Zuzana Kunckova (a Programmer at Tighten) joins us this week to dive deep into Larabelles - how she got the idea for it, what’s coming next, what it’s like to build a community, and a lot more.


Dave Hicking: Welcome to Twenty Percent Time, a podcast that takes you behind the scenes of Tighten, a web consultancy that is based out of Chicago. But is entirely remote and is now spread out all over the world, which is fantastic. We specialize in Laravel a PHP framework, but we're often pairing that with any number of JavaScript frameworks or libraries. Sometimes we pair that with mobile app frameworks like React Native, which our guest has been working on lately. Even though that's tangential to the topic we're talking about, but we work on all sorts of stuff. I'm your host Dave Hicking. And this week I am joined by Zuzana Kunckova. Did I get that right?

Zuzana Kunckova: You did, well done.

Dave Hicking: A programmer here at Tighten, who is a wonderful person. Thank you for joining us, Zuzana. Zuzana for people who don't know you, can you say a little bit about yourself?

Zuzana Kunckova: A little bit about myself. So I am Zuzana, I live in the UK, I am originally from the Czech Republic. I am a web developer at Tighten or programmer at Tighten. And, yeah. That's all.

Dave Hicking: That's not all you, you are a wonderful programmer, a wonderful person, I'm so happy to have you on the show today. And we're having you on the show today, because we want to talk about Larabelles, which is a really awesome and very interesting initiative program. I don't really know the right word to describe it, Zuzana, for people who don't know what we're talking about, what is Larabelles?

Zuzana Kunckova: So Larabelles is a community for women, non-binary and trans Laravel developers, that I founded just over a year ago. And like you say, it's initiative, it's a community, and we are trying to improve the... I mean, the Laravel community is great in general. But there isn't that many women, non-binary trans developers, or if there are, they are not very well known. So what I'm trying to do at this stage right now is to find all of us, all of Larabelles, and tell people about us. So that people can't say, "Oh, we didn't know there were any women developers." So I'm trying to bring us all together. I'm trying to create some directory where on our Larabelles website, where people can go and see... I think at the moment 18 of us I think, and more coming up. So this is what I'm doing at the moment, so amplifying our voices, telling people we are here, we exist, we do great work. And we might not be as known or as loud as other voices of the Laravel community, but we exist. So this is what we're doing at the moment.

Dave Hicking: I love that. I love that we exist. Was there one particular moment or experience as a programmer, that made you think to yourself, I need to create a community? Was there some spark that made you want to do this?

Zuzana Kunckova: I mean, when I started learning about web development, and in my early days as a developer, I really relied on communities. When you're starting something new and you're learning something new. I mean, I became web developer later in life, I didn't learn anything like that at school. So I had a completely different career before that. And when I decided to change careers, I wanted people someone I have something in common with, you know? It's a lonely journey otherwise, when you just sit at home on your computer, and watching tutorials or reading articles. So I really wanted someone to talk to, and you can go on Twitter, but sometimes it feels like you're talking to yourself, there's nobody on the other side. So early on in my journey, I was part of a few groups of... It started on Facebook really. So there have a few like newbie developer groups or communities. And then as I learned about Laravel, I looked for similar communities that would... So these groups on Facebook and elsewhere, not just Facebook. So there are lots of different communities, but I wanted to not only to have something in common as in the same framework, or the same language we are learning. But also other women or other mothers, because that's also a big part of me, that I am a mother, I've got three kids. And I couldn't go and do a bootcamp, I couldn't, I couldn't just leave the family. And even the jobs I was looking for, it was always about, can I do them around my family? Do I have to be at my desk from nine to five or can I be more flexible? So I was looking for people who are in the same position like me, same situation. So that we could talk about, what works, what doesn't, how we make it all work. So when I started learning Laravel, I looked for a place like that, I think at first I was looking for a place for mothers, like parents. And there was none, I was really niche. So then I was like, "Okay. That's what-"

Dave Hicking: You didn't want to start

Zuzana Kunckova: Not at the moment. Maybe, but not right now.

Dave Hicking: Someone's going to steal that URL once they hear this.

