Matty Stratton, Director of Developer Relations at Aiven, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud for a friendly debate on whether or not company employees can still be considered community members. Corey says no, but opens up his position to the slings and arrows of Matty in an entertaining change of pace. Matty explains why he feels company employees can still be considered community members, and also explores how that should be done in a way that is transparent and helpful to everyone in the community. Matty and Corey also explore the benefits and drawbacks of talented community members becoming employees.
Episode Show Notes & Transcript
Matty Stratton is the Director of Developer Relations at Aiven, a well-known member of the DevOps community, founder and co-host of the popular Arrested DevOps podcast, and a global organizer of the DevOpsDays set of conferences.
Matty has over 20 years of experience in IT operations and is a sought-after speaker internationally, presenting at Agile, DevOps, and cloud engineering focused events worldwide. Demonstrating his keen insight into the changing landscape of technology, he recently changed his license plate from DEVOPS to KUBECTL.
He lives in Chicago and has three awesome kids, whom he loves just a little bit more than he loves Diet Coke.
- Aiven: https://aiven.io/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattstratton
- Mastodon: hackyderm.io/@mattstratton
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattstratton/
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.
Corey: This episode is brought to us in part by our friends at Min.io
Corey: This episode is brought to us in part by our friends at Min.io
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I am joined today by returning guest, my friend and yours, Matty Stratton, Director of Developer Relations at Aiven. Matty, it’s been a hot second. How are you?
Matty: It has been a while, but been pretty good. We have to come back to something that just occurred to me when we think about the different things we’ve talked about. There was a point of contention about prior art of the Corey Quinn face and photos. I don’t know if you saw that discourse; we may have to have a conversation. There may be some absent—
Corey: I did not see—
Corey: —discourse, but I also would accept freely that I am not the first person to ever come up with the idea of opening my mouth and looking ridiculous for a photograph either.
Matty: That’s fair, but the thing that I think was funny—and if you don’t mind, I’ll just go ahead and throw this out here—is that I didn’t put this two and two together. So, I posted a picture on Twitter a week or so ago that was primarily to show off the fact—it was a picture of me in 1993, and the point was that my jeans were French-rolled and were pegged. But in the photo, I am doing kind of the Corey Quinn face and so people said, “Oh, is this prior art?” And I said—you know what? I actually just remembered and I’ve never thought about this before, but one of my friends in high school, for his senior year ID he took a picture—his picture looks like, you know, that kind of, you know, three-quarters turn with the mouth opening going, “Ah,” you know?
And he loved that picture—number one, he loved that picture so much that this guy carried his senior year high school ID in his wallet until we were like 25 because it was his favorite picture of himself. But every photo—and I saw this from looking through my yearbook of my friend Jay when we are seniors, he’s doing the Corey Quinn face. And he is anecdotally part of the DevOps community, now a little bit too, and I haven’t pointed this out to him. But people were saying that, you know, mine was prior art on yours, I said, “Actually, I was emulating yet someone else.”
Corey: I will tell you the actual story of how it started. It was at re:Invent, I want to say 2018 or so, and what happened was is someone, they were a big fan of the newsletter—sort of the start of re:Invent—they said, “Hey, can I get a selfie with you?” And I figured, sure, why not. And the problem I had is I’ve always looked bad in photographs. And okay, great, so if I’m going to have a photo taken of me, that’s going to be ridiculous, why not as a lark, go ahead and do this for fun during the course of re:Invent this year?
So, whenever I did that I just slapped—if someone asked for a selfie—I’d slap the big happy open mouth smile on my face. And people thought, “Oh, my God, this is amazing.” And I don’t know that it was necessarily worth that level of enthusiasm, but okay. I’ll take it. I’m not here to tell people they’re wrong when they enjoy a joke that I’m putting out there.
And it just sort of stuck. And I think the peak of it that I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to beat is I actually managed to pull that expression on my driver’s license.
Corey: They don’t have a sense of humor that they are aware of at the DMV.
Matty: No, they really don’t. And having been to the San Francisco DMV and knowing how long it takes to get in there, like, that was a bit of a risk on your part because if they decided to change their mind, you wouldn’t be able to come back for another four months [laugh].
