Brooke Mitchell is an associate DevOps engineer at Mitel, a telecommunications company that sells VoIP technology. She’s also a certified Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect Associate. Before joining Mitel, Brooke worked as an analyst at T-Mobile, which was her role when this episode was recorded.
Join Corey and Brooke as they talk about how Brooke got into the world of cloud through Forrest Brazeal’s cloud resume challenge, what that experience was like, the difference between the “anyone who asks for help is a moron” mindset and more inclusive and welcoming communities, the important role networking plays in advancing your career, the qualities to look for in a mentor, the Lambda learning cliff, how Stack Overflow disabling copy and paste functionality would be the end of the world, and more.
About Brooke Mitchell
Brooke is an analytical IT professional skilled at team building, data collection and evaluation, cloud computing as well as cross-functional collaboration. She is proficient at scripting and creating CI/CD pipelines to automate workflows to increase efficiency while reducing the chance of error.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by my guest author of the week, Brooke Mitchell. Brooke, welcome to the show.
Brooke: Thank you so much. Hello, everyone.
Corey: So, this is always this weird moment of recording something in advance of when it goes live. To be clear, the day that I'm recording this, I'm in San Francisco and everything is dark, as in, looks middle of the night, ash is strewn through the sky. And, even last week, when I was recording things, that would have sounded ridiculous, and now it's just the state of 2020. So, I'm assuming that we're actually going to still have a newsletter going out, and an internet that works, and a functioning society—insofar as it’s functioning—next month, when this goes up. So, from that lens, it's weird now talking in advance about a thing that has happened in the past, and people are listening to it.
Brooke: Right. I completely get that. 2020 has thrown everyone for a loop, especially me. I had no idea that it would be like this. I went from—
Corey: [laughs]. If anyone had said it would be, we’d have thought they were nuts.
Brooke: Right. Nobody predicted this. [laughs].
Corey: So, I just want to start by thanking you for giving me the chance to actually not be writing a newsletter for, honestly, one of the first times in the four years or so that I've been writing this thing, and spending time with welcoming a new infant into the world. So, thanks. It's incredibly helpful to be able to step back from this and still, ideally, have a newsletter to come back to when I'm ready to return to the world.
Brooke: Oh, yes. I also want to thank you for giving me this opportunity. I'm very excited. And I was in your shoes, actually, earlier this year. So, I know from experience firsthand, it's exciting. Even the second time around, you learn so much all over.
Corey: Oh, yeah. Every time I talk to someone about having kids, like, “Oh, your first?” “No, my second.” And everyone who has a second kid starts laughing at me. Like, “[laughs].” Like, “Oh, why are you laughing?” “Oh, no reason. You'll learn.” So, I'm sure it's all positive surprises and only good things.
Brooke: Right. Right. Right. Nothing less. You'll definitely enjoy every second of it.
Corey: The cloud marketing people have gotten to having kids apparently, and it's all up and to the right, and everyone's happy all the time.
Brooke: Yes, nothing short of that.
Corey: So, what do you do these days, professionally speaking?
Brooke: So, professionally, I work as an analyst at T-Mobile. I work with our business and government accounts with reporting and automating bulk changes that they have.
Corey: So, you wound up coming to the world of Cloud somewhat recently with Forrest Brazeal’s resume challenge. First, what is that? And secondly, how’d you hear about it?
Corey: It's fun. When I was looking into it, it was, this is a really great way of getting people to learn how this stuff all works together. And I read on, oh, use S3, and DynamoDB, and API Gateway. Huh, okay. And some of this, I would have to dig into the reference material to do myself, and I've been using AWS for a length of time that can only be described as depressing.
There's a lot that goes into it, and it's fascinating to me, seeing things like this, just because, from my side of the world, it really does open up a door for the next generation that really aligns with the way that I learned personally. If you give me a bunch of books, I'm not going to learn from that. If you send me to a class, I will zone out and not pay attention, then miss things; videos don't really work for me either. But give me a problem to solve, and suddenly I learn the things that I need to learn. I always thought that I was basically a unique unicorn like this, but it turns out, there are lots of us like this.