Zuzana Kunckova: Maybe, I should really, as soon as we finished recording, I'll just go and by that. No, I mean... And also Laravel wasn't my first thing, so I started, HTML, CSS, and then I did a little bit of so JavaScript, but then I looked into Python as well. And then in the Python space that Dyango Girls and PyLadies, and also there's community Rails Girls, so this is also community for women working with Rails. And there is Vue Vixens, which I think now is called the Front-End Foxes, which is a community for Vue.js Developers, who identify as women. So these communities already existed, and I was like, "Okay, so where's the Laravel community for women?" If we've got PyLadies and Rails Girls, where are the Laravel Ladies, and I couldn't find anything. So I mean, I asked on Twitter and that was back in December 2018. So a while ago I asked on Twitter, all of my 300 followers, does anyone know about this community, is there such a thing? And somebody replied to me saying, "Well, maybe not, but if there isn't, why don't you create one?" I was like, "Oh, okay." And I just-

Dave Hicking: Sure, why not?

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. And it only took me what? Two years.

Dave Hicking: I mean, it's interesting that you started looking on Facebook. I would've never thought of Facebook as being a place for developer communities, but I guess that totally makes sense.

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. I mean, I've moved away from Facebook since then, but even back then... So I didn't go on Facebook to look for communities, it was part of... Oh, I can't remember. I think I did some online tutorial of course, and they had the link, if you want to talk to people who do the same thing, this is our Facebook group. So this is how I find it on Facebook, and then when I found that... What was it... I think it was Newbie Code Bar House. It doesn't exist, or I think they renamed it, I can't remember. But once I found this one, then suddenly you see, "Oh, there's a committee for designers." And so many... But like I said, I've left Facebook since then. So I don't know, what's the state of the Facebook groups at the moment, but back then it really helped me, it was great.

Dave Hicking: You can take that in whatever direction you want. What was the most challenging or interesting part about going from this initial idea of, I should be the one to create this community to. Okay, I'm ready to actually talk about this in public with folks. Because that's a bit of a jump?

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. Well, I didn't think I was the right one. I mean, I didn't know anything, I was a very new developer, anyway. So it's not like I've been working as a developer for years, no, no, no, I was like two... Well, I think at that point I got my first job and I didn't... And it wasn't even a Laravel job, it was WordPress job. And I didn't think I was the right person, like who am I to create a community? I'm not a known person in the Laravel community, I don't know enough about Laravel. So that's why I think it took so long to actually do something about it. It was always at the back of my mind thinking, "Oh, it would be cool, it would be nice to have something." I keeping an eye out for something to happen. Because I expected someone else to come up with this and create, and I could just join, and everything would be fine. I didn't want to do this, I didn't feel it was my place and I didn't know what to do. How do you even create a community? I don't know. So it was always at the back of my mind, and then I run it by a few friends, just say, "Oh, I had this idea, I've had it for a while, about raising community for women in Laravel." And they all said, "Do it, just do it, don't think about to do it." I was like, "Yeah, but I don't even have a website." "It doesn't matter just do it." And they nipped all my doubts down, they said, "Don't overthink it, just do it really quick, basic website and just put it on Twitter." And so this is what ended up happening, I just did a very simple logo in kind of thing. And I did this one page website using Jigsaw actually, it's Tighten, Jigsaw. So honestly I did not plan it, I didn't know it was going to become this popular or... So for my needs, I wanted it for myself, I didn't know if other people had the same need. I didn't know if other people would be interested at all. So when I went live, when I made this post on Twitter, I really thought if I get like 10, 15 likes, that would be great. I was really scared that nobody would even notice this post, and back then I had very few followers. So I couldn't even rely on people who follow me too, like spread the word. So I thought, if few people like it, I will be happy, that's all I need, and then I'll take it from there. But then when I did go live on Twitter and it went crazy, I mean, it went crazy that day.

Dave Hicking: Well, I mean, and when you officially announced it, was there one piece of feedback or something specific that you heard. That made you think, "Wow, this actually really might take off."

Zuzana Kunckova: So it wasn't one person saying one thing, it was how many people told me, thank you, we need this. So it wasn't one person, it was all these people that came and said, "Amazing, that's great. We really need it. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for starting." So that's when I realized, "Oh, I've got something here and I need to do something about it." So it was the feedback from all the people, and there were people who didn't like the idea or questioned it. But at the same time, there were so many other people who came and replied to them. It wasn't just me fighting my own battles, it wasn't me having to reply to every tweet or give me a chance, maybe it would be fine. It was all these other people who came and supported me. And Matt, for example, he was there fighting for me on that day, replying to so many people while I was just sitting at home. I just remember seeing the Twitter no notifications go 10, 20, 20 plus. And I was like, "Oh my God, what's happening?" It was crazy. So it was the people that came to back me up. This is what made me believe "Okay. I've got something here and I'm going to make it happen."

