Stephanie Wong, Head of Developer Engagement at Google, joins Corey this week to chat about her wide ranging work. Of which a significant and perhaps more interesting amount occurs outside the walls of Google. While Stephanie is certainly a key player at such a massive company, her passion lies in her own advocacy for women in tech as well as making tech more approachable to larger audiences.
Stephanie is not one to put her job title first. Her bio covers the spread from dancer, to hip-hop medalist, to podcast host. Stephanie gives us the birds eye view on her own non-traditional and interdisciplinary path that led to her work both in and outside of Google. Stephanie’s focus on producing content that reaches across a wide spectrum of participants is crucial to how she has broken the mold on what tech can do, and her lessons are ones we can all learn from.
Stephanie Wong is an award-winning speaker, engineer, pageant queen, and hip hop medalist. She is a leader at Google with a mission to blend storytelling and technology to create remarkable developer content. At Google, she's created over 400 videos, blogs, courses, and podcasts that have helped developers globally. You might recognize her as the host of the GCP Podcast. Stephanie is active in her community, fiercely supporting women in tech and mentoring students.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, 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. One of the things that makes me a little weird in the universe is that I do an awful lot of… let’s just call it technology explanation slash exploration in public, and turning it into a bit of a brand-style engagement play. What makes this a little on the weird side is that I don’t work for a big company, which grants me a tremendous latitude. I have a whole lot of freedom that lets me be all kinds of different things, and I can’t get fired, which is something I’m really good at.
Inversely, my guest today is doing something remarkably similar, except she does work for a big company and could theoretically be fired if they were foolish enough to do so. But I don’t believe that they are. Stephanie Wong is the head of developer engagement at Google. Stephanie, thank you for volunteering to suffer my slings and arrows about all of this.
Stephanie: [laugh]. Thanks so much for having me today, Corey.
Corey: So, at a very high level, you’re the head of developer engagement, which is a term that I haven’t seen a whole lot of. Where does that start and where does that stop?
Stephanie: Yeah, so I will say that it’s a self-proclaimed title a bit because of the nuance of what I do. I would say at its heart, I am still a part of developer relations. If you’ve heard of developer advocacy or developer evangelist, I would say this slight difference in shade of what I do is that I focus on scalable content creation and becoming a central figure for our developer audiences to engage and enlighten them with content that, frankly, is remarkable, and that they’d want to share and learn about our technology.
Corey: Your bio is fascinating in that it doesn’t start with the professional things that most people do with, “This is my title and this is my company,” is usually the first sentence people put in. Yours is, “Stephanie Wong is an award-winning speaker, engineer, pageant queen, and hip hop medalist.” Which is both surprising and more than a little bit refreshing because when I read a bio like that my immediate instinctive reaction is, “Oh, thank God. It’s a real person for a change.” I like the idea of bringing the other aspects of what you are other than, “This is what goes on in an IDE, the end,” to your audience.
Stephanie: That is exactly the goal that I had when creating that bio because I truly believe in bringing more interdisciplinary and varied backgrounds to technology. I, myself have gone through a very unconventional path to get to where I am today and I think in large part, my background has had a lot to do with my successes, my failures, and really just who I am in tech as an uninhibited and honest, credible person today.
Corey: I think that there’s a lack of understanding, broadly, in our industry about just how important credibility and authenticity are and even the source of where they come from. There are a lot of folks who are in the DevRel space—devrelopers, as I insist upon calling them, over their protests—where, on some level, the argument is, what is developer relations? “Oh, you work in marketing, but they’re scared to tell you,” has been my gag on that one for a while. But they speak from a position of, “I know what’s what because I have been in the trenches, working on these large-scale environments as an engineer for the last”—fill in the blank, however long it may have been—“And therefore because I have done things, I am going to tell you how it is.” You explicitly call out that you don’t come from the traditional, purely technical background. Where did you come from? It’s unlikely that you’ve sprung fully-formed from the forehead of some god, but again, I’m not entirely sure how Google finds and creates the folks that it winds up advancing, so maybe you did.
Stephanie: Well, to tell you the truth. We’ve all come from divine creatures. And that’s where Google sources all employees. So. You know. But—[laugh].
Corey: Oh, absolutely. “We climbed to the top of Olympus and then steal fire from the gods.” “It’s like, isn’t that the origin story of Prometheus?” “Yeah, possibly.” But what is your background? Where did you come from?