Corey: It amused me to do it, so why not? What else was I going to do? I brought my iPad with me, it has cellular on it, so I just can work remotely from there. It was either that or working in my home office again, and frankly, at the height of the pandemic, I could use the break.
Matty: Yes [laugh]. That’s saying something when the break you can use is going to the DMV.
Matty: That’s a little bit where we were, where we at. I think just real quick thinking about that because there’s a lot to be said with that kind of idea of making a—whether it’s silly or not, but having a common, especially if you do a lot of photos, do a lot of things, you don’t have to think about, like, how do I look? I mean, you have to think about—you know, you can just say I just know what I do. Because if you think about it, it’s about cultivating your smile, cultivating your look for your photos, and just sort of having a way so you don’t—you just know what to do every time. I guess that’s a, you know, maybe a model tip or something. I don’t know. But you might be onto something.
Corey: I joke that my entire family motto is never be the most uncomfortable person in the room. And there’s something to be said for it where if you’re going to present a certain way, make it your own. Find a way to at least stand out. If nothing else, it’s a bit different. Most people don’t do that.
Remember, we’ve all got made fun of, generally women—for some reason—back about 15 years ago or so for duck face, where in all the pictures you’re making duck face. And well, there are reasons why that is a flattering way to present your face. But if there’s one thing we love as a society, it’s telling women they’re doing something wrong.
Corey: So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of ways you’re supposed to take selfies or whatnot. Honestly, I’m in no way shape or form pretty enough or young enough to care about any of them. At this point, it’s what I do when someone busts out a camera and that’s the end of it. Now, am I the only person to do this? Absolutely not. Do I take ownership of it? No. Someone else wants to do it, they need give no credit. The idea probably didn’t come from me.
Matty: And to be fair, if I’m little bit taking the mickey there or whatever about prior art, it was more than I thought it was funny because I had not even—it was this thing where it was like, this is a good friend of mine, probably some of that I’ve been friends with longer than anyone in my whole life, and it was a core part [laugh] of his personality when we were 18 and 19, and it just d—I just never direct—like, made that connection. And then it happened to me and went “Oh, my God. Jason and Corey did the same thing.” [laugh]. It was—
Corey: No, it feels like parallel evolution.
Matty: Yeah, yeah. It was more of me never having connected those dots. And again, you’re making that face for your DMV photo amused you, me talking about this for the last three minutes on a podcast amused me. So.
Corey: And let’s also be realistic here. How many ways are there to hold your face during a selfie that is distinguishable and worthy of comment? Usually, it’s like okay, well, he has this weird sardonic half-smile with an eyebrow ar—no. His mouth was wide open. We’re gonna go with that.
Matty: You know, there’s a little—I want to kind of—because I think there’s actually quite a bit to the lesson from any of this because I think about—follow me here; maybe I’ll get to the right place—like me and karaoke. No one would ever accuse me of being a talented singer, right? I’m not going to sing well in a way where people are going to be moved by my talent. So instead, I have to go a different direction. I have to go funny.
But what it boils down to is I can only do—I do karaoke well when it’s a song where I can feel like I’m doing an impression of the singer. So, for example, the B-52s. I do a very good impression of Fred Schneider. So, I can sing a B-52 song all day long. I actually could do better with Pearl Jam than I should be able to with my terrible voice because I’m doing an Eddie Vedder impression.
So, what I’m getting at is you’re sort of taking this thing where you’re saying, okay, to your point, you said, “Hey,”—and your words, not mine—[where 00:07:09] somebody say, “The picture is not going to be of me looking like blue steel runway model, so I might as well look goofy.” You know? And take it that way and be funny with it. And also, every time, it’s the same way, so I think it’s a matter of kind of owning the conversation, you know, and saying, how do you accentuate the thing that you can do. I don’t know. There’s something about DevOps, somehow in there.
Corey: So, I am in that uncomfortable place right now between having finalized a blog post slash podcast that’s going out in two days from this recording. So, it will go out before you and I have this discussion publicly, but it’s also too late for me to change any of it,m so I figured I will open myself up to the slings and arrows of you, more or less. And you haven’t read this thing yet, which is even better, so you’re now going to be angry about an imperfect representation of what I said in writing. But the short version is this: if you work for a company as their employee, then you are no longer a part of that company’s community, as it were. And yes, that’s nuanced and it’s an overbroad statement and there are a bunch of ways that you could poke holes in it, but I’m curious to get your take on the overall positioning of it.