Dave Hicking: Yeah. I mean, I was going to ask how you felt that overall the response has been from the Laravel community, which is made up of a lot of different people, a lot of different opinions. But overall, I don't know, I'm a bystander, right? I mean, I work at Tighten but I'm not a developer. My take is that there have been some trolls, there have been frankly, sexist uninformed comments. But seems the response has been somewhat positive, but I'm not in the middle of it, like you are. Is that your perception as well?

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are a few people say some things, but overall the response was amazing, really positive, really positive. And in fact, I'm actually grateful for the people who questioned it or who didn't like it. Because it made me reevaluate, sit down and think, "Okay, here's what they're saying, is it true or how can I reply to them?" So if there were only people saying, "Great job, let's do it." That would've been nice, it feels nice.

Dave Hicking: Sure. Who doesn't want that?

Zuzana Kunckova: Exactly. But at the same time having somebody question it, this is even better. Because that makes me really make sure that my intentions are right, and what I'm trying to do is needed. So I'm grateful for everyone who replied the good commands, the bad comments. I mean, it all worked out really well.

Dave Hicking: This feels like it goes along with the great talk, that you gave at Laracon online recently, about learning in public, right? I mean, that's what you're advocating for here in a sense, right? Is like the learning process, it was in public and it was all the better because of it.

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. Because I don't know, you don't download books, that tell you how to build a community. I've never done it before, I didn't know what needs to be done. And I still don't know, I see what is needed and then I implement it. So it was a big learning in public experience, and that's why even in the talk, the community will come and they will back you up, like they did with me. It's scary, it was really scary, but at the same time it was exciting, and it took me to places I have never thought I would go. It was great.

Dave Hicking: Do you have a vision or a big dream for what Larabelles could be in, say three years? Not like, no, I'm not talking about your short term or medium term plans, but far in the future. Do you have a big goal or dream for the Larabelles?

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. I mean, so Larabelles we are here for existing developers at the moment, our existing Laravel developers, ideally I would like to bring more women, non-binary trans people into development in general. Because I really genuinely believe, that the career in depth it's a great one. I mean, there is so much variety, we can do so many things, we can do good things for people. It's not just about playing with a computer all day long, and being paid for it. We can actually make a difference in lives of people with the apps we build and with the websites, so this is great. And also again, as a mother, it's a great career for me because I don't have to compromise. I don't have to make the choice between my family or my job, it's so flexible, I can do it from anywhere, so this is another great point. And I think a lot of people don't realize it, before I became a developer, I thought, "Oh, that's not for me, I'm not technical." Not only I have never studied computers, or computer science, or mathematics, or nothing. I was never even interested, I was just a user, I never thought of becoming a developer until I did. And I think a lot of people might be in the same position, that they don't know this career is there, and it's like, you don't have to be a genius to be a developer. So it's much more accessible than people realize, and you don't need to have certificates, you don't need to have university degrees. You don't even have some great equipment, not even a great one, a computer is plenty to begin with. So ideally I would like to extend the reach of Larabelles beyond the current Laravel community, and maybe go further. So I think the next sensible step, is to go and approach the WordPress community, because it's all built on PHP. And a lot of WordPress developers, already know Laravel or know about Laravel, I mean, from my experience, there is many more diversity in the WordPress community. Because when it comes to WordPress, that's how many different jobs you can do. You can be properly just PHP developer, WordPress developer, all you can do in less technical things, you can work with teams and start this way. So there is such a variety of jobs you can do, so that means there are so many different people doing these jobs. And so I think maybe if I can start talking to the people in the WordPress community about Laravel, and showing them that look. Larabelles are here for you, we can help you. But that's still talking to people that already are in the tech scheme, they already work with tech. So ideally to change the state of technology in general. So that we bring more women, non-binary and trans people in, we need to start even before that, we need to talk to people who are not working with tech yet. And I mean, you ask for a dream, so a dream, I haven't done anything about it yet, so it's really just a dream. Imagine having a bootcamp, when we bring people who don't know tech, they don't know code, and start with HTML CSS, PHP, Laravel, do the whole pool stack. And if we do that, then we can go and talk to kids at school, or we can go and talk to new mothers, people that suddenly they had a career. And then they had to put in on a post for a time being. Because they have children, or maybe they were ill, or somebody in their family was ill, they had to look after them, life changed. So talk to these people and then tell them, "Look, you can do something from home." And it's not any funny jobs, when you have to do something silly for no money at all. No, this is a genuine career you can have, you can earn good money. So talking about dreams, I think that would be great to have a proper program, like a boot camp. That will take people from not knowing anything, to being able to work with Laravel, and then take it further. So that would be a dream, that would be nice.

