Analyzing Analysts with James Governor

Episode Summary

James Governor is the co-founder of RedMonk, the developer-focused analyst firm. He’s also the managing director of Shoreditch Works, a coworking business that doubles as an event space. Previously, James worked as a deputy editor for InformationWeek UK. He lives in London. Join Corey and James as they discuss how RedMonk is different from traditional analyst firms, how Corey and James met and how James credentialed Corey as a bona fide industry analyst on Twitter, how anyone can be an analyst in theory, the mindset required to give advice as an analyst, what attracted James to becoming an analyst in the first place, why RedMonk focuses on the qualitative instead of the quantitative, why James believe the two biggest defining forces in culture are outrage and confirmation bias, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About James
James is the Redmonk co-founder, sunshine in a bag, industry analyst loves developers, "motivating in a surreal kind of way". Came up with "progressive delivery". He/Him


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.

Corey: Your company might be stuck in the middle of a DevOps revolution without even realizing it. Lucky you! Does your company culture discourage risk? Are you willing to admit it? Does your team have clear responsibilities? Depends on who you ask. Are you struggling to get buy in on DevOps practices? Well, download the 2021 State of DevOps report brought to you annually by Puppet since 2011 to explore the trends and blockers keeping evolution firms stuck in the middle of their DevOps evolution. Because they fail to evolve or die like dinosaurs. The significance of organizational buy in, and oh it is significant indeed, and why team identities and interaction models matter. Not to mention weither the use of automation and the cloud translate to DevOps success. All that and more awaits you. Visit: to download your copy of the report now!

Corey: And now for something completely different!

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I’m joined this week by James Governor, analyst and co-founder of a boutique analysis shop called RedMonk. James, thank you for coming on the show.

James: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Corey.

Corey: I’ve more or less had to continue pestering you with invites onto this for years because it’s a high bar, but you are absolutely one of my favorite people in tech for a variety of reasons that I’m sure we’re going to get into. But first, let’s let you tell the story. What is it you’d say it is that you do here?

James: We—industry analysts; we’re a research firm, as you said. I think we do things slightly differently. RedMonk has a very strong opinion about how the industry works. And so whilst there are plenty of research firms that look at the industry, and technology adoption, and process adoption through the lens of the purchaser, RedMonk focuses on it through the lens of the practitioner: the developer, the SRE, the people that are really doing the engineering. And so, historically IT was a top-down function: it required a lot of permission; it was something that was slow, you would make a request, you might get some resources six to nine months later, and they were probably the resources that you didn’t actually want, but something that was purchased from somebody that was particularly good at selling things.

Corey: Yes. And the thing that you were purchasing was aimed at people who are particularly good at buying things, but not using the things.

James: Exactly right. And so I think that RedMonk we look at the world—the new world, which is based on the fact there’s open-source software, there’s cloud-based software, there are platforms like GitHub. So, there’s all of this knowledge out there, and increasingly—it’s not a permission-free world. But technology adoption is more strongly influenced than ever by developers. That’s what RedMonk understands; that’s what makes us tick; that’s what excites us. What are the decisions that developers are making? When and why? And how can we tap into that knowledge to help everyone become more effective?

Corey: RedMonk is one of those companies that is so rare, it may as well not count when you do a survey of a landscape. We’ve touched on that before on the show. In 2019, we had your colleague, Rachel Stevens on the show; in 2020, we had your business partner Stephen O’Grady on, and in 2021 we have you. Apparently, you’re doling out staff at the rate of one a year. That’s okay; I will outlast your expansion plans.

James: Yeah, I think you probably will. One thing that RedMonk is not good at doing is growing, which may go to some of the uniqueness that you’re talking about. We do what we do very well, but we definitely still haven’t worked out what we’re going to be when we grow up.

Corey: I will admit that every time I see a RedMonk blog post that comes across my desk, I don’t even need to click on it anymore; I don’t need to read the thing because I already get that sinking feeling, because I know without even glancing at it, I’m going to read this and it’s going to be depressing because I’m going to wish I had written it instead because the points are always so pitch-perfect. And it feels like the thing that I struggle to articulate on the best of days, you folks—across the board—just wind up putting out almost effortlessly. Or at least that’s how it seems from the outside.