Brooke: Right. And I also found that I'm like that as well. And it took awhile for me to learn that that was my specific learning style, I had some struggles growing up. But now that I understand this, I'm able to learn things quicker because I know my preferred method of learning. And so with this, I learned so much more about the Cloud.
And something that has been the most rewarding from completing this challenge is the people that I've met, and also having the opportunity to help other people, and seeing them have the aha moment and figuring something out. Maybe just not giving them the answer, but helping point them in the right direction, as people did for me. It's all a rewarding experience.
Corey: One of the areas that I learned the most when I was getting started was on IRC. And that was, on the one hand, terrific because I could speak to people who were building these things that were really, I guess, accessible and willing to share what they learned and help with things. On the other side, though, there's this horrible culture of, “Surprise. Oh, you don't know how to do something. You must be stupid. Go read the manual and then bother us.”
There's this condescending attitude of, “Obviously, we're smarter than you are,” so the presumption that everyone starts from isn't anyone asking for help is a moron. And I hated that. It's so nice to not have to deal with that attitude in a lot of places, these days. And I will say that a lot of what Forrest has done, for example, has been centered around building terrific, welcoming communities where no one is mean, and everyone's encouraging. It's nice to see that the, I guess, next generation of folks learning this stuff, is going to have a way easier time than a lot of us did.
Brooke: Right. I completely agree with that. And I'm very happy to say I haven't encountered anyone who has, maybe, made me feel like I was annoying them, or I was a moron for asking questions. Everyone I've connected with has been 100 percent willing to help, or if they couldn't help me, pointing me in the right direction of someone who could. So, I would 100 percent say that that's true.
Corey: When I got started, in how, I guess, my journey to Cloud—and I've talked about in a few episodes, but apparently there are people who haven't listened to the entire back catalog. For shame.
Brooke: Oh, what’s wrong with them?
Corey: I know, right? It's almost like they have hobbies, or lives, or other things to do than listen to my ongoing love affair with the sound of my own voice.
Brooke: Right? It’s 2020. They're in quarantine. Come on.
Corey: Yeah, what's up with that? But I was a grumpy Unix systems administrator—because it's not like there's a second kind. We're all grumpy, and we're all angry, and it was coming from this world of building things out in data centers where one of the biggest server problems we had was, is it going to fall on me? And there was this evolution to Cloud, and a lot of folks resisted it and a lot of people embraced it. I was one of the folks that resisted it. I would have gotten far further, far faster if I'd been more open-minded.
But going through that transition was really interesting. And I looked around and, “Well, how in the world are we ever going to find people who can do all of this stuff because those Linux admin jobs aren't really there in the same way anymore.” But now we're seeing this resurgence in people coming to use Cloud from a completely different set of backgrounds and skill sets. And look at you. For example, you are already established in your career. You're working as an analyst, and now deciding to look into what this whole Cloud thing is and make a lateral move, rather than, “Well, I guess it's time for me to go back to school, and get a brand new degree, and start over at square one.” Which is where a lot of people erroneously seem to think that this is the path forward.
Brooke: Right. I would also say that's true a little bit about maybe my background, myself. So, maybe a unique background for people out there who are feeling stuck where they are. I had my first daughter at 19. So, I finished my Associate's Degree and after that, I pretty much said I was done with college.
I wanted to get in the working force, get a head start on things. So, I landed a job as an analyst after learning all that I could. After that, I was continuously trying to improve, so I decided again, what could I do for the Cloud. Got the AWS Solutions Architect-Associate Certification, as I mentioned earlier, got hands-on experience with that, and now I'm looking to move into a specific Cloud role.
And I have made a lot of headway with the interviewing process. I am really hopeful to start a Cloud role soon. So, there is a lot of opportunity out there. You don't always just have to go back to school. It’s very important to meet people because there’s—I have learned from firsthand experience that people are willing to help you if you're willing to do the work. And there's so many great people, so many amazing people who are willing to help, again.