Matty: So, at face value, I would vehemently disagree with that statement. And by that is, that I have spent years of my life tilting at the opposite windmill, which is just because you work at this company, doesn’t mean you do not participate in the community and should not consider yourself a part of the community, first and foremost. That will, again, like everything else, it depends. It depends on a lot of things and I hope we can kind of explore that a little bit because just as much as I would take umbrage if you will, or whatnot, with the statement that if you work at the company, you stop being part of the community, I would also have an issue with, you’re just automatically part of the community, right? Because these things take effort.
And I feel like I’ve been as a devreloper, or whatever, Corey—how do you say it?
Corey: Yep. No, you’re right on. Devreloper.
Matty: As a—or I would say, as a DevRel, although people on Twitter are angry about using the word DevRel to discuss—like saying, “I’m a DevRel.” “DevRel is a department.” It’s a DevOps engineer thing again, except actually—it’s, like, actually wrong. But anyway, you kind of run into this, like for example—I’m going to not name names here—but, like, to say, you know, Twitter for Pets, the—what do you—by the way, Corey, what are you going to do now for your made-up company when what Twitter is not fun for this anymore? You can’t have Twitter for Pets anymore.
Corey: I know I’m going to have to come up with a new joke. I don’t quite know what to do with myself.
Matty: This is really hard. While we will pretend Twitter for Pets is still around a little bit, even though its API is getting shut down.
Matty: So okay, so we’re over here at Twitter for Pets, Inc. And we’ve got our—
Corey: Twitter for Bees, because you know it’ll at least have an APIary.
Matty: Yeah. Ha. We have our team of devrelopers and community managers and stuff and community engineers that work at Twitter for Pets, and we have all of our software engineers and different people. And a lot of times the assumption—and now we’re going to have Twitter for Pets community something, right? We have our community, we have our area, our place that we interact, whether it’s in person, it’s virtual, whether it’s an event, whether it’s our Discord or Discourse or Slack or whatever [doodlee 00:10:33] thing we’re doing these days, and a lot of times, all those engineers and people whose title does not have the word ‘community’ on it are like, “Oh, good. Well, we have people that do that.”
So, number one, no because now we have people whose priority is it; like, we have more intentionality. So, if I work on the community team, if I’m a dev advocate or something like that, my priority is communicating and advocating to and for that community. But it’s like a little bit of the, you know, the office space, I take the requirements from the [unintelligible 00:11:07] to people, you I give them to the engineers. I’ve got people—so like, you shouldn’t have to have a go-between, right? And there’s actually quite a bit of place.
So, I think, this sort of assumption that you’re not part of it and you have no responsibility towards that community, first of all, you’re missing a lot as a person because that’s just how you end up with people building a thing they don’t understand.
Corey: Oh, I think you have tremendous responsibility to the community, but whether you’re a part of it and having responsibility to it or not aligned in my mind.
Matty: So… maybe let’s take a second and what do you mean by being a part of it?
Corey: Right. Where very often I’ll see a certain, I don’t know, very large cloud provider will have an open-source project. Great, so you go and look at the open-source project and the only people with commit access are people who work at that company. That is an easy-to-make-fun-of example of this. Another is when the people who are in a community and talking about how they perceive things and putting out content about how they’ve interacted with various aspects of it start to work there, you see areas where it starts to call its authenticity into question.
AWS is another great example of this. As someone in the community, I can talk about how I would build something on top of AWS, but then move this thing on to Fastly instead of CloudFront because CloudFront is terrible. If you work there, you’re not going to be able to say the same thing. So, even if you’re not being effusive with praise, there are certain guardrails and constraints that keep you from saying what you might otherwise, just based upon the sheer self-interest that comes from the company whose product or service you’re talking about is also signing your paycheck and choosing to continue to do so.
Matty: And I think even less about it because that’s where your paycheck is coming. It’s also just a—there’s a gravitational pull towards those solutions because that’s just what you’re spending your day with, right? You know—
Corey: Yeah. And you also don’t want to start and admit even to yourself, in some cases, that okay, this aspect of what our company does is terrible, so companies—people shouldn’t use it. You want to sort of ignore that, on some level, psychologically because that dissonance becomes harmful.