Stephanie: So, I have grown up, actually, in Silicon Valley, which is a little bit ironic because I didn’t go to school for computer science or really had the interest in becoming an engineer in school. I really had no idea.
Corey: Even been more ironic than that because most of Silicon Valley appears to never have grown up at all.
Stephanie: [laugh]. So, true. Maybe there’s a little bit of that with me, too. Everybody has a bit of Peter Pan syndrome here, right? Yeah, I had no idea what I wanted to do in school and I just knew that I had an interest in communicating with one another, and I ended up majoring in communication studies.
I thought I wanted to go into the entertainment industry and go into production, which is very different and ended up doing internships at Warner Brothers Records, a YouTube channel for dance—I’m a dancer—and I ended up finding a minor in digital humanities, which is sort of this interdisciplinary minor that combines technology and the humanities space, including literature, history, et cetera. So, that’s where I got my start in technology, getting an introduction to information systems and doing analytics, studying social media for certain events around the world. And it wasn’t until after school that I realized that I could work in enterprise technology when I got an offer to be a sales engineer. Now, that being said, I had no idea what sales engineering was. I just knew it had something to do with enterprise technology and communications, and I thought it was a good fit for my background.
Corey: The thing that I find so interesting about that is that it breaks the mold of what people expect, when, “If someone’s going to talk to me about technology—especially coming from a”—it’s weird; it’s one of the biggest companies on the planet, and people still on some level equate Google with the startup-y mentality of being built in someone’s garage. That’s an awfully big garage these days, if that’s even slightly close to true, which it isn’t. But there’s this idea of, “Oh, you have to go to Stanford. You have to get a degree in computer science. And then you have to go and do this, this, this, this, and this.”
And it’s easy to look dismissively at what you’re doing. “Communications? Well, all that would teach you to do is communicate to people clearly and effectively. What possible good is that in tech?” As we look around the landscape and figure out exactly why that is so necessary in tech, and also so lacking?
Stephanie: Exactly. I do think it’s an underrated skill in tech. Maybe it’s not so much anymore, but I definitely think that it has been in the past. And even for developers, engineers, data scientists, other technical practitioner, especially as a person in DevRel, I think it’s such a valuable skill to be able to communicate complex topics simply and understandably to a wide variety of audiences.
Corey: The big question that I have for you because I’ve talked to an awful lot of folks who are very concerned about the way that they approach developer relations, where—they’ll have ratios, for example—where I know someone and he insists that he give one deeply technical talk for every four talks that are not deeply technical, just because he feels the need to re-establish and shore up his technical bona fides. Now, if there’s one thing that people on the internet love, it is correcting people on things that are small trivia aspect, or trying to pull out the card that, “Oh, I’ve worked on this system for longer than you’ve worked on this system, therefore, you should defer to me.” Do you find that you face headwinds for not having the quote-unquote, “Traditional” engineering technical background?
Stephanie: I will say that I do a bit. And I did, I would say when I first joined DevRel, and I don’t know if it was much more so that it was being imposed on me or if it was being self-imposed, something that I felt like I needed to prove to gain credibility, not just in my organization, but in the industry at large. And it wasn’t until two or three years into it, that I realized that I had a niche myself. It was to create stories with my content that could communicate these concepts to developers just as effectively. And yes, I can still prove that I can go into an hour-long or a 45-minute-long tech talk or a webinar about a topic, but I can also easily create a five to ten-minute video that communicates concepts and inspires audiences just the same, and more importantly, be able to point to resources, code labs, tutorials, GitHub repos, that can allow the audience to be hands-on themselves, too. So really, I think that it was over time that I gained more experience and realized that my skill sets are valuable in a different way, and it’s okay to have a different background as long as you bring something to the table.
Corey: And I think that it’s indisputable that you do. The concept of yours that I’ve encountered from time to time has always been insightful, it is always been extremely illuminating, and—you wouldn’t think of this as worthy of occasion and comment, but I feel it needs to be said anyway—at no point in any of your content did I feel like I was being approached in a condescending way, where at every point it was always about uplifting people to a level of understanding, rather than doing the, “Well, I’m smarter than you and you couldn’t possibly understand the things that I’ve been to.” It is relatable, it is engaging, and you add a very human face to what is admittedly an area of industry that is lacking in a fair bit of human element.