Corey: From my side of the world, on paper, I have an eighth-grade education. I've never stayed at a job longer than two years, and I don't have any big tech names on my resume. Every job I've ever had has been through networking, not through applying online through a random form that’s going to automatically kick me out because it has the wrong keyword on it. One of the key lessons I learned while doing this is that you're never going to have every item that any job description wants. They’re aspirational shopping lists. Further, if you could do everything that the job requires on the first day, doesn't it sound like it’d be kind of boring?
Brooke: That makes complete sense. Before I was applying to jobs recently, I was feeling super, maybe, down, in the beginning of the process because I was thinking, “Oh, I won't be able to do this because I don't have all this experience.” But like you said, if you could do everything initially, then it would not be fun. You wouldn't be pushed to learn anything new. And I feel like that's what life is about: continuously learning, continuously improving. If you already know it all, it's kind of like where do you go from there?
Corey: One of the things that always annoyed me the most is these job descriptions that require X years of experience with some rando technology. The problem that I have with that is, there is such a wide difference between folks who have been curious and exploring these things, versus folks who are not. And you can't tell that just by number of years, you've sat in a room staring at a particular tech. I'm not even talking about the 15 years of Kubernetes experience because Kubernetes has only been around for six years.
But instead, it's this idea of, “Oh, you need to have at least X years working with something.” I've known too many people who've been in this industry for 20 years, and they don't have 20 years of experience. They have one year of experience that they repeated 20 times. I find that when I end up being the smartest person in the room about something, historically, that was time for me to find a new room.
Brooke: You know, and I feel 100 percent the same. So, I actually started reading a book today that said, “When you are the smartest or the most wealthy person in a room, it’s time to have new friends,” because I've heard several times before that you are an average of the five people closest to you, and if you are the best out of those five people you're going to be brought down a little bit. So, I think it is important to challenge yourself to go out, to make new friends, to do what you need to do to surround yourself with people who are doing better. And of course, that doesn't mean completely [00:14:13 annex], you know, the people around you once you start to do better than them, but also, seeking out new relationships. Something that I hear a lot of people say is, “No new friends,” but why not? Why not find people who are doing better who can teach you new things?
Corey: One of the things that surprises me the most is how frequently mentors of mine transition somehow into friends, where there have been times where I absolutely looked up to them and more or less took anything they told me in the way of advice as gospel. And—this is what I must do because they're great at this and I'm mediocre—and they've transitioned somehow along the way to people I view as peers. And it's not that they've gotten worse; far from it. They're better than they've ever been. But the things that I needed mentorship in, I got better at it. To a point where I no longer have anything left to learn from a lot of these folks in those specific areas. They're still friends, but it's no longer a mentorship-based relationship.
Brooke: And I think that's a beautiful way to grow. And that shows that you chose the correct people to be mentors. If they were not people that you will eventually want to call a friend, is it somebody that you trust to guide your life? So, I think that's also really important when seeking out people to, you know, to take advice from, do you actually want to mimic this person's life? Okay, they might have more money, or they might have more experience in a certain field, but are they a well-rounded individual? Is there someone that you can actually trust? I think those are other important aspects to look into.
Corey: One of the most humbling things I've done has been starting a company and growing it from just me to the 10 people we have right now at The Duckbill Group. And the reason that that's a humbling experience is that, fundamentally, you're doing everything when it’s just you, and every person you hire—unless you're doing something terribly wrong, is better at the thing that you're hiring them to do than you are. So, almost a part of the onboarding now is, “And now we break for half an hour for you to make fun of the pig’s breakfast that I have turned this thing that you're good at into before you got here.”
And we've seen a lot of—the enterprise salespeople where it's, “Wait. That's your sales process?” And it's obvious that they want to start screaming at us, but they have enough decorum not to. And it's, “Oh, you mean it helps if I email people back when they ask me for a proposal? Huh. Today, I learned.” And it's this ongoing, ever humbling experience of realizing that I'm an enthusiastic amateur and now I'm dealing with experts. And sometimes the best thing that I can do is shut up and get out of the way.
Brooke: Aha. That sounds awesome. I would like to just tell you how inspiring it is to hear that you have built your own business from the ground up. 10 employees, that's huge for something that you feel yourself or just period.