Matty: Yeah. And I think there’s—so again, this is where things get nuanced and get to levels. Because if you have the right amount of psychological safety in your organization, the organization understands what it’s about to that. Because even people whose job is to be a community person should be able to say, “Hey, this is my actual opinion on this. And it might be contrary to the go-to-market where that comes in.”
But it’s hard, especially when it gets filtered through multiple layers and now you’ve got a CEO who doesn’t understand that nuance who goes, “Wait, why was Corey on some podcast saying that the Twitter for Pets API is not everything it could possibly be?” So, I do think—I will say this—I do think that organizations and leadership are understanding this more than they might have in the past, so we are maybe putting on ourselves this belief that we can’t be as fully honest, but even if it’s not about hiding the warts, even if it’s just a matter of also, you’re just like, hey, chances are—plus also to be quite frank, if I work at the company, I probably have access to way more shit than I would have to pay for or do whatever and I know the right way. But here’s the trick, and I won’t even say it’s a dogfooding thing, but if you are not learning and thinking about things the way that your users do—and I will even say that that’s where—it is the users, which are the community, that community or the people that use your product or are connected to it, they don’t use it; they may be anecdotal—or not anecdotally, maybe tangentially connected. I will give an example. And there was a place I was working where it was very clear, like, we had a way to you know, do open-source contributions back of a type of a provider plug-in, whatever you want to call it and I worked at the company and I could barely figure out how to follow the instructions.
Because it made a lot of sense to someone who built that software all day long and knew the build patterns, knew all that stuff. So, if you were an engineer at this company, “Well, yeah, of course. You just do this.” And anybody who puts the—connects the dots, this has gotten better—and this was understood relatively quickly as, “Oh, this is the problem. Let’s fix it.” So, the thing is, the reason why I bring this up is because it’s not something anybody does intentionally because you don’t know what you don’t know. And—
Corey: Oh, I’m not accusing anyone of being a nefarious actor in any of this. I also wonder if part of this is comes from your background as being heavily involved in the Chef community as a Chef employee and as part of the community around that, which is inherently focused on an open-source product that a company has been built around, whereas my primary interaction with community these days is the AWS community, where it doesn’t matter whether you’re large or small, you are not getting much, if anything, for free from AWS; you’re all their customers and you don’t really have input into how something gets built, beyond begging nicely.
Matty: That’s definitely true. And I think we saw that and there was things, when we look at, like, how community, kind of, evolved or just sort of happened at Chef and why we can’t recreate it the same way is there was a certain inflection point of the industry and the burgeoning DevOps movement, and there wasn’t—you know, so a lot of that was there. But one of the big problems, too, is, as Corey said, everybody—I shouldn’t say every, but I’ve from the A—all the way up to AWS to your smaller startups will have this problem of where you end up hiring in—whether you want to or not—all of your champions and advocates and your really strong community members, and then that ends up happening. So, number one, that’s going to happen. So frankly, if you don’t push towards this idea, you’re actually going to have people not want to come work because you should be able to be still the member that you were before.
And the other thing is that at certain size, like, at the size of a hyperscaler, or, you know, a Microsoft—well, anybody—well Microsofts not a hyperscaler, but you know what I’m saying. Like, very, very large organization, your community folks are not necessarily the ones doing that hiring away. And as much as they might—you know, and again, I may be the running the community champion program at Microsoft and see that you want—you know, but that Joe Schmo is getting hired over into engineering. Like, I’m not going to hire Joe because it hurts me, but I can’t say you can’t, you know? It’s so this is a problem at the large size.
And at the smaller size, when you’re growing that community, it happens, too, because it’s really exciting. When there’s a place that you’re part of that community, especially when there’s a strong feel, like going to work for the mothership, so to speak is, like, awesome. So again, to give an example, I was a member of the Chef community, I was a user, a community person well, before, you know, I went and, you know, had a paycheck coming out of that Seattle office. And it was, like, the coolest thing in the world to get a job offer from Ch—like, I was like, “Oh, my God. I get to actually go work there now.” Right?