Stephanie: Yeah, and I think that’s the thing that many folks DevRel continue to underline is the idea of empathy, empathizing with your audiences, empathizing with the developers, the engineers, the data engineers, whoever it is that you’re creating content for, it’s being in their shoes. But for me, I may not have been in those shoes for years, like many other folks historically have been in for DevRel, but I want to at least go through the journey of learning a new piece of technology. For example, if I’m learning a new platform on Google Cloud, going through the steps of creating a demo, or walking through a tutorial, and then candidly explaining that experience to my audience, or creating a video about it. I really just reject the idea of having ego in tech and I would love to broaden the opportunity for folks who came from a different background like myself. I really want to just represent the new world of technology where it wasn’t full of people who may have had the privilege to start coding at a very early age, in their garages.
Corey: Yeah, privilege of, in many respects, also that privilege means, “Yes, I had the privilege of not having to have friends and deal with learning to interact with other human beings, which is what empowered me to build this company and have no social skills whatsoever.” It’s not the aspirational narrative that we sometimes are asked to believe. You are similar in some respects to a number of things that I do—by which I mean, you do it professionally and well and I do it as basically performance shitpost art—but you’re on Twitter, you make videos, you do podcasts, you write long-form and short-form as well. You are sort of all across the content creation spectrum. Which of those things do you prefer to do? Which ones of those are things you find a little bit more… “Well, I have to do it, but it’s not my favorite?” Or do you just tend to view it as content is content; you just look at different media to tell your story?
Stephanie: Well, I will say any form of content is queen—I’m not going to say king, but—[laugh] content is king, content is queen, it doesn’t matter.
Corey: Content is a baroness as it turns out.
Stephanie: [laugh]. There we go. I have to say, so given my background, I mentioned I was into production and entertainment before, so I’ve always had a gravitation towards video content. I love tinkering with cameras. Actually, as I got started out at Google Cloud, I was creating scrappy content using webcams and my own audio equipment, and doing my own research, and finding lounges and game rooms to do that, and we would just upload it to our own YouTube channel, which probably wasn’t allowed at the time, but hey, we got by with it.
And eventually, I got approached by DevRel to start doing it officially on the channel and I was given budget to do it in-studio. And so that was sort of my stepping stone to doing this full-time eventually, which I never foresaw for myself. And so yeah, I have this huge interest in—I’m really engaged with video content, but once I started expanding and realizing that I could repurpose that content for podcasting, I could repurpose it for blogs, then you start to realize that you can shard content and expand your reach exponentially with this. So, that’s when I really started to become more active on social media and leverage it to build not just content for Google Cloud, but build my own brand in
Corey: That is the inescapable truth of DevRel done right is that as you continue doing it, in time, in your slice of the industry, it is extremely likely that your personal brand eclipses the brand of the company that you represent. And it’s in many ways a test of corporate character—if it makes sense—as do how they react to that. I’ve worked in roles before I started this place where I was starting to dabble with speaking a lot, and there was always a lot of insecurity that I picked up of, “Well, it feels like you’re building your personal brand, not advancing the company here, and we as a company do not see the value in you doing that.” Direct quote from the last boss I had. And, well, that partially explains why I’m here, I suppose.
But there’s insecurity there. I’d see the exact opposite coming out of Google, especially in recent times. There’s something almost seems to be a renaissance in Google Cloud, and I’m not sure where it came from. But if I look at it across the board, and you had taken all the labels off of everything, and you had given me a bunch of characteristics about different companies, I would never have guessed that you were describing Google when you’re talking about Google Cloud. And perhaps that’s unfair, but perceptions shape reality.
Stephanie: Yeah, I find that interesting because I think traditionally in DevRel, we’ve also hired folks for their domain expertise and their brand, depending on what you’re representing, whether it’s in the Kubernetes space or Python client library that you’re supporting. But it seems like, yes, in my case, I’ve organically started to build my brand while at Google, and Google has been just so spectacular in supporting that for me. But yeah, it’s a fine line that I think many people have to walk. It’s like, do you want to continue to build your own brand and have that carry forth no matter what company you stay at, or if you decide to leave? Or can you do it hand-in-hand with the company that you’re at? For me, I think I can do it hand-in-hand with Google Cloud.