James: I think Stephen does that.

Corey: It’s funny; it’s what he said about you.

James: I like to sell his ideas, sell his work. He’s the brains and the talent of the operation in terms of co-founders. Kelly and Rachel are both incredibly smart people, and yeah, they definitely do a fantastic job of writing with clarity, and getting ideas across by stuff just tends to be sort of jumbled up. I do my best, but certainly, those fully formed, ‘I wish I had written that’ pieces, they come from my colleagues. So, thank you very much for that praise of them.

Corey: One of the central tenets that RedMonk has always believed and espoused is that developers are kingmakers, to use the term—and I steal that term, of course, from your co-founder’s book, The New Kingmakers, which, from my read, was talking about developers. That makes a lot of sense for a lot of tools that see bottom-up adoption, but in a world of cloud, where you’re seeing massive deals get signed, I don’t know too many developers out there who can sign a 50 million dollar cloud services contract more than once because they get fired the first time they outstrip their authority. Do you think that that model is changing?

James: So, ‘new kingmakers’ is quite a gendered term, and I have been asked to reconsider its use because, I mean, I don’t know whether it should be ‘new monarchmakers?’ That aside, developers are a fundamentally influential constituency. It’s important, I think, to say that they themselves are not necessarily the monarchs; they are not the ones sitting in Buckingham Palace [laugh] or whatever, but they are influences. And it’s important to understand the difference between influence and purchase. You’re absolutely right, Corey, the cloud is becoming more, like traditional IT. 

Something I noticed with your good friends at GCP, this was shortly after the article came out that they were going to cut bait if they didn’t get to number two after whatever period of time it was, they then went intentionally inside a bunch of 10-year deals with massive enterprises, I guess, to make it clear that they are in it for the long haul. But yeah, were developers making that decision? No. On the other hand, we don’t talk to any organizations that are good at creating digital products and services—and increasingly, that’s something that pretty much everybody needs to do—that do not pay a lot more attention to the needs and desires of their developers. They are reshoring, they are not outsourcing everything, they want developers that are close to the business, that understand the business, and they’re investing heavily in those people. 

And rather than seeing them as, sort of, oh, we’re going to get the cheapest possible people we can that have some Java skills and hope that these applications aren’t crap. It may not be Netflix, “Hey, we’re going to pay above market rate,” but it’s certainly what do they want? What tools do they want to use? How can we help them become more effective? And so yeah, you might sign a really big deal, but you still want to be thinking, “Hang on a minute, what are the skills that people have? What is going to make them happy? What do they know? Because if they aren’t productive, if they aren’t happy, we may lose them, and they are very, very important talent.” 

So, they may not be the people with 50 million dollars in budget, but their opinion is indeed important. And I think that RedMonk is not saying there is no such thing as top-down purchasing anymore. What we are saying is that you need to be serving the needs of this very important constituency, and they will make you more productive. The happier they are, the more flow they can have, the more creative they can be with the tools at hand, the better the business outcomes are going to be. So, it’s really about having a mindset and an organizational structure that enables you to become more effective by better serving the needs of developers, frankly. It used to just be the only tech companies had to care about that, but now everybody does. I mean, if we look at, whoever it is: Lego, or Capital One, or Branch, the new insurance company—I love Branch, by the way. I mean—

Corey: Yeah. They’re fantastic people, I love working with them. I wish I got to spend more time talking with them. So far, all I can do is drag them on to the podcast and argue on Twitter, but one of these days, one of these days, they’re going to have an AWS bill bigger than 50 cents a month, and then, oh, then I’ve got them.

James: There you go. But I think that the thing of him intentionally saying we’re not going to set up—I mean, are they in Columbus, I think?

Corey: They are. The greater Ohio region, yes.

James: Yes. And Joe is all about, we need tools that juniors can be effective with, and we need to satisfy the needs of those juniors so they can be productive in driving our business forward. Juniors is already—and perhaps as a bad term, but new entrants into the industry, and how can we support them where they are, but also help them gain new skills to become more effective? And I just think it’s about a different posture, and I think they’re a great example because not everybody is south of Market, able to pay 350 grand a year plus stock options. That’s just not realistic for most businesses. So, it is important to think about developers and their needs, the skills they learned, if they’re from a non-traditional background, what are those skills? How can we support them and become more effective?