And when I was at Pulumi, there quite a few people I could think of who I knew through the community who then get jobs at Pulumi and we’re so excited, and I imagine still excited, you know? I mean, that was awesome to do. So, it’s hard because when you get really excited about a technology, then being able to say, “Wait, I can work on this all the time?” That sounds awesome, right? So like, you’re going to have that happen.
So, I think what you have to do is rather than prevent it from happening because number one, like, you don’t want to actually prevent that from happening because those people will actually be really great additions to your organization in lots of ways. Also, you’re not going to stop it from happening, right? I mean, it’s also just a silly way to do it. All you’re going to do is piss people off, and say, like, “Hey, you’re not allowed to work here because we need you in the community.” Then they’re going to be like, “Great. Well, guess what I’m not a part of anymore now, jerk?” Right? You know [laugh] I mean so—
Matty: Your [unintelligible 00:18:50] stops me. So, that doesn’t work. But I think to your point, you talked about, like, okay, if you have a, ostensibly this a community project, but all the maintainers are from one—are from your company, you know? Or so I’m going to point to an example of, we had—you know, this was at Pulumi, we had a Champions program called Puluminaries, and then there’s something similar to like Vox Populi, but it was kind of the community that was not run by Pulumi Inc. In that case.
Now, we helped fund it and helped get it started, but there was there were rules about the, you know, the membership of the leadership, steering committee or board or whatever it was called, there was a hard limit on the number of people that could be Pulumi employees who were on that board. And it actually, as I recall when I was leaving—I imagine this is not—[unintelligible 00:19:41] does sometimes have to adjust a couple of things because maybe those board members become employees and now you have to say, you can’t do that anymore or we have to take someone down. But the goal was to actually, you know, basically have—you know, Pulumi Corp wanted to have a voice on that board because if for no other reason, they were funding it, but it was just one voice. It wasn’t even a majority voice. And that’s a hard sell in a lot of places too because you lose control over that.
There’s things I know with, uh—when I think about, like, running meetup communities, like, we might be—well I mean, this is not a big secret, I mean because it’s been announced, but we’re—you know, Aiven is helping bootstrap a bunch of data infrastructure meetups around the world. But they’re not Aiven meetups. Now, we’re starting them because they have to start, but pretty much our approach is, as soon as this is running and there’s people, whether they work here, work with us or not, they can take it, right? Like, if that’s go—you know? And being able to do that can be really hard because you have to relinquish the control of your community.
And I think you don’t have to relinquish a hundred percent of that control because you’re helping facilitate it because if it doesn’t already have its own thing—to make sure that things like code of conduct and funding of it, and there’s things that come along with the okay, we as an organization, as a company that has dollars and euros is going to do stuff for this, but it’s not ours. And that’s the thing to remember is that your community does not belong to you, the company. You are there to facilitate it, you are there to empower it, you’re there to force-multiply it, to help protect it. And yeah, you will probably slurp a whole bunch of value out of it, so this is not magnanimous, but if you want it to actually be a place it’s going to work, it kind of has to be what it wants to be. But by the same token, you can’t just sort of sit there and be like, “I’m going to wait for this community grow up around me without anything”—you know.
So, that’s why you do have to start one if there is quote-unquote—maybe if there’s no shape to one. But yeah, I think that’s… it is different when it’s something that feels a little—I don’t even want to say that it’s about being open-source. It’s a little bit about it less of it being a SaaS or a service, or if it’s something that you—I don’t know.
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Corey: Yeah, I think you’re onto something here. I think another aspect where I found it be annoying is when companies view their community as, let’s hire them all. And I don’t think it ever starts that way. I think that it starts as, well these are people who are super-passionate about this, and they have great ideas and they were great to work with. Could we hire them?
And the answer is, “Oh, wait. You can give me money for this thing I’ve been doing basically for free? Yeah, sure, why not?” And that’s great in the individual cases. The problem is, at some point, you start to see scenarios where it feels like, if not everyone, then a significant vocal majority of the community starts to work there.
Matty: I think less often than you might think is it done strategically or on purpose. There have been exceptions to that. There’s one really clear one where it feels like a certain company a few years ago, hired up all the usual suspects of the DevOps community. All of a sudden, you’re like, oh, a dozen people all went to go work at this place all at once. And the fun thing is, I remember feeling a little bit—got my nose a little out of joint because I was not the hiring mana—like, I knew the people.