Corey: The weird part for me is that most of the core function is fixing AWS bills, but all the marketing is making fun of what is creeping up on a $2 trillion company. It’s, “Oh, good. So, what do you do for fun?” “Well, I find the most wealthy person in the world, pick this passion project that he built into the most powerful company on the planet, near enough, and then I make fun of them.” “Oh, so you're dumb and have no sense of self-preservation?” “Exactly.” And for some reason, every week that goes by, I have not been sued into oblivion. I'm kind of surprised at that.
Brooke: I think he must love you. [laughs].
Corey: I'm really hoping he has no idea who I am.
Corey: I don't know.
Brooke: So, what has been maybe the most challenging part of building this business?
Corey: Hey, who's interviewing who here? If I'm being perfectly honest, it's probably managing my own psychology because when you're dealing with client work, you don't really have anyone you can talk to about this stuff because everything's heavily NDA’d, and no one wants to hear you complain. There's also this attitude that once you're running a company with staff, it's one of those, “Oh, you're making way more money than I am, so you aren't allowed to have problems anymore.” “Yeah, I've also got payroll to meet, rain or shine.” So, there's a lot of other problems that happen here.
And it's one of those things that’s very hard to describe to folks who haven't taken a stab at it themselves because from the outside, it looks easy. I will say that I have so much more respect for virtually every manager I've ever had now that I've done a lot of managing people with the singular exception of one particular boss that I had, who spoke only in metaphor and was a terrible manager. I will never work with that person or let friends work with that person. Sorry, I'm still petty. I've got it.
Brooke: That sounds definitely like an interesting experience. I could see maybe challenges with that. [laughs].
Corey: So, getting back to Cloud a little bit, when you went through the cloud resume challenge, what parts were easy for you, what parts were daunting, which took a lot of time and effort to get over? I mean, my experience of cloud services is based upon starting when there were a dozen of them, and sort of keeping up, kind of, ever since. Now, coming in on day one, it has to be profoundly overwhelming.
Brooke: Absolutely overwhelming, I would say. I did mention a little earlier that I spent six months studying for the Solutions Architect Associate exam. I didn't have any prior cloud experience, and I also wanted to be sure that I couldn't only answer the questions. So, I went through three different courses. And I took practice exams from two different people. I, like, wore those things out.
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Corey: Oh, Lambda was a heck of a learning curve. It feels like it's an environment defined by its constraints. My first Lambda function took me two weeks to build because I'm a terrible programmer. And my most recent Lambda function took me four minutes to build because I'm a terrible programmer and don't know what tests are. But it really is awesome and an accelerator, once you get over the learning cliff. It's not even a curve; it's a cliff.
Brooke: I would 100 percent agree with you. But again, I feel like the best way to learn is to just get in there and do it. You're definitely going to bump your head a few times, you may have to reach out for help. Stack Overflow was 100 percent, my friend, okay? Other people in there are great, and I've never—also, I've asked a few questions on there and nobody has ever been rude to me. And I feel like that's maybe, also, people who had to learn and maybe had to deal with people who were not so helpful giving it back. And that's awesome.
Corey: There's really something to be said, for folks who have come to work on these things through non-traditional means. Where—by traditional, I suppose—I don't even know what I would call it these days, I guess it would be going to Stanford, getting a computer science degree, getting injected into this space with a bunch of classmates working at a startup. Of course, you're a white guy in this scenario, because that's where for some reason—all the best people who start these companies are always white guys, and they're always in the Bay Area because that's where all the good programmers live. Just ask them. And it is such a toxic, shitty environment in so many ways. Dealing with startup culture was so unpleasant for me that making fun of it is the only way I can avoid screaming sometimes.
Brooke: [laughs]. Oh, geez. So, I [laughs] don't have that experience working in startup culture, so I guess maybe I'm glad, from the way you described it.
Corey: Pro tip. It's best avoided.