Corey: That’s really what it comes down to. We’re all trying to do more with less, but rather than trying to work twice as hard, how to become more effective with the time we have and still go home in time for dinner every day?

James: Definitely. I have to say, I mean, 2020 sucked in lots of ways, but not missing a single meal with my family definitely was not one of 

Corey: Yeah. There are certain things I’m willing to trade and certain things I’m not. And honestly, family time is one of them. So, I met you—I don’t even recall what year—because what is even time anymore in this pandemic era?—where we sat down and grabbed a drink, I want to say it was at Google Cloud Next—the conference that Google does every year about their cloud—not that Google loses interest in things, but even their conference is called ‘Next’—but I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down and spoke with you, and I got the sense you had no idea what to make of me back then because I was basically what I am now, only less fully formed. I was obnoxious on Twitter, I had barely coherent thoughts that I could periodically hurl into the abyss and see if they resonated, but stands out is one of the seminal grabbing a drink with someone moments in the course of my career.

James: Well, I mean, fledgling Corey was pretty close to where he is now. But yeah, you bring something unique to the table. And I didn’t totally know what to expect; I knew there would be snark. But yeah, it was certainly a pleasure to meet you, and I think that whenever I meet someone, I’m always interested in if there is any way I can help them. And it was nice because you’re clearly a talented fellow and everything else, but it was like, are there some areas where I might be able to help? I mean, I think that’s a good position as a human meeting another human. And yeah, it was a pleasure. I think it was in the Intercontinental, I guess, in [unintelligible 00:11:00].

Corey: Yes, that’s exactly where it was. Good memory. In fact, I can tell you the date: it was April 11 of 2019. And I know that because right after we finished having a drink, you tweeted out a GIF of Snow White carving a pie, saying, “QuinnyPig is an industry analyst.” And the first time I saw that, it was, “I thought he liked me. Why on earth would he insult me that way?”

But it turned into something where when you have loud angry opinions, if you call yourself an analyst, suddenly people know what to do with you. I’m not kidding, I had that tweet laser engraved on a piece of wood through Laser Tweets. It is sitting on my shelf right now, which is how I know the date because it’s the closest thing I have to a credential in almost anything that I do. So, congratulations, you’re the accrediting university. Good job.

James: [laugh]. I credentialed you. How about that?

Corey: It’s true, though. It didn’t occur to me that analysts were a real thing. I didn’t know what it was, and that’s part of what we talked about at lunch, where it seemed that every time I tried to articulate what I do, people got confused. Analyst is not that far removed from an awful lot of what I do. And as I started going to analyst events, and catching up with other analysts—you know, the real kind of analyst, I would say, “I feel like a fake analyst. I have no idea what I’m actually doing.” 

And they said, “You are an analyst. Welcome to the club. We meet at the bar.” It turns out, no one really knows what is going on, fully, in this zany industry, and I feel like that the thing that we all bond over on some level is the sense of, we each only see a piece of it, and we try and piece it together with our understanding of the world and ideally try and make some sense out of it. At least, that’s my off-the-cuff definition of an industry analyst. As someone who’s an actual industry analyst, and not just a pretend one on Twitter, what’s your take on the subject?

James: Well, it’s a remarkable privilege, and it’s interesting because it is an uncredentialed job. Anybody can be, theoretically at least, an industry analyst. If people say you are and think you are, then then you are; you walk and quack like a duck. It’s basically about research and trying to understand a problem space and trying to articulate and help people to basically become more effective by understanding that problem space themselves, more. So, it might be about products, as I say, it might be about processes, but for me, I’ve just always enjoyed research. 

And I’ve always enjoyed advice. You need a particular mindset to give people advice. That’s one of the key things that, as an industry analyst, you’re sort of expected to do. But yeah, it’s the getting out there and learning from people that is the best part of the job. And I guess that’s why I’ve been doing it for such an ungodly long time; because I love learning, and I love talking to people, and I love trying to help people understand stuff. So, it suits me very well. It’s basically a job, which is about research, analysis, communication.