I was like, “Well, why didn’t you ask me?” And they said, “Actually, you are more important to us not working here.” Now, that might have just been a way to sell my dude-in-tech ego or not, but whether or not that was actually true for me or not, that is a thing where you say you know, your folks—but I do think that particular example of, like, okay, I’m this, that company, and I’m going to go hire up all the usual suspects, I think that’s less. I think a lot of times when you see communities hire up those people, it’s not done on purpose and in fact, it’s probably not something they actually wanted to do in mass that way. But it happens because people who are passionate about your product, it’s like I said before, it actually seems pretty cool to go work on it as your main thing.
But I can think of places I’ve been where we had, you know—again, same thing, we had a Pulumi—we had someone who was probably our strongest, loudest, most vocal community member, and you know, I really wanted to get this person to come join us and that was sort of one of the conversations. Nobody ever said, “We won’t offer this person a job if they’re great.” Like, that’s the thing. I think that’s actually kind of would be shitty to be like, “You’re a very qualified individual, but you’re more important to me out in the community so I’m not going to make your job offer.” But it was like, Ooh, that’s the, you know—it’d be super cool to have this person but also, not that that should be part of our calculus of decision, but then you just say, what do you do to mitigate that?
Because what I’m concerned about is people hearing this the wrong way and saying, “There’s this very qualified individual who wants to come work on my team at my company, but they’re also really important to our community and it will hurt our community if they come work here, so sorry, person, we’re not going to give you an opportunity to have an awesome job.” Like, that’s also thinking about the people involved, too. But I know having talked to folks that lots of these different large organizations that have this problem, generally, those community folks, especially at those places, they don’t want this [laugh] happening. They get frustrated by it. So, I mean, I’ll tell you, it’s you know, the—AWS is one of them, right?
They’re very excited about a lot of the programs and cool people coming from community builders and stuff and Heroes, you know. On one hand, it’s incredibly awesome to have a Hero come work at AWS, but it hurts, right, because now they’re not external anymore.
Corey: And you stop being a Hero in that case, as well.
Matty: Yeah. You do, yeah.
Corey: Of course, they also lose the status if they go to one of their major competitors. So like, let me get this straight. You can’t be a Hero if you work for AWS or one of its competitors. And okay, how are there any Heroes left at all at some point? And the answer is, they bound it via size and a relatively small list of companies. But okay.
Matty: So, thinking back to your point about saying, okay, so if you work at the company, you lose some authenticity, some impartiality, some, you know… I think, rather than just saying, “Well, you’re not part”—because that also, honestly, my concern is that your blog post is now going to be ammunition for all the people who don’t want to act as members of the community for the company they work for now. They’re going to say, well, Corey told me I don’t have to. So, like I said, I’ve been spending the last few years tilting at the opposite windmill, which is getting people that are not on the community team to take part in community summits and discourse and things like that, like, you know, for that’s—so I think the thing is, rather than saying, “Well, you can’t,” or, “You aren’t,” it’s like, “Well, what do you do to mitigate those things?”
Corey: Yeah, it’s a weird thing because taking AWS as the example that I’ve been beating up on a lot, the vast majority of their employees don’t know the community exists in any meaningful sense. Which, no fault to them. The company has so many different things, no one keeps up with at all. But it’s kind of nuts to realize that there are huge communities of people out there using a thing you have built and you do not know that those users exist and talk to each other in a particular watering hole. And you of course, as a result, have no presence there. I think that’s the wrong direction, too. But—
Corey: Observing the community and being part of the community, I think there’s a difference. Are you a biologist or are you a gorilla?
Matty: Okay, but [sigh] I guess that’s sort of the difference, too which—and it’s hard, it’s very hard to not just observe. Because I think that actually even taking the mentality of, “I am here to be Jane Goodall, Dr. Jane Goodall, and observe you while I live amongst you, but I’m not going to actually”—although maybe I’m probably doing disservice—I’m remembering my Goodall is… she was actually more involved. May be a bad example.
Corey: Yeah. So, that analogy does fall apart a little bit.