Corey: It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around what appears to be a contradiction when I look at Google Cloud, and I think I’ve mostly figured it out. In the industry, there is a perception that Google as an entity is condescending and sneering toward every other company out there because, “You’re Google, you know how to do all these great, amazing things that are global-spanning, and over here at Twitter for Pets, we suck doing these things.” So, Google is always way smarter and way better at this than we could ever hope to be. But that is completely opposed to my personal experiences talking with Google employees. Across the board, I would say that you all are self-effacing to a fault.
And I mean that in the sense of having such a limited ego, in some cases, that it’s, “Well, I don’t want to go out there and do a whole video on this. It’s not about me, it’s about the technology,” are things that I’ve had people who work at Google say to me. And I appreciate the sentiment; it’s great, but that also feels like it’s an aloofness. It also fails to humanize what it is that you’re doing. And you are a, I’ve got to say, a breath of fresh air when it comes to a lot of that because your stories are not just, “Here’s how you do a thing. It’s awesome. And this is all the intricacies of the API.”
And yeah, you get there, but you also contextualize that in a, “Here’s why it matters. Here’s the problem that solves. Here is the type of customer’s problem that this is great for,” rather than starting with YAML and working your way up. It’s going the other way, of, “We want to sell some underpants,” or whatever it is the customer is trying to do today. And that is the way that I think is one of the best ways to drive adoption of what’s going on because if you get people interested and excited about something—at least in my experience—they’re going to figure out how the API works. Badly in many cases, but works. But if you start on the API stuff, it becomes a solution looking for a problem. I like your approach to this.
Stephanie: Thank you. Yeah, I appreciate that. I think also something that I’ve continued to focus on is to tell stories across products, and it doesn’t necessarily mean within just Google Cloud’s ecosystem, but across the industry as well. I think we need to, even at Google, tell a better story across our product space and tie in what developers are currently using. And I think the other thing that I’m trying to work on, too, is contextualizing our products and our launches not just across the industry, but within our product strategy. Where does this tie in? Why does it matter? What is our forward-looking strategy from here? When we’re talking about our new data cloud products or analytics, [unintelligible 00:17:21], how does this tie into our API strategy?
Corey: And that’s the biggest challenge, I think, in the AI space. My argument has been for a while—in fact, I wrote a blog post on it earlier this year—that AI and machine learning is a marvelously executed scam because it’s being pushed by cloud providers and the things that you definitely need to do a machine learning experiment are a bunch of compute and a whole bunch of data that has to be stored on something, and wouldn’t you know it, y’all sell that by the pound. So, it feels, from a cynical perspective, which I excel at espousing, that approach becomes one of you’re effectively selling digital pickaxes into a gold rush. Because I see a lot of stories about machine learning how to do very interesting things that are either highly, highly use-case-specific, which great, that would work well, for me too, if I ever wind up with, you know, a petabyte of people’s transaction logs from purchasing coffee at my national chain across the country. Okay, that works for one company, but how many companies look like that?
And on the other side of it, “It’s oh, here’s how we can do a whole bunch of things,” and you peel back the covers a bit, and it looks like, “Oh, but you really taught me here is bias laundering?” And, okay. I think that there’s a definite lack around AI and machine learning of telling stories about how this actually matters, what sorts of things people can do with it that aren’t incredibly—how do I put this?—niche or a problem in search of a solution?
Stephanie: Yeah, I find that there are a couple approaches to creating content around AI and other technologies, too, but one of them being inspirational content, right? Do you want to create something that tells the story of how I created a model that can predict what kind of bakery item this is? And we’re going to do it by actually showcasing us creating the outcome. So, that’s one that’s more like, okay. I don’t know how relatable or how appropriate it is for an enterprise use case, but it’s inspirational for new developers or next gen developers in the AI space, and I think that can really help a company’s brand, too.
The other being highly niche for the financial services industry, detecting financial fraud, for example, and that’s more industry-focused. I found that they both do well, in different contexts. It really depends on the channel that you’re going to display it on. Do you want it to be viral? It really depends on what you’re measuring your content for. I’m curious from you, Corey, what you’ve seen across, as a consumer of content?