Corey: The research part is the part that I want to push back on because you say that, and I cringe. On paper, I have an eighth-grade education. And academia was never really something that I was drawn to, excelled at, or frankly, was even halfway competent at for a variety of reasons. So, when you say ‘research,’ I think of something awful and horrible. But then I look at the things I do when I talk to companies that are building something, and then I talked to the customers who are using the thing the company’s building, and, okay, those two things don’t always align as far as conversations go, so let’s take this thing that they built, and I’ll build something myself with it in an afternoon and see what the real story is. And it never occurred to me until we started having conversations to view that through the lens of well, that is actual research. I just consider it messing around with computers until something explodes.

James: Well, I think. I mean, that is research, isn’t it?

Corey: I think so. I’m trying to understand what your vision of research is. Because from where I sit, it’s either something negative and boring or almost subverting the premises you’re starting with to a point where you can twist it back on itself in some sort of ridiculous pretzel and come out with something that if it’s not functional, at least it’s hopefully funny.

James: The funny part I certainly wish that I could get anywhere close to the level of humor that you bring to the table on some of the analysis. But look, I mean, yes, it’s easy to see things as a sort of dry. Look, I mean, a great job I had randomly in my 20s, I sort of lied, fluked, lucked my way into researching Eastern European art and architecture. And a big part of the job was going to all of these amazing museums and libraries in and around London, trying to find catalogs from art exhibitions. And you’re learning about [Anastasi Kremnica 00:15:36], one of the greatest exponents of the illuminated manuscript and just, sort of, finding out about this interesting work, you’re finding out that some of the articles in this dictionary that you’re researching for had been completely made up, and that there wasn’t a bibliography, these were people that were writing for free and they just made shit up, so… but I just found that fascinating, and if you point me at a body of knowledge, I will enjoy learning stuff. 

So, I totally know what you mean; one can look at it from a, is this an academic pursuit? But I think, yeah, I’ve just always enjoyed learning stuff. And in terms of what is research, a lot of what RedMonk does is on the qualitative side; we’re trying to understand what people think of things, why they make the choices that they do, you have thousands of conversations, synthesize that into a worldview, you may try and play with those tools, you can’t always do that. I mean, to your point, play with things and break things, but how deep can you go? I’m talking to developers that are writing in Rust; they’re writing in Go, they’re writing in Node, they’re writing in, you know, all of these programming languages under the sun. 

I don’t know every programming language, so you have to synthesize. I know a little bit and enough to probably cut off my own thumb, but it’s about trying to understand people’s experience. And then, of course, you have a chance to bring some quantitative things to the table. That was one of the things that RedMonk for a long time, we’d always—we were always very wary of, sort of, quantitative models in research because you see this stuff, it’s all hockey sticks, it’s all up into the right—

Corey: Yeah. You have that ridiculous graph thing, which I’m sorry, I’m sure has an official name. And every analyst firm has its own magic name, whether it’s a ‘Magic Quadrant,’ or the ‘Forrester Wave,’ or, I don’t know, ‘The Crushing Pit Of Despair.’ I don’t know what company is which. But you have the programming language up-and-to-the-right line graph that I’m not sure the exact methodology, but you wind up placing slash ranking all of the programming languages that are whatever body of work you’re consuming—I believe it might be Stack Overflow—

James: Yeah.

Corey: —and people look for that whenever it comes out. And for some reason, no one ever yells at you the way that they would if you were—oh, I don’t know, a woman—or someone who didn’t look like us, with our over-represented faces.

James: Well, yeah. There is some of that. I mean, look, there are two defining forces to the culture. One is outrage, and if you can tap into people’s outrage, then you’re golden—

Corey: Oh, rage-driven development is very much a thing. I guess I shouldn’t be quite as flippant. It’s kind of magic that you can wind up publishing these things as an organization, and people mostly accept it. People pay attention to it; it gets a lot of publicity, but no one argues with you about nonsense, for the most, part that I’ve seen.