Matty: It does fall apart a little bit—
Matty: But it’s you kind of am I sitting there taking field notes or am I actually engaging with you? Because there is a difference. Even if your main reason for being there is just purely to—I mean, this is not the Prime Directive. It’s not Star Trek, right? You’re not going to like, hold—you don’t need to hold—I mean, do you have to hold yourself aloof and say, “I don’t participate in this conversation; I’m just here to take notes?”
I think that’s very non-genuine at that point. That’s over-rotating the other way. But I think it’s a matter of in those spaces—I think there’s two things. I think you have to have a way to be identified as you are an employee because that’s just disclosure.
Corey: Oh, I’m not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination, people work somewhere but not admit that they work somewhere when talking about the company. That’s called fraud.
Matty: Right. No, no, and I don’t think it’s even—but I’m saying beyond just, if it’s not, if you’re a cop, you have to tell me, right?
Matty: It’s like, it’s not—if asked, I will tell you I work at AWS. It’s like in that place, it should say, “I am an AWS em—” like, I should be badged that way, just so it’s clear. I think that’s actually helpful in two ways. It’s also helpful because it says like, okay, maybe you have a connection you can get for me somehow. Like, you might actually have some different insight or a way to chase something that, you know, it’s not necessarily just about disclosure; it’s also helpful to know.
But I think within those spaces, that disclosure—or not disclosure, but being an employee does not offer you any more authority. And part of that is just having to be very clear about how you’re constructing that community, right? And that’s sort of the way that I think about it is, like, when we did the Pulumi Community Summit about a year ago, right? It was an online, you know, thing we did, and the timing was such that we didn’t have a whole lot of Pulumi engineers were able to join, but when we—and it’s hard to say we’re going to sit in an open space together and everybody is the same here because people also—here’s the difference. You say you want this authority? People will want that authority from the people that work at the company and they will always go to them and say, like, “Well, you should have this answer. Can you tell me about this? Can you do this?”
So, it’s actually hard on both cases to have that two-way conversation unless you set the rules of that space such as, “Okay, I work at Aiven, but when I’m in this space, short of code of conduct or whatever, if I have to be doing that thing, I have no more authority on this than anyone else.” I’m in this space as the same way everyone else’s. You can’t let that be assumed.
Corey: Oh, and big companies do. It’s always someone else’s… there’s someone else’s department. Like, at some level, it feels like when you work in one of those enormous orgs, it’s your remit is six inches wide.
Matty: Well, right. Right. So, I think it’s like your authority exists only so far as it’s helpful to somebody. If I’m in a space as an Aivener, I’m there just as Matty the person. But I will say I work at Aiven, so if you’re like, “God, I wish that I knew who was the person to ask about this replication issue,” and then I can be like, “Aha, I actually have backchannel. Let me help you with that.” But if I can say, “You know what? This is what I think about Kafka and I think why this is whatever,” like, you can—my opinion carries just as much weight as anybody else’s, so to speak. Or—
Corey: Yeah. You know, it’s also weird. Again, community is such a broad and diverse term, I find myself in scenarios where I will observe and talk to people inside AWS about things, but I never want to come across as gloating somehow, that oh, I know, internal people that talk to you about this and you don’t. Like, that’s never how I want to come across. And I also, I never see the full picture; it’s impossible for me to, so I never make commitments on behalf of other people. That’s a good way to get in trouble.
Matty: It is. And I think in the case of, like, someone like you who’s, you know, got the connections you have or whatever, it’s less likely for that to be something that you would advertise for a couple of reasons. Like, nobody should be advertising to gloat, but also, part of my remit as a member of a community team is to actually help people. Like, you’re doing it because you want to or because it serves you in a different way. Like, that is literally my job.
So like, it shouldn’t be, like—like, because same thing, if you offer up your connections, now you are taking on some work to do that. Someone who works at the company, like, yes, you should be taking on that work because this is what we do. We’re already getting paid for it, you know, so to speak, so I think that’s the—
Matty: —maybe a nuance, but—
Corey: Every once in a while, I’ll check my Twitter spam graveyard, [unintelligible 00:32:01] people asking me technical questions months ago about various things regarding AWS and whatnot. And that’s all well and good; the problem I have with it is that I’m not a support vector. I don’t represent for the company or work for them. Now, if I worked there, I’d feel obligated to make sure this gets handed to the right person. And that’s important.
