Simon Willison’s Weblog


Getting started

22nd February 2021

Originally posted to my internal blog at VaccinateCA

Here we go then... I’ve signed up to work on this project full-time, four days a week!

Several years into my time at Eventbrite I started an internal engineering blog, and it quickly proved itself to be really valuable. The great thing about an internal blog is that it gives you somewhere to post status updates on existing projects, thoughts on what you’re going to work on next and even ad-hoc documentation on things that you learn along the way.

I don’t know if I’ll post here every day, and I don’t intend to spend more than fifteen minutes on each post—but I think it’s a good habit to establish early on.

What I’m going to be doing

My initial goal, as directed by Jesse, is to help move VaccinateCA beyond Airtable as quickly as possible.

Airtable is an amazing product, so this is not a trivial undertaking. Every startup founder needs to watch out that they don’t end up accidentally competing against an Excel spreadsheet, because the spreadsheet will probably win. Airtable is already like a spreadsheet but better.

But... if we’re going to scale this thing to 10x its current size we need to gain complete ownership of our data.

My plan for this first week is to spin up a full fidelity Django + PostgreSQL prototype of an alternative stack, to help decide as quickly as possible if that’s the right path to go. A lesson I’ve learned from my career is that prototypes inevitable end up in production, so I build them with that in mind—the code I write will be tested, documented and ready to become not-a-prototype with as little additional effort as possible.

Why Django and PostgreSQL? Because they are boring technology, and that’s a huge bonus for this kind of project.

I’m also going to be talking to the Airtable power users within the organization to make sure I understand what works, what doesn’t and what the weird use-cases are for the existing stack that I might not have figured out.

What I’ve done

I’ve started building a few things agaist the existing public API, mainly because I think by building and this is a good way to help get familiar with the high level of what already exists.

What I need to do next

  • Short term: talk to people! Meet people who I’ll be working with, understand what’s been built so far and where everything is, use those conversations to help me decide what I should work on next.


So far I’m on:

  • Slack
  • Discord
  • Airtable
  • Auth0
  • The GitHub organization
  • Google account
  • Honeycomb (via the new Google account)