James: I mean, so there’s a couple of things. One is outrage; universal human thing, and too much of that in the culture, but it seems to work in terms of driving attention. And the other is confirmation bias. So, I think the beauty of the programming language rankings—which is basically a scatterplot based on looking at conversations in StackOverflow and some behaviors in GitHub, and trying to understand whether they correlate—we’re very open about the methodology. It’s not something where—there are some other companies where you don’t actually know how they’ve reached the conclusions they do. 

And we’ve been doing it for a long time; it is somewhat dry. I mean, when you read the post the way Stephen writes it, he really does come across quite academic; 20 paragraphs of explication of the methodology followed by a few paragraphs explaining what we found with the research. Every time we publish it, someone will say, “CSS is not a programming language,” or, “Why is COBOL not on there?” And it’s largely a function of methodology. So, there’s always raged to be had.

Corey: Oh, absolutely. Channeling rage is basically one of my primary core competencies.

James: There you go. So, I think that it’s both. One of the beauties of the thing is that on any given day when we publish it, people either want to pat themselves on the back and say, “Hey, look, I’ve made a really good choice. My programming language is becoming more popular,” or 
they are furious and like, “Well, come on, we’re not seeing any slow down. I don’t know why those RedMonk folks are saying that.” 

So, in amongst those two things, the programming language rankings was where we began to realize that we could have a footprint that was a bit more quantitative, and trying to understand the breadcrumbs that developers were dropping because the simple fact is, is—look, when we look at the platforms where developers do their work today, they are in effect instrumented. And you can understand things, not with a survey where a lot of good developers—a lot of people in general—are not going to fill in surveys, but you can begin to understand people’s behaviors without talking to them, and so for RedMonk, that’s really thrilling. So, if we’ve got a model where we can understand things by talking to people, and understand things by not talking to people, then we’re cooking with gas.

Corey: I really love installing, upgrading, and fixing security agents in my cloud estate! Why do I say that? Because I sell things, because I sell things for a company that deploys an agent, there's no other reason. Because let’s face it. Agents can be a real headache. Well, now Orca Security gives you a single tool that detects basically every risk in your cloud environment -- and that’s as easy to install and maintain as a smartphone app. It is agentless, or my intro would’ve gotten me into trouble here, but  it can still see deep into your AWS workloads, while guaranteeing 100% coverage. With Orca Security, there are no overlooked assets, no DevOps headaches, and believe me you will hear from those people if you cause them headaches. and no performance hits on live environments. Connect your first cloud account in minutes and see for yourself at Thats “Orca” as in whale, “dot” security as in that things you company claims to care about but doesn’t until right after it really should have.

Corey: One of the I think most defining characteristics about you is that, first, you tend to undersell the weight your words carry. And I can’t figure out, honestly, whether that is because you’re unaware of them, or you’re naturally a modest person, but I will say you’re absolutely one of my favorite Twitter follows; @monkchips. If you’re not following James, you absolutely should be. Mostly because of what you do whenever someone gives you a modicum of attention, or of credibility, or of power, and that is you immediately—it is reflexive and clearly so, you reach out to find someone you can use that credibility to lift up. It’s really an inspirational thing to see. 

It’s one of the things that if I could change anything about myself, it would be to make that less friction-full process, and I think it only comes from practice. You’re the kind of person I think—I guess I’m trying to say that I aspire to be in ways that are beyond where I already am.

James: [laugh]. Well, that’s very charming. Look, we are creatures of extreme privilege. I mean, I say you and I specifically, but people in this industry generally. And maybe not enough people recognize that privilege, but I do, and it’s just become more and more clear to me the longer I’ve been in this industry, that privilege does need to be more evenly distributed. So, if I can help someone, I naturally will. I think it is a muscle that I’ve exercised, don’t get me wrong—

Corey: Oh, it is a muscle and it is a skill that can absolutely be improved. I was nowhere near where I am now, back when I started. I gave talks early on in my speaking career, about how to handle a job interview. What I accidentally built was, “How to handle a job interview if you’re a white guy in tech,” which it turns out is not the inclusive message I wanted to be delivering, so I retired the talk until I could rebuild it with someone who didn’t look like me and give it jointly.