The other part of it, though, is okay, now that that’s been done and handed off, like do I shepherd it through the process? Eh. I don’t want people to get used to asking people in DMs because again, I consider myself to be a nice guy, but if I’m some nefarious jerk, then I could lead them down a very dark path where I suddenly have access to their accounts. And oh, yeah, go ahead and sign up for this thing and I’ll take over their computer or convince them to pay me in iTunes gift cards or something like that. No, no, no. Have those conversations in public or through official channels, just because I don’t, I don’t think you want to wind up in that scenario.
Matty: So, my concern as well, with sort of taking the tack of you are just an observer of the community, not a part of it is, that actually can reinforce some pretty bad behavior from an organization towards how they treat the community. One of the things that bothers me—if we’re going to go on a different rant about devrelopers like myself—is I like to say that, you know, we pride ourselves as DevRels as being very empathetic and all this stuff, but very happy to shit all over people that work in sales or marketing, based on their job title, right? And I’m like, “Wow, that’s great,” right? We’re painting with this broad brush. Whereas in reality, we’re not separate from.
And so, the thing is, when you treat your community as something separate from you, you are treating it as something separate from you. And then it becomes a lot easier also, to not treat them like people and treat them as just a bunch of numbers and treat them as something to have value extracted from rather than it—this is actually a bunch of humans, right? And if I’m part of that, then I’m in the same Dunbar number a little bit, right? I’m in the same monkey sphere as those people because me, I’m—whoever; I’m the CTO or whatever, but I’m part of this community, just like Joe Smith over there in Paducah, you know, who’s just building things for the first time. We’re all humans together, and it helps to not treat it as the sort of amorphous blob of value to be extracted.
So, I think that’s… I think all of the examples you’ve been giving and those are all valid concerns and things to watch out for, the broad brush if you’re not part of the community if you work there, my concern is that that leads towards exacerbating already existing bad behavior. You don’t have to convince most of the people that the community is separate from them. That’s what I’m sort of getting at. I feel like in this work, we’ve been spending so much time to try to get people to realize they should be acting like part of their larger community—and also, Corey, I know you well enough to know that, you know, sensationalism to make a point [laugh] works to get somebody to join—
Corey: I have my moments.
Matty: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s I think… I’ll put it this way. I’m very interested to see the reaction, the response that comes out in, well now, for us a couple of days, for you the listener, a while ago [laugh] when that hits because I think it is a, I don’t want to say it’s controversial, but I think it’s something that has a lot of, um… put it this way, anything that’s simple and black and white is not good for discussion.
Corey: It’s nuanced. And I know that whenever I wrote in 1200 words is not going to be as nuanced of the conversation we just had, either, so I’m sure people will have opinions on it. That’d be fun. It’d be a good excuse for me to listen.
Matty: Exactly [laugh]. And then we’ll have to remember to go back and find—I’ll have to do a little Twitter search for the dates.
Corey: We’ll have to do another discussion on this, if anything interesting comes out of it.
Matty: Actually, that would be funny. That would be—we could do a little recap.
Corey: It would. I want to thank you so much for being so generous with your time. Where can people find you if they want to learn more?
Matty: Well, [sigh] for the moment, [sigh] who knows what will be the case when this comes out, but you can still find me on Twitter at @mattstratton. I’m also at hackie-derm dot io—sorry, hackyderm.io. I keep wanting to say hackie-derm, but hackyderm actually works better anyway and it’s funnier. But [hackyderm.io/@mattstratton](https://hackyderm.io/@mattstratton) is my Mastodon. LinkedIn; I’m. Around there. I need to play more at that. You will—also again, I don’t know when this is coming out, so you won’t tell you—you don’t find me out traveling as much as you might have before, but DevOpsDays Chicago is coming up August 9th and 10th in Chicago, so at the time of listening to this, I’m sure our program will have been posted. But please come and join us. It will be our ninth time of hosting a DevOpsDay Chicago. And I have decided I’m sticking around for ten, so next year will be my last DevOpsDay that I’m running. So, this is the penultimate. And we always know that the penultimate is the best.
Corey: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time. It’s appreciated. Matty Stratton, Director of Developer Relations at Aiven. 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 talking about how I completely missed the whole point of this community and failing to disclose that you are in fact one of the producers of the show.
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