Corey: What’s interesting, at least in my world, is that there seems to be, given that what I’m focusing on first and foremost is the AWS ecosystem, it’s not that I know it the best—I do—but at this point, it’s basically Stockholm Syndrome where it’s… with any technology platform when you’ve worked with it long enough, you effectively have the most valuable of skill sets around it, which is not knowing how it works, but knowing how it doesn’t, knowing what the failure mode is going to look like and how you can work around that and detect it is incredibly helpful. Whereas when you’re trying something new, you have to wait until it breaks to find the sharp edges on it. So, there’s almost a lock-in through, “We failed you enough times,” story past a certain point. But paying attention to that ecosystem, I find it very disjointed. I find that there are still events that happen and I only find out when the event is starting because someone tweets about it, and for someone who follows 40 different official AWS RSS feeds, to be surprised by something like that tells me, okay, there’s not a whole lot of cohesive content strategy here, that is at least making it easy for folks to consume the things that they want, especially in my case where even the very niche nature of what I do, my interest is everything.
I have a whole bunch of different filters that look for various keywords and the rest, and of course, I have helpful folks who email me things constantly—please keep it up; I’m a big fan—worst case, I’d rather read something twice than nothing. So, it’s helpful to see all of that and understand the different marketing channels, different personas, and the way that content approaches, but I still find things that slip through the cracks every time. The thing that I’ve learned—and it felt really weird when I started doing it—was, I will tell the same stories repeatedly in different forums, or even the same forum. I could basically read you a Twitter thread from a year ago, word-for-word, and it would blow up
bigger than it did the first time. Just because no one reads everything.
Corey: And I’ve already told my origin story. You’re always new to someone. I’ve given talks internally at Amazon at various times, and I’m sort of loud and obnoxious, but the first question I love to ask is, “Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of me until today.” And invariably, over three-quarters of the room raises their hand every single time, which okay, great. I think that’s awesome, but it teaches me that I cannot ever expect someone to have, quote-unquote, “Done the reading.”
Stephanie: I think the same can be said about the content that I create for the company. You can’t assume that people, A) have seen my tweets already or, B) understand this product, even if I’ve talked about it five times in the past. But yes, I agree. I think that you definitely need to have a content strategy and how you format your content to be more problem-solution-oriented.
And so the way that I create content is that I let them fall into three general buckets. One being that it could be termed definition: talking about the basics, laying the foundation of a product, defining terms around a topic. Like, what is App Engine, or Kubeflow 101, or talking about Pub/Sub 101.
The second being best practices. So, outlining and explaining the best practices around a topic, how do you design your infrastructure for scale and reliability.
And the third being diagnosis: investigating; exploring potential issues, as you said; using scripts; Stackdriver logging, et cetera. And so I just kind of start from there as a starting point. And then I generally follow a very, very effective model. I’m sure you’re aware of it, but it’s called the five point argument model, where you are essentially telling a story to create a compelling narrative for your audience, regardless of the topic or what bucket that topic falls into.
So, you’re introducing the problem, you’re sort of rising into a point where the climax is the solution. And that’s all to build trust with your audience. And as it falls back down, you’re giving the results in the conclusion, and that’s to inspire action from your audience. So, regardless of what you end up talking about this problem-solution model—I’ve found at least—has been highly effective. And then in terms of sharing it out, over and over again, over the span of two months, that’s how you get the views that you want.
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Corey: See, that’s a key difference right there. I don’t do anything regular in terms of video as part of my content. And I do it from time to time, but you know, getting gussied up and whatnot is easier than just talking into a microphone. As I record this, it’s Friday, I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and I look exactly like the middle-aged dad that I am. And for me at least, a big breakthrough moment was realizing that my audience and I are not always the same.
Weird confession for someone in my position: I don’t generally listen to podcasts. And the reason behind that is I read very quickly, and even if I speed up a podcast, I’m not going to be able to consume the information nearly as quickly as I could by reading it. That, amongst other reasons, is one of the reasons that every episode of this show has a full transcript attached to it. But I’m not my audience. Other people prefer to learn by listening and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
My other podcast, the AWS Morning Brief, is the spoken word version of the stuff that I put out in my newsletter every week. And that is—it’s just a different area for people to consume the content because that’s what works for them. I’m not one to judge. The hard part for me was getting over that hump of assuming the audience was like me.
Stephanie: Yeah. And I think the other key part of is just mainly consistency. It’s putting out the content consistently in different formats because everybody—like you said—has a different learning style. I myself do. I enjoy visual styles.
I also enjoy listening to podcasts at 2x speed. [laugh]. So, that’s my style. But yeah, consistency is one of the key things in building content, and building an audience, and making sure that you are valuable to your audience. I mean, social media, at the end of the day is about the people that follow you.