James: And that’s admirable. And that’s—

Corey: I wouldn’t say it’s admirable. I’d say it’s the bare minimum, to be perfectly honest.

James: You’re too kind. I do what I can, it’s a very small amount. I do have a lot of privilege, and I’m aware that not everybody has that privilege. And I’m just a work in progress. I’m doing my best, but I guess what I would say is the people listening is that you do have an opportunity, as Corey said about me just now, maybe I don’t realize the weight of my words, what I would say is that perhaps you have privileges you can share, that you’re not fully aware that you have. 

In sharing those privileges, in finding folks that you can help it does make you feel good. And if you would like to feel better, trying to help people in some small way is one of the ways that you can feel better. And I mentioned outrage, and I was sort of joking in terms of the programming language rankings, but clearly, we live in a culture where there is too much outrage. And so to take a step back and help someone, that is a very pure thing and makes you feel good. So, if you want to feel a bit less outraged, feel that you’ve made an impact, you can never finish a day feeling bad about the contribution you’ve made if you’ve helped someone else. 

So, we do have a rare privilege, and I get a lot out of it. And so I would just say it works for me, and in an era when there’s a lot of anger around, helping people is usually the time when you’re not angry. And there’s a lot to be said for that.

Corey: I’ll take it beyond that. It’s easy to cast this in a purely feel-good, oh, you’ll give something up in order to lift people up. It never works that way. It always comes back in some weird esoteric way. For example, I go to an awful lot of conferences during, you know, normal years, and I see an awful lot of events and they’re all—hmm—how to put this?—they’re all directionally the same. The RedMonk events are hands down the exception to all of that. I’ve been to Monktoberfest once, and I keep hoping to go to—I’m sorry, was it Monki Gras is the one in the UK?

James: Monki Gras, yeah.

Corey: Yeah. It’s just a different experience across the board where I didn’t even speak and I have a standing policy just due to time commitments not to really attend conferences I’m not speaking at. I made an exception, both due to the fact that it’s RedMonk, so I wanted to see what this event was all about, and also it was in Portland, Maine; my mom lived 15 minutes away, it’s an excuse to go back, but not spend too much time. So, great. It was more or less a lark, and it is hands down the number one event I will make it a point to attend. 

And I put that above re:Invent, which is the center of my cloud-y universe every year, just because of the stories that get told, the people that get invited, just the sheer number of good people in one place is incredible. And I don’t want to sound callous, or crass pointing this out, but more business for my company came out of that conference from casual conversations than any other three conferences you can name. It was phenomenal. And it wasn’t because I was there setting up an expo booth—there isn’t an expo hall—and it isn’t because I went around harassing people into signing contracts, which some people seem to think is how it works. It’s because there were good people, and I got to have great conversations. And I kept in touch with a lot of folks, and those relationships over time turned into business because that’s the way it works.

James: Yeah. I mean, we don’t go big, we go small. We focus on creating an intimate environment that’s safe and inclusive and makes people feel good. We strongly curate the events we run. As Stephen explicitly says in terms of the talks that he accepts, these are talks that you won’t hear elsewhere. 

And we try and provide a platform for some different kind of thinking, some different voices, and we just had some magical, magical speakers, I think, at both events over the years. So, we keep it down to sort of the size of a village; we don’t want to be too much over the Dunbar number. And that’s where rich interactions between humans emerge. The idea, I think, at our conference is, is that over a couple of days, you will actually get to know some people, and know them well. And we have been lucky enough to attract many kind, and good, and nice people, and that’s what makes the event so great. 

It’s not because of Steve, or me, or the others on the team putting it together. It’s about the people that come. And they’re wonderful, and that’s why it’s a good event. The key there is we focus on amazing food and drink experiences, really nice people, and keep it small, and try and be as inclusive as you can. One of the things that we’ve done within the event is we’ve had a diversity and inclusion sponsorship. 

