Pantheon Hero Spotlight: Steve Lavigne, Director of Technology

McKenna Regets, Manager of Community Program, Pantheon Reading estimate: 5 minutes

Could a single line of dialogue in a blockbuster movie change the course of your entire life?

For Steve Lavigne, Director of Technology for OPIN Software, it was seven words in the original Jurassic Park. 

During the scene in which velociraptors circled the humans in a building with an inactive security system, young Lex, the adolescent hacker, took one look at the defunct security system and yelled: 

“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”

Sure, the movie might have inspired Steve to become a paleontologist instead.  But hacking a security system to save people from rampaging dinosaurs seemed a lot cooler than digging up bones. 

The hacking scene in Jurassic Park inspired Steve to explore a career in computer software. Now, Steve spends his days managing servers and infrastructures, developing new tools, and sharing his IT skills with kids through his own nonprofit. 

Though he hasn’t faced any genetically-engineered dinosaurs (yet), we think Steve’s career and activism more than qualifies him for the Pantheon Heroes program

We talked to Steve in depth about his life in IT, his passion for extending his skills to kids, and what his dream project would be.

How did you get involved with Drupal?

After the company I worked for was acquired, the new owners wanted all IT to move back to the Valley.  I wasn't in a position to move from Ottawa to California, so I took some time off to really find myself and figure out what I wanted to do. I was still in the web space but was questioning whether I wanted to belong to a big company or stick with a startup.

I decided that startup life was for me, so I shopped around and found OPIN Software. At the time, I wasn't seeking work in the open source or Drupal world. To be honest, I really didn't know much about it. It fell into my lap and I fell in love with Drupal and the community aspect of it. 

Speaking of community, can you tell us about your nonprofit, Kids & Code? How did that get started? 

I started Kids & Code in Ottawa about five years ago. There's a big movement right now to get kids, and especially girls, to code, so I created a club called Autoencoder Dojo. Dojos are programming clubs for kids. 

At the first club, two kids showed up. The second club had 30 kids. We realized we had a good thing going when parents started thanking us for setting up the club. There’s lots of soccer fields and baseball diamonds around, but there's nowhere for geeky or nerdy kids to hang out together. 

At the club, we help kids learn to code and have monthly events and after-school programs. We even have workshops for parents who are not in the IT field so they can help their kids and push them in the right direction. And we do everything for free. Everything is volunteer-based. 

We've officially been a nonprofit for about a year and a half and in that time, we've mentored about 600 kids from 6-year-olds to college students. It's very rewarding. I work a nine-to-five job and then put on these events in my own time. But I’d call it a hobby because it’s truly a passion of mine to be able to help these kids. I'm a father myself so it’s important to me to give back to kids. 

What steps do you take your students through?

We always introduce them to a platform called Scratch. MIT built Scratch some time ago. We have a curriculum to help them learn Scratch and really understand what an if statement is or how to train your brain to think about programming. 

After Scratch, some kids come back the following month after doing all the tutorials and want more. We try to use free and open source because a lot of families don't have money to spend. We actually use Pantheon for this too because sandboxes are offered at no charge.  

There's a lot of organizations out there that have actual classes. We’re different in that we’ll often have 100 kids at a club event, ranging in ages from 6 to 17. We can't get up in front of the class and teach because everyone's at a different skill level. So, we have a loose curriculum and our mentors work one-on-one or work in groups at these events. If we know that there's a handful of 16-year-olds learning WordPress, we'll put them together and a mentor will work with them. 

Sounds like you have a knack for organization and helping people work well together. I’m sure that translates into your professional life, too! What, in your opinion, makes for a successful WebOps team?

For the past two years, we've adopted the Scrum framework of workflow. And I think the DevOps ecosystem fits into agile Scrum very well. From a team perspective, following the Scrum aspects of being self-managed and cross functional, where essentially nothing needs to leave the team, is very efficient. Everything from start to finish is handled within the team.

Do you have any advice for other teams?

Yes, two things. First, leadership needs to buy in. If CEOs and directors like to mix things up, it causes chaos. 

Second, stick to the book as much as possible. We’ve veered off before and failed. Every time we question why something's not working, it's because we've deviated from the norm too much. Scrum has been around for a long time and there's so many books on it. If you stick to it and stay super strict, it'll all fall into place. 

We’ve come a long way since we were all writing raw HTML for static websites. What do you think is going to change in the five years of web development?

There's an entire movement right now concerning the digital experience and selling to the marketer versus the IT individual. I certainly see that continuing. I’m also seeing more low-code solutions and more micro-services. I'm sure coding is not going away, but if we look at things like Zapier or equivalent tools, every month we write less and less code because you can pay for a service that does everything for you. 

Even with Pantheon, I don't need to care about the server or setting up an SSL certificate. I just click a few buttons and my site is ready to go.

Do you have a dream project you'd like to work on?

How awesome would it be to work at Disney? Me and my family are huge fans of Disney, not only the movies and the parks but even the business itself, what it stands for, and what it's done to mold multiple generations in lots of ways. If I got to work on a Disney project, like a Disney app or the website, it would be fantastic.

What makes you an advocate for Pantheon? 

In my roles, both at OPIN Software and Kids & Code, we have multiple development teams that work on many projects. Pantheon makes that so much easier. I love sharing it and pushing people toward it, and personally, my interest keeps coming back to the Pantheon way of doing things. Being a Pantheon Hero helps me give back and help other people realize how awesome it is. 

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