It’s not about yourself. It should never be about yourself. It’s about the value that you provide. Especially as somebody who’s in DevRel in this position for a larger company, it’s really about providing value.
Corey: What are the breakthrough moments that I had relatively early in my speaking career—and I think it’s clear just from what you’ve
already said that you’ve had a similar revelation at times—I gave a talk, that was really one of my first talks that went semi-big called, “Terrible Ideas in Git.” It was basically, learn how to use Git via anti-pattern. What it secretly was, was under the hood, I felt it was time I learned Git a bit better than I did, so I pitched it and I got a talk accepted. So well, that’s what we call a forcing function. By the time I give that talk, I’d better be [laugh] able to have built a talk that do this intelligently, and we’re going to hope for the best.
It worked, but the first version of that talk I gave was super deep into the plumbing of Git. And I’m sure that if any of the Git maintainers were in the audience, they would have found it great, but there aren’t that many folks out there. I redid the talk and instead approached it from a position of, “You have no idea what Git is. Maybe you’ve heard of it, but that’s as far as it goes.” And then it gets a little deeper there.
And I found that making the subject more accessible as opposed to deeper into the weeds of it is almost always the right decision from a content perspective. Because at some level, when you are deep enough into the weeds, the only way you’re going to wind up fixing something or having a problem that you run into get resolved, isn’t by listening to a podcast or a conference talk; it’s by talking to the people who built the thing because at that level, those are the only people who can hang at that level of depth. That stops being fodder for conference talks unless you turn it into an after-action report of here’s this really weird thing I learned.
Stephanie: Yeah. And you know, to be honest, the one of the most successful pieces of content I’ve created was about data center security. I visited a data center and I essentially unveiled what our security protocols were. And that wasn’t a deeply technical video, but it was fun and engaging and easily understood by the masses. And that’s what actually ended up resulting in the highest number of views.
On top of that, I’m now creating a video about our subsea fiber optic cables. Finding that having to interview experts from a number of different teams across engineering and our strategic negotiators, it was like a monolith of information that I had to take in. And trying to format that into a five-minute story, I realized that bringing it up a layer of abstraction to help folks understand this at a wider level was actually beneficial. And I think it’ll turn into a great piece of content. I’m still working on it now. So, [laugh] we’ll see how it turns out.
Corey: I’m a big fan of watching people learn and helping them get started. The thing that I think gets lost a lot is it’s easy to assume that if I look back in time at myself when I was first starting my professional career two decades ago, that I was exactly like I am now, only slightly more athletic and can walk up a staircase without getting winded. That’s never true. It never has been true. I’ve learned a lot about not just technology but people as I go, and looking at folks are entering the workforce today through the same lens of, “Well, that’s not how I would handle that situation.” Yeah, no kidding. I have two decades of battering my head against the sharp edges and leaving dents in things to inform that opinion.
No, when I was that age, I would have handled it way worse than whatever it is I’m critiquing at the time. But it’s important to me that we wind up building those pathways and building those bridges so that people coming into the space, first, have a clear path to get here, and secondly, have a better time than I ever did. Where does the next generation of talent come from has been a recurring question and a recurring theme on the show.
Stephanie: Yeah. And that’s exactly why I’ve been such a fierce supporter of women in tech, and also, again, encouraging a broader community to become a part of technology. Because, as I said, I think we’re in the midst of a new era of technology, of people from all these different backgrounds in places that historically have had more remote access to technology, now having the ability to become developers at an early age. So, with my content, that’s what I’m hoping to drive to make this information more easily accessible. Even if you don’t want to become a Google Cloud engineer, that’s totally fine, but if I can help you understand some of the foundational concepts of cloud, then I’ve done my job well.
And then, even with women who are already trying to break into technology or wanting to become a part of it, then I want to be a mentor for them, with my experience not having a technical background and saying yes to opportunities that challenged me and continuing to build my own luck between hard work and new opportunities.
Corey: I can’t wait to see how this winds up manifesting as we see understandings of what we’re offering to customers in different areas in different ways—both in terms of content and terms of technology—how that starts to evolve and shift. I feel like we’re at a bit of an inflection point now, where today if I graduate from school and I want to start a business, I have to either find a technical co-founder or I have to go to a boot camp and learn how to code in order to build something. I think that if we can remove that from the equation and move up the stack, sure, you’re not going to be able to build the next Google or Pinterest or whatnot from effectively Visual Basic for Interfaces, but you can build an MVP and you can then continue to iterate forward and turn it into something larger down the road. The other part of it, too, is that moving up the stack into more polished solutions rather than here’s a bunch of building blocks for platforms, “So, if you want a service to tell you whether there’s a picture of a hot dog or not, here’s a service that does exactly that.” As opposed to, “Oh, here are the 15 different services, you can bolt together and pay for each one of them and tie it together to something that might possibly work, and if it breaks, you have no
idea where to start looking, but here you go.” A packaged solution that solves business problems.