And so folks like GitHub, and MongoDB, and Red Hat have been kind enough—I mean, Red Hat—interestingly enough the event as a whole, Red Hat has sponsored Monktoberfest every year it’s been on. But the DNI sponsorship is interesting because what we do with that is we look at that as an opportunity. So, there’s a few things. When you’re running an event, you can solve the speaker problem because there is an amazing pipeline of just fantastic speakers from all different kinds of backgrounds. And I think we do quite well on that, but the DNI sponsorship is really about having a program with resources to make sure that your delegates begin to look a little bit more diverse as well. And that may involve travel stipends, as well as free tickets, accommodation, and so on, which is not an easy one to pull off.

Corey: But it’s necessary. I mean, I will say one of the great things about this past year of remote—there have been a lot of trials and tribulations, don’t get me wrong—but the fact that suddenly all these conferences are available to anyone with an internet connection is a huge accessibility story. When we go back to in-person events, I don’t want to lose that.

James: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think that’s been one of the really interesting stories of the—and it is in so many dimensions. I bang on about this a lot, but so much talent in tech from Nigeria. Nigeria is just an amazing, amazing geography, huge population, tons of people doing really interesting work, educating themselves, and pushing and driving forward in tech, and then we make it hard for them to get visas to travel to the US or Europe. And I find that to be… disappointing. 

So, opening it up to other geographies—which is one of the things that free online events does—is fantastic. You know, perhaps somebody has some accessibility needs, and they just—it’s harder for them to travel. Or perhaps you’re a single parent and you’re unable to travel. Being able to dip into all of these events, I think is potentially a transformative model vis-à-vis inclusion. So, yeah, I hope, A) that you’re right, and, B) that we as an industry are intentional because without being intentional, we’re not going to realize those benefits, without understanding there were benefits, and we can indeed lower some of the barriers to entry participation, and perhaps most importantly, provide the feedback loop. 

Because it’s not enough to let people in; you need to welcome them. I talked about the DNI program: we have—we’re never quite sure what to call them. We call them mentors or things like that, but people to welcome people into the community, make introductions, this industry, sometimes it's, “Oh, great. We’ve got new people, but then we don’t support them when they arrive.” And that’s one of the things as an industry we are, frankly, bad at, and we need to get better at it.

Corey: I could not agree with you more strongly. Every time I wind up looking at building an event or whatnot or seeing other people’s events, it’s easy to criticize, but I try to extend grace as much as possible. But whenever I see an event that is very clearly built by people with privilege, for people with privilege, it rubs me the wrong way. And I’m getting worse and worse with time at keeping my mouth shut about that thing. I know, believe it or not, I am capable of keeping my mouth shut from time to time or so I’m told. But it’s irritating, it rankles because it’s people not taking advantage of their privileged position to help others and that, at some point, bugs me.

James: Me too. That’s the bottom line, we can and must do better. And so things that, sort of, make you proud of every year, I change my theme for Monki Gras, and, you know, it’s been about scaling your craft, it’s been about homebrews—so that was sort of about your side gig. It wasn’t about the hustle so much as just things people were interested in. Sometimes a side project turns into something amazing in its own right. 

I’ve done Scandinavian craft—the influence of the Nordics on our industry. We talk about privilege: every conference that you go to is basically a conference about what San Francisco thinks. So, it was nice to do something where I looked at the influence of Scandinavian craft and culture. Anyway, to get to my point, I did the conference one year about accessibility. I called it ‘accessible craft.’ 

And we had some folks from a group called Code Your Future, which is a nonprofit which is basically training refugees to code. And when you’ve got a wheelchair-bound refugee at your conference, then you may be doing something right. I mean, the whole wheelchair thing is really interesting because it’s so easy to just not realize. And I had been doing these conferences in edgy venues. And I remember walking with my sister, Saffron, to check out one of the potential venues. 

It was pretty cool, but when we were walking there, there were all these broken cobblestones, and there were quite a lot of heavy vehicles on the road next to it. And it was just very clear that for somebody that had either issues with walking or frankly, with their sight, it just wasn’t going to fly anymore. And I think doing the accessibility conference was a watershed for me because we had to think through so many things that we had not given enough attention vis-à-vis accessibility and inclusion.