Brooke: But being black in tech, I have already just maybe witnessed a few roadblocks. So, something that I am excited about in the future is breaking barriers for the next generation, for women and women of color, black people specifically, I would like for them to get more into tech, and for it to be more diverse so that everyone can be represented. That's also something that I think is equally as important, especially with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Corey: I want to ask you about that specifically. For me, artificial intelligence slash machine learning has been something that I have viewed with a lot of scorn and disdain because it seems that every example that is trotted out publicly is either awful in the form of empowering fascism, to be very direct, or ridiculous where WeWork did some analysis and discovered at certain times there were bottlenecks at the coffee station, so they hired a second barista during those times. And it's, “Wait a minute, you spent how much in machine learning and data science to figure out that people like to drink coffee in the morning? You didn't go and talk to someone at Starbucks, downstairs, and get that answer super quickly and save a bunch of money?” There are enough people that I have tremendous respect for who are deeply involved in the space that I know that my take is not accurate. It's cynical; it's funny; not completely accurate. What about the machine learning space appeals to you?
Brooke: I personally like it because I see it as an opportunity, eventually, to become more proactive instead of reactive so companies can anticipate their needs better. Because something that I do notice, just across the board, is people—or companies reacting to situations instead of anticipating them when I feel like customers could be better served if we focused on anticipating our customer's needs.
Corey: The challenge that I found when I started down that path in the world of AWS billing, which, naively, I assumed going into it would be a terrific source for machine learning experience, just because it's a bounded problem space. There are only so many ways you can screw up an AWS bill. I claim. I still keep discovering new ones with every client I have, but I digress. It seems like it's a perfect big data problem that you can throw analytics at.
The problem that I’ve found, it goes back to people's psychology, where, “Hey, turn off those idle, EC2 instances that aren't being used for anything.” “Oh, you mean the DR site that we're going to need with maybe three seconds of warning? How about no?” And it doesn't take too long before you have enough of those recommendations that don't make any business sense before humans stop paying attention to those recommendations and they consider it to be noisy and broken. So, it is such a razor's edge that anything like that that has recommendations around things has to walk before it burns people out and everyone mutes it. It's hard to wind up installing APIs in people, legally, and people are always, for whatever it's worth the hardest problem.
Brooke: Oh, yeah, humans are ever-changing. So, something that I really want to get in personally, though, aside from machine learning—I don't know if I want to work in that specifically because I feel like a lot goes into it. But I personally like Lambda, even though it was very intense for me to learn. And also I like dealing with the API Gateway. I like serverless, pretty much. [laughs].
Corey: I have to ask when you work with the API Gateway, did you use the version 2, their HTTP API—which is the worst name ever because it is impossible to Google—or the original API Gateway that effectively is like a networking Swiss Army knife. It does everything. Not all at once. It is incredibly complicated. And, like a Swiss Army knife, the instruction manual is apparently written in Swiss German.
Brooke: Right. So, I did use HTTP method with the API Gateway. I had a little bit of a learning curve for that, too. But once I finally figured it out, I was like, “Okay, this is pretty great. This is good.”
And since then, I built another project. I built a serverless two-way SMS application, and I used the API Gateway for that. And it was much easier the second time around, of course, because I had that background knowledge from completing the cloud resume challenge. I liked it more as I continue to get my hands dirty. So—oh, also, for anyone who is just starting out, just keep trying because once you get it, it’s much more fun.
Corey: That's a great question. What would you recommend for someone who is starting out where you were a few months ago, that would have made your journey easier?
Brooke: Right. So, even though I'm super excited that I found the cloud resume challenge, I would have started to create my own projects quicker because it is also fun to solve your own problems, so to say, and you will have a little bit more passion about it when you are doing something that you created yourself. I love also getting into challenges with other people, but I feel like the learning just feels a little bit different when I solve a problem that I have for myself, or I create my own challenge, so to say.
Corey: One of the biggest problems that I see in tech, and it doesn't matter whether your front end, back end, mobile, what your stack is, is that when you look for help on the internet—let's not kid ourselves, we're all full Stack Overflow developers, if they ever disable copy and paste in that website, modern technical civilization will grind to a halt. But what I can't quite get past—and this has always been the case for my entire career, and I don't think it's going to get fixed anytime soon—is you start researching for help about what you're trying to do, and with everything we're doing, there's more than one way to do it. And it's, “Oh, why are you using that stack? Use this completely separate thing instead.” And on some level, you can keep sitting, and spinning, and never getting anywhere because you keep going back to the beginning and starting over with a different set of technologies, or a different approach. And that's something that I think is easy to get mired in. I still have to avoid that one myself.