Things move up the stack; they do constantly. The fact is that I started my career working in data centers and now I don’t go to them at all because—spoiler—Google, and Amazon, and people who are not IBM Cloud can absolutely run those things better than I can. And there’s no differentiated value for me in solving those global problems locally. I’d rather let the experts handle stuff like that while I focus on interesting problems that actually affect my business outcome. There’s a reason that instead of running all the nonsense for lastweekinaws.com
myself because I’ve worked in large-scale WordPress hosting companies, instead I pay WP Engine to handle it for me, and they, in turn, hosted on top of Google Cloud, but it doesn’t matter to me because it’s all just a managed service that I pay for. Because me running the website itself adds no value, compared to the shitpost I put on the website, which is where the value derives from. For certain odd values of value.
Stephanie: [laugh]. Well, two things there is that I think we actually had a demo created on Google Cloud that did detect hot dogs or not hot dogs using our Vision API, years in the past. So, thanks for reminding me of that one.
Corey: Of course.
Stephanie: But yeah, I mean, I completely agree with that. I mean, this is constantly a topic in conversation with my team members, and with clients. It’s about higher level of abstractions. I just did a video series with our fellow, Eric Brewer, who helped build cloud infrastructure here at Google over the past ten decades. And I asked him what he thought the future of cloud would be in the next ten years, and he mentioned, “It’s going to be these higher levels of abstraction, building platforms on top of platforms like Kubernetes, and having more services like Cloud run serverless technologies, et cetera.”
But at the same time, I think the value of cloud will continue to be providing optionality for developers to have more opinionated services, services like GKE Autopilot, et cetera, that essentially take away the management of infrastructure or nodes that people don’t really want to deal with at the end of the day because it’s not going to be a competitive differentiator for developers. They want to focus on building software and focusing on keeping their services up and running. And so yeah, I think the future is going to be that, giving developers flexibility and freedom, and still delivering the best-of-breed technology. If it’s covering something like security, that’s something that should be baked in as much as possible.
Corey: You’re absolutely right, first off. I’m also looking beyond it where I want to be able to build a website that is effectively Twitter, only for pets—because that is just a harebrained enough idea to probably raise a $20 million seed round these days—and I just want to be able to have the barks—those are like tweets, only surprisingly less offensive and racist—and have them just be stored somewhere, ideally presumably under the hood somewhere, it’s going to be on computers, but whether it’s in containers, or whether it’s serverless, or however is working is the sort of thing that, “Wow, that seems like an awful lot of nonsense that is not central nor core to my business succeeding or failing.” I would say failing, obviously, except you can lose money at scale with the magic of things like SoftBank. Here we are.
And as that continues to grow and scale, sure, at some point I’m going to have bespoke enough needs and a large enough scale where I do have to think about those things, but building the MVP just so I can swindle some VCs is not the sort of thing where I should have to go to that depth. There really should be a golden-path guardrail-style thing that I can effectively drag and drop my way into the next big scam. And that is, I think, the missing piece. And I think that we’re not quite ready technologically to get there yet, but I can’t shake the feeling and the hope that’s where technology is going.
Stephanie: Yeah. I think it’s where technology is heading, but I think part of the equation is the adoption by our industry, right? Industry adoption of cloud services and whether they’re ready to adopt services that are that drag-and-drop, as you say. One thing that I’ve also been talking a lot about is this idea of service-oriented networking where if you have a service or API-driven environment and you simply want to bring it to cloud—almost a plug-and-play there—you don’t really want to deal with a lot of the networking infrastructure, and it’d be great to do something like PrivateLink on AWS, or Private Service Connect on Google Cloud.
While those conversations are happening with customers, I’m finding that it’s like trying to cross the Grand Canyon. Many enterprise customers are like, “That sounds great, but we have a really complex network topology that we’ve been sitting on for the past 25 years. Do you really expect that we’re going to transition over to something like that?” So, I think it’s about providing stepping stones for our customers until they can be ready to adopt a new model.