Corey: I think it’s also important to remember that if you’re organizing a conference and someone in a wheelchair shows up, you don’t want to ask that person to do extra work to help accommodate that person. You want to reach out to experts on this; take the burden on yourself. Don’t put additional labor on people who are already in a relatively challenging situation. I feel like it’s one of those basic things that people miss.

James: Well, that’s exactly right. I mean, we offered basically, we were like, look, we will pay for your transport. Get a cab that is accessible. But when he was going to come along, we said, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ve made sure that everything is accessible.” We actually had to go further out of London. 

We went to the Olympic Park to run it that year because we’re so modern, and the investments they made for the Olympics, the accessibility was good from the tube, to the bus, and everything else. And the first day, he came along and he was like, “Oh, I got the cab because I didn’t really believe that the accessibility would work.” And I think on the second day, he just used the shuttle bus because he saw that the experience was good. So, I think that’s the thing; don’t make people do the work. It’s our job to do the work to make a better environment for as many people as possible.

Corey: James, before we call it a show, I have to ask. Your Twitter name is @monkchips and it is one of the most frustrating things in the world trying to keep up with you because your Twitter username doesn’t change, but the name that goes above it changes on what appears to be a daily basis. I always felt weird asking you this in person, when I was in slapping distance, but now we’re on a podcast where you can’t possibly refuse to answer. What the hell is up with that?

James: Well, I think if something can be changeable, if something can be mutable, then why not? It’s a weird thing with Twitter is that it enables that, and it’s just something fun. I know it can be sort of annoying to people. I used to mess around with my profile picture a lot; that was the thing that I really focused on. But recently, at least, I just—there are things that I find funny, or dumb, or interesting, and I’ll just make that my username. 

It’s not hugely intentional, but it is, I guess, a bit of a calling card. I like puns; it’s partly, you know, why you do something. Because you can, so I’ve been more consistent with my profile picture. If you keep changing both of them all the time, that’s probably suboptimal. Sounds good.

Corey: Sounds good. It just makes it hard to track who exactly—“Who is this lunatic, and how did they get into my—oh, it’s James, again.” Ugh, branding is hard. At least you’re not changing your picture at the same time. That would just be unmanageable.

James: Yeah, no, that’s what I’m saying. I think you’ve got to do—you can’t do both at the same time and maintain—

Corey: At that point, you’re basically fleeing creditors.

James: Well, that may have happened. Maybe that’s an issue for me.

Corey: James, I want to thank you for taking as much time as you have to tolerate my slings, and arrows, and other various vocal devices. If people want to learn more about who you are, what you believe, what you’re up to, and how to find you. Where are you hiding?

James: Yeah, I mean, I think you’ve said already, that was very kind: I am at @monkchips. I’m not on topic. I think as this conversation has shown, I [laugh] don’t think we’ve spoken as much about technology as perhaps we should, given the show is normally about the cloud.

Corey: The show is normally about the business of cloud, and people stories are always better than technology stories because technology is always people.

James: And so, yep, I’m all over the map; I can be annoying; I wear my heart on my sleeve. But I try and be kind as much as I can, and yeah, I tweet a lot. That’s the best place to find me. And definitely look at

But I have smart colleagues doing great work, and if you’re interested in developers and technology infrastructure, we’re a great place to come and learn about those things. And we’re very accessible. We love to talk to people, and if you want to get better at dealing with software developers, yeah, you should talk to us. We’re nice people and we’re ready to chat.

Corey: Excellent. We will, of course, throw links to that in the [show notes 00:37:03]. James, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really do appreciate it.

James: My pleasure. But you’ve made me feel like a nice person, which is a bit weird.

Corey: I know, right? That’s okay. You can go for a walk. Shake it off.

James: [laugh].

Corey: It’ll be okay. James Governor, analyst and co-founder at RedMonk. 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 your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an insulting comment in which you attempt to gatekeep being an industry analyst.

Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at, or wherever fine snark is sold.

This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
Newsletter Footer

Get the Newsletter

Reach over 30,000 discerning engineers, managers, enthusiasts who actually care about the state of Amazon’s cloud ecosystems.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Sponsor Icon Footer

Sponsor an Episode

Get your message in front of people who care enough to keep current about the cloud phenomenon and its business impacts.