Dave Hicking: That sounds like a wonderful dream.

Zuzana Kunckova: Yeah. It's still the dream, but you know.

Dave Hicking: Well, so that's the dream, more immediate. What's next up for Larabelles, and say the next three to six months. Do you have anything coming up that you're excited to, either do or a new community you want to start like promoting this to, or anything like that?

Zuzana Kunckova: So the other website is ongoing progress. I'm not even going to say something, this is not something I want to finish, this is never going to be finished. But I'm continuously working with Larabelles website, when we're adding events, so we're going to have a calendar with upcoming events. I also want to show... I've started talking about mentoring, some mentoring scheme where people... I mean, it's already started when people come to me and say, "Okay, I need help, I'm a beginner Laravel developer, can I get some help?" So then I talk to the more experienced developers I say, "Can I pair you two together? Could you just be there for each other, answer questions?" So this is already happening, but I'd like to make it more official, give it more structure, instead of just me talking to the few people I know. So that's the plan, also I'd like to do more interview so last year... I'm sorry, COVID completely messed up my timeline. I don't even know, was it this year? No, last year.

Dave Hicking: Everybody's timeline up, don't worry.

Zuzana Kunckova: Earlier this year we did those, so far two Larabelles' live chats, where we had four people on a call, and we streamed it to YouTube. So these interviews, so I'd like to continue doing that, and not just talking about Laravel specifically, or things to do with Laravel. But for example, more about soft skills, how to maybe sell our negotiation, or maybe how to ask for promotion, this sort of things. That's all relevant to our work in our jobs in tech, and also workshops. So ideally, the thing with workshops is that there's plenty of them online already, and I don't want to just arrange or organize yet another workshop. If I want to do something like that, I want to make it different or special in a way. So I think that there's quite a few women, that are maybe not comfortable being live on screen or not just women. I mean, people in general. But because Larabelles is for women non-binary trans, so maybe do it more organized workshops, but not have them live on YouTube, maybe just have it on Zoom between us. So still provide a safe space for people, but also the opportunity they can learn from each other. So not just one to one, when you have a question and you message somebody, can you please ask me. But make it more like, "Okay, today we're going to learn about something, and make it into this live session thing. So that's hopefully going to be happening in the next few months.

Dave Hicking: That's a lot of really cool stuff, that's great. If someone's listening to this right now, and they're thinking about checking out Larabelles. What do you think is the biggest reason why somebody should think about joining, what's the biggest benefit?

Zuzana Kunckova: I think because life is easier with friends. I mean, it all comes down to that, and being a woman or a non-binary trans developer, it can be hard anyway. But knowing that there is so many of us and there is quite a few of us, it's just so helpful that we are here for each other, we can support each other, it helps. I mean, looking back when I started working with Laravel, I really only just knew about two women. I knew about just Archer and I knew about Samantha Guides, and that's all. And it doesn't mean that obviously many more of us, but did these were the two names I kept seeing pop up every now and then, but that was all. But now thanks to Larabelles, because I've been trying to find more women. Now I started to look through LinkedIn as well and see if I can find somebody there. So I've found two people through LinkedIn as well. And I just think it's easier, well, life is easier with friends. It's nicer to have somebody you can talk to, you don't have to explain like, "Oh, I've got family, I can't just go off to a conference or I can't just go to a bootcamp, I've got responsibilities." So we are here because we are all in the same boat. I mean, we don't all have the same experience, but we understand each other. And this is a safe space for us to share the experience, and ask for help, and offer help, be there for each other. So that's why, I just wanted to be a nice, friendly community. I'm trying to do Larabelles... Make Larabelles what I wanted Larabelles to be like, when I look for Larabelles, you know what I mean?

Dave Hicking: Yeah.

Zuzana Kunckova: So maybe it's selfish or it is selfish, but unless somebody else tells me. And also, I mean, I keep my eyes open and I listen to people's feedback. So if people tell me, "This would be great, can you do this?" Then I'll do it. It's not like, "Oh, I never wanted it, so I'm not going to do it." But at first it all starts with me, because I fall back on my own experience and my own needs, and that goes from there.

Dave Hicking: I love the tagline. I don't even know if it's your official tagline. Maybe it could be or like something on the web. You should think about using it, the idea of life is better with friends. That's just a lovely sentiment, and it's really true. If folks are listening to this and they're interested in supporting Larabelles, how can they do that?