Brooke: Oh, yeah, definitely. Me too. I kind of have faced that with my own personal projects that I have done. It's like, okay, I'm doing something one way and then I read something, it's like, “Oh, you should be doing it this way.” And now I've thrown away, now, everything that I've worked with. So, something that I'm still learning to do is work with what you already have because the work that you have already done and the time that you have spent is valuable, if it can be salvaged. Think about it before you just completely jump on to something new. What can you keep?
Corey: One of the hardest parts for me has always been, “Am I doing it, right?” I mean, I instinctively believe that whatever I'm doing, I'm wrong. And this is something that smart people would wind up getting right. Now, I'm clearly not a smart person. So, how do I wind up getting past that? I wish I had an answer, but I'm still stuck there every time.
Brooke: Wow. And I completely get that. So, something that I am personally looking into, well, one, I'm like, does it work? And then, two, can I create testing for it? And after that, maybe I can read over certain documentation, and then if I want to even take it a step further, I would maybe seek out people that I believe are smarter than me, who have more experience, if they could look at it and review it for me. But my number one thing is, does it work, and is it secure?
Corey: Yeah, I wish. Like, “Oh, cool. I'm going to go wind up finding people who are smarter than I am at this stuff—” which is my perspective, basically everyone, and invariably, the answer I always get is, “Huh. That's interesting. Wow, this is really broken. What did you do?” “I don't know, I am incredibly good at breaking things in creative ways by accident. On some level, I feel like it's going to come back around again and become a superpower. But right now, it's still annoying and terrible.
Brooke: Wow, no. I completely get that. I have broken plenty of things. Even as an analyst, there have been several things that I was like, “Okay, I'm doing this, right. This is going good.” I get to the end. “Okay, I didn't do this right at all.” [laughs]. So, I mean, just stick with it. I mean, nobody is ever going to do something 100 percent right. I've talked to seasoned engineers, they're like, “Hey, you know, I still break things.”
So, it's a never-ending cycle of learning; I would say, don't let that get you down because nobody's perfect, so don't try to hold on to a certain predefined image that you have in your head because it might not work out that way. And if it doesn't, that's okay. It could be leading you to something greater that you couldn't even have imagined before. So, just keep on trying. Nobody gets to a certain milestone without failing in some ways.
Corey: I think that's probably one of the best takeaways we have here. If people want to learn more about what you have to say, where can they find you?
Brooke: So, you can find me on LinkedIn
, Brooke Mitchell, I'm also on Twitter
. My handle is bdmitchell_. So, B-D-M-I-T-C-H-E-L-L underscore.
Corey: And we will put links to those in the [00:33:08 show notes].
Brooke: Awesome. I would love to connect with everyone. I'm planning on doing additional tutorials soon. I was so excited, Forrest reached out to me about creating a blog post for CI/CD pipelines
, so that was published on A Cloud Guru blog. And I'm working on some other things now in the Cloud that I would like to create tutorials for. And if there's a need in the community, someone reach out to me, and if I can figure it out, I'm 100 percent will, and post tutorials for it.
Corey: Excellent. Thank you once again, both for taking the time to speak with me today and taking over the newsletter this week. I really appreciate it.
Brooke: Oh, it is my pleasure too, Corey. I also want to thank you again for having me and giving me the opportunity to take over the newsletter this week. And wishing you and your wife the best with the new baby.
Corey: Well, thank you. At the point in time recording this, it's all optimistic and upside, and we don't know. By the time this airs, we'll probably know. I'm just hoping they're a sleeper.
Brooke: [laughs]. Yeah, sleepers are 100 percent the best. I think you'll get a sleeper.
Corey: [laughs]. We'll find out. Brooke Mitchell, analyst at T-Mobile and rising star in the world of Cloud. I'm Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, whereas if you've hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts and a comment telling me why my entire take on machine learning is ridiculous.
Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud
. You can also find more Corey at ScreamingintheCloud.com
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