves. One thing I’ve noticed in watching how our customers use the LexBlog platform is that people post. A lot.

That simple fact shouldn’t be surprising. We run a network of digital legal publications. Lawyers are trained writers, so they write constantly. Basically, if you give a lawyer a blog, be prepared to see them log in, go to Posts -> Add New, and begin writing away. So when I heard that Matt Mullenweg included the editor in the list of primary focuses for the core team, my interest was piqued. When I saw Aaron Jorbin’s post on using Gutenberg last night, I had to try it out for myself.

Continue Reading Gutenberg – The Future of WordPress’s Post Editor

At LexBlog, my team is responsible for keeping a lot of sites up and running. We help manage the reputation of lawyers and law firms, where each pixel matters. As a result, our product team performs a host of functional tests before launching updates, and we lean on test driven development practices to catch things that functional tests cannot.

An unfortunate blind spot is that humans aren’t machines. We’re prone to miss simple things, and after staring at a screen for hours on end, our brains and eyes get tired. To help catch things that we may gloss over, we use an internal application built using Node.js, React, and Selenium that integrates with the WordPress REST API and an external service, Applitools.

Continue Reading Building a Visual Regression Testing Application Using React, Selenium, Node.js, and the WordPress REST API

Every Product Manager that I’ve had the opportunity to speak with, listen to, or read about makes one thing abundantly clear: Knowing your users is your job. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. If you take a moment to peruse career pages or job boards with Product Management positions, you’ll notice that each listing notes an ability to simultaneously be an Excel/SQL/database master and product expert. The nature of product management requires you to live, breathe, and eat the customer’s experience while understanding why their experience is the way it is.

Continue Reading Getting To Know You, Getting to Know All About You

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year wrapping my mind around what it means to build a content management platform for lawyers. For nearly a year and a half, LexBlog has completely turned our model of delivery on its head, and shifted our focus from a project-to-project business, to one that focuses on developing new products. As you may guess, the cost of this shift has not been small.

Continue Reading Building a Legal Blogging Platform

Here at LexBlog, we build, launch, and support a lot of WordPress websites and blogs. In many ways, that’s almost all we do! There are certainly other day-to-day tasks that the technical team takes on, but without a doubt, our most pressing responsibility to our clients is ensuring the stability and availability of their digital properties. This is especially true given that our clients, with the unique position that they have, are often suited to write in-depth analyses faster and more proficiently than a journalist or general content producer, but all that is for naught if their blog is inaccessible.

This is why I take the maintenance of our many sites incredibly seriously. When we perform plugin updates, the update is reviewed by a member of our development team (often a product manager like myself or a developer), a fully replicated staging environment is utilized for smoke testing, and each site is backed up before the update takes place. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about hundreds of sites that make use of various (and endlessly shifting) plugin components and themes, that’s just not enough. Fortunately, we’ve developed a few tricks up our sleeves that greatly simplify matters.

Continue Reading Selenium, Python, and Managing Hundreds of Blogs

The order of questions in the title is important. From general to specific. Why blog? Why am I blogging?

First off, I like to hear myself talk. It’s a failing, vanity at its worst, I know, but the sound of my own voice and thoughts is something that’s soothing. A child of Montana, being alone and in my head is a comfort. Blogging, in many ways, affords that same comfort. My internal voice gets a chance to stretch its legs while writing – a meditative exercise.

This is also a natural progression. After working at LexBlog full-time for going on three years, going from Account Manager to Technical Product Manager, my lack of a blog has always struck me as hypocritical – especially since I truly do believe in the power of blogging. For me, this blog is purely about love and knowledge – love of knowledge? Either/or, really. As my understanding of various technologies has grown, so has my desire to keep track of all these bits of information that come my way. Beyond being a place to record my thoughts, this blog is a way for me to grow professionally through writing about the subjects that are near and dear to my hear. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you feel the same way about these things that I do.

Continue Reading Why Blog? Why WordPress? Why LexBlog?