Zuzana Kunckova: But first of all, spread the words, because really... I mean, right now I work mainly off Twitter. But I know Twitter is just such a small place under web, there's so many other communities, and platforms that I don't take part in. I mean, I am a little bit on LinkedIn, but I just don't have time to do everything properly. So please spread the word, let other people know, people that are not on Twitter, and people that are not on LinkedIn. But maybe people that are on Facebook or just local meetups, just spread the word let people know that we exist. So this is the biggest way you can support us, then I have open a GitHub sponsorship page for Larabelles, that if people would like to sponsor us financially, we would love them too. I mean, right now the money that we are receiving, this will go because Larabelles is a properly, legally formed community in the UK, according to UK law. So we are community... Sorry, hold on, let me just think what's the official name, community interest company. So that's the legal definition of Larabelles, according to UK law. But that comes legal responsibilities, so I have to do the taxes, I have to do the accounts. So the money that are currently coming in, this is the money I'm going to use to pay for taxes and pay for the accountants. Also, the general that running expenses, as the website hosting these sort of things. But once these basic needs are covered, then I'm going to start producing, or I want to create stickers, I want to create T-shirts. These little things that people like, so marketing material. And beyond that, then I want to actually financially support individual Larabelles, because we are all over the world. I actually personally know only few Larabelles in the UK, most of the Larabelles that I know are everywhere else. And all in our different life situations. So if I can financially support them, not I as a personally, but also as Larabelles. So if Larabelles is there to support our community members, the financial support comes with it. So once I have money coming in, I'm going to be sending it around and then giving it back to the community. So the financial support is another thing, I also open a Patreon pages for different tiers. So the GitHub sponsorship is meant to be for community sponsorship. So for individual people or companies, but then I also have Patreon page open for Larabelles, which is the tier a little bit higher. This is more a commercial sponsorship for companies that are able to sponsor us, so this is the financial sponsorship. And just like I said, spread the word and if you know about somebody who would benefit, let me know. I will reach out to them, talk to them and see what we can do.

Dave Hicking: Last question. Is there something that you wish I had asked you about Larabelles? Or is there one other thing that you definitely want people to know about Larabelles, if they listen to this podcast?

Zuzana Kunckova: I would say that we are work in progress. So I mean, it all comes down to the fact that this is all learning experience for me too, and things will develop by the time. Actually, one of the things that put me off starting Larabelles earlier, was that I thought I wasn't ready. I didn't have everything in all the ducks in a row, I didn't know all the things I need doing. But the thing is, I don't know what needs doing, what will need doing in the future. So I'm trying to not put too much pressure on me by having everything perfect, which is why like the website is ongoing process and everything else. So if there is one thing I want people to know is that Larabelles is changing with people, the feedback I receive with what people tell me, they would like Larabelles to do for them. So it's a progress and it's a living community, living in a sense that it's made of living people, but it's also changing. So I think all this to say, cut me some slack, all this to say that I know things, it's been taking a long time. I mean, I officially launched for last year, and I wanted to be much further than I am right now with Larabelles definitely. And for a long time I was pushing really hard, but then I was like, I've got a job, I've got a family, I also have Larabelles. So things will happen eventually, maybe slower than I want to, but they will happen. So, yeah.

Dave Hicking: All right. Well Zuzana, thank you so much for joining us today. If people want to learn more about Larabelles, or if they want to find you online, where should they go?

Zuzana Kunckova: So our website is Then we have a Twitter account, which is LarabellesPHP. And we also have a discord channel that's... Actually, how do you... I'm not even sure, do I have to send an invite to Discord channel? I don't know if the Discord channels are just publicly like search, can you look for a public and... I don't know, I'm not a great use of Discord's to be fair, I know just a little bit, but we have a Discord channel. I also send out a monthly newsletter, that you can receive in your inbox, and that newsletter, I feature about two Larabelles every month. So new Larabelles, where I just little bit of bio and the links they want to share, as well as any news, Larabelles news that are relevant to Larabelles. So whether if there is a Larabelles that's doing a workshop, or if there's a Larabelles that's publishing a book. Anything to do with Larabelles, for this to be the platform to amplify the voices of individual Larabelles. So you can sign up to the newsletter as well. And yeah, I think that's all.

Dave Hicking: All right. Well, Zuzana, thank you so much for joining us today, this has been great. We really appreciate it and thank you.

Zuzana Kunckova: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

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