Corey: Yeah. And of course, the part that never gets said out loud but is nonetheless true and at least as big of a deal, “And we have a whole team of people who’ve built their entire identity around that network because that is what they work on, and they have been ignoring cloud forever, and if we just uplift everything into a cloud where you folks handle that, sure, it’s better for the business outcome, but where does that leave them?” So, they’ve been here for 25 years, and they will spend every scrap of political capital they’ve managed to accumulate to torpedo a cloud migration. So, any FUD they can find, any horse-trading they can do, anything they can do to obstruct the success of a cloud initiative, they’re going to do because people are people, and there is no real plan to mitigate that. There’s also the fact that unless there’s a clear business value story about a feature velocity increase or opening up new markets, there’s also not an incentive to do things to save money. That is never going to be the number one priority in almost any case short of financial disaster at a company because everything they’re doing is building out increasing revenue, rather than optimizing what they’re already doing.
So, there’s a whole bunch of political challenges. Honestly, moving the computer stuff from on-premises data centers into a cloud provider is the easiest part of a cloud migration compared to all of the people that are involved.
Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah, we talked about serverless and all the nice benefits of it, but unless you are more a digitally-born, next-gen developer, it may be a higher burden for you to undertake that migration. That’s why we always [laugh] are talking about encouraging people to start with newer surfaces.
Corey: Oh, yeah. And that’s the trick, too, is if you’re trying to learn a new cloud platform these days—first, if you’re trying to pick one, I’d be hard-pressed to suggest anything other than Google Cloud, with the possible exception of DigitalOcean, just because the new user experience is so spectacularly good. That was my first real, I guess, part of paying attention to Google Cloud a few years ago, where I was, “All right, I’m going to kick the tires on this and see how terrible this interface is because it’s a Google product.” And it was breathtakingly good, which I did not expect. And getting out of the way to empower someone who’s new to the platform to do something relatively quickly and straightforwardly is huge. And sure, there’s always room to prove, but that is the right area to focus on. It’s clear that the right energy was spent in the right places.
Stephanie: Yeah. I will say a story that we don’t tell quite as well as we should is the One Google story. And I’m not talking about just between Workspace and Google Cloud, but our identity access management and knowing your Google account, which everybody knows. It’s not like Microsoft, where you’re forced to make an account, or it’s not like AWS where you had a billion accounts and you hate them all.
Corey: Oh, my God, I dread logging into the AWS console every time because it is such a pain in the ass. I go to cloud.google.com sometimes to check something, it’s like, “Oh, right. I have to dig out my credentials.” And, “Where’s my YubiKey?” And get it. Like, “Oh. I’m already log—oh. Oh, right. That’s right. Google knows how identity works, and they don’t actively hate their customers. Okay.” And it’s always a breath of fresh air. Though I will say that by far and away, the worst login experience I’ve seen yet is, of course, Azure.
Stephanie: [laugh]. That’s exactly right. It’s Google account. It’s yours. It’s personal. It’s like an Apple iCloud account. It’s one click, you’re in, and you have access to all the applications. You know, so it’s the same underlying identity structure with Workspace and Gmail, and it’s the same org structure, too, across Workspace and Google Cloud. So, it’s not just this disingenuous financial bundle between GCP and Workspace; it’s really strategic. And it’s kind of like the idea of low code or no code. And it looks like that’s what the future of cloud will be. It’s not just by VMs from us.
Corey: Yeah. And there are customers who want to buy VMs and that’s great. Speed up what they’re doing; don’t get in the way of people giving you their money, but if you’re starting something net-new, there’s probably better ways to do it. So, I want to thank you for taking as much time as you have to wind up going through how you think about, well, the art of storytelling in the world of engineering. If people want to learn more about who you are, what you’re up to, and how you approach things, where can they find you?
Stephanie: Yeah, so you can head to stephrwong.com
where you can see my work and also get in touch with me if you want to collaborate on any content. I’m always, always, always open to that. And my Twitter is @stephr_wong
Corey: And we will, of course, put links to that in the [show notes 00:40:03]. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Stephanie: Thanks so much.
Corey: Stephanie Wong, head of developer engagement at Google 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 your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry comment telling me that the only way to get into tech these days is, in fact, to graduate with a degree from Stanford, and I can take it from you because you work in their admissions office.
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