Join Corey and Matt as they talk about Matt’s decision to brand himself as Matt then Matty and now Matt again, how COVID-19 has changed DevRel and conferences in general, what it was like to run DevOpsDays Chicago online this year, why folks can’t just decide to move in-person events to the virtual world and expect great results, why a webinar with a Slack channel isn’t a virtual event, how virtual events are harder for sponsors, why Corey is happy he hasn’t gone to Las Vegas this year, how DevRel done right is a super effective sales strategy, how podcasts are the new medium for conversations with people who otherwise wouldn’t speak to you, the pros and cons of live talks and pre-recorded talks at virtual events, and more.
Matt Stratton is a Transformation Specialist at Red Hat and a long-time member of the global DevOps community. Back in the day, his license plate actually said “DevOps”. Matt has over 20 years of experience in IT operations, ranging from large financial institutions such as JPMorganChase to internet firms including Apartments.com. He is a sought-after speaker internationally, presenting at Agile, DevOps, and ITSM focused events, including DevOps Enterprise Summit, DevOpsDays, Interop, PINK, and others worldwide. Matt is the founder and co-host of the popular Arrested DevOps podcast, as well as the global chair of the DevOpsDays set of conferences.
He lives in Chicago and has three awesome kids, whom he loves just a little bit more than he loves Doctor Who. He is currently on a mission to discover the best phở in the world. You can find him on Twitter at @mattstratton.
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Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by a returning guest, Matt Stratton, who's a transformation specialist at Red Hat. Matt, welcome back to the show.
Matt: Hey, it's really good to be back here. And if getting on a podcast is how you and I talk to each other these days, then I'm all for it.
Corey: Sounds good to me. So, before we dive into this, are you going by Matt? Are you going by Matty? What do people call you these days?
Matt: So, it's kind of funny. Actually, maybe it's not. Audience, you judge if this is funny or not. My friends call me Matty and I decided I was going to for lack of a better word rebrand myself that way, publicly. I was going to start referring to myself as Matty.
So, that's how I had all my profiles, that's how I would write abstracts, and everywhere you find me on the internet, it was as Matty. Well, after about a year of that, I came to a couple conclusions. So, one is after 40 some years of having the name Matt, I can't refer to myself in the third person as Matty; it just doesn't work. Secondly, my family absolutely refuses to call me Matty, potentially because my niece's name is Madison. So, she's Maddie, but also because of probably the same 40 plus years of one thing. But what I also discovered is I really like it when my friends call me Matty. So, my position now is publicly and in writing, I refer to myself as Matt, but Corey, you're my friend; I like it when you call me Matty.
Corey: And Matty, it shall be. What you're saying resonates quite a bit with me, just because I went through a period where I went by first my middle name, and then the shortened version of my middle name, and so at my wedding, I wound up with people who knew me at various points as Corey, Justin or Jay. And it was always fun having to listen for all of those at different times. Then at the end of it, I changed my last name, just because it sounds like I'm trying to flee a dark and twisted past, which, eh, fair enough. But names are important. What people want to be called matters. I'm glad to hear it's not the equivalent of dead-naming if I call you Matty or something—
Matt: It absolutely is not.
Corey: —because you asked me to call you Matty a while back. I went through it, then you're back in public is Matt, and it's one of those, like your two name changes away from, “Oh, that guy.”
Matt: Well, and it also—so can really confuse things where if I know you from my swing dancing days, you call me Mugsy. So, every now and again, I have friends who will always refer to me as Mugsy and then I have to explain that one to the third party as well. So… there's that.
Corey: So, it's been fun. The last time I had you on the show, it was a combination joint episode of Arrested DevOps and Screaming in the Cloud. And that was challenging on a few levels because it had to align with both directions the show went in, and you were sitting across the table from me so if I got too insulting, you were going to punch me in the face, and let's not kid ourselves here, the closest I get to fitness is fitness entire burrito in my mouth, so there's not really a great outcome there. Now, we're separated by at least two time zones so, yay, I can be much mouthier.
Matt: For listeners, it'll come as no surprise that sitting across the dining room table did not color how Corey talked to me in any way, shape or form. [laugh].
Corey: Well, what's fun is that—I don't know if we told this story last time; we're definitely telling it this time—you used to come over here for dinner periodically, back when inviting people to dinner wasn't a deadly risk, and you'd mentioned living in Chicago at the same time that my wife was going to law school in Chicago. And you mentioned that you went to this whole law school musical that my wife was in. She goes into the other room and comes back with the DVD of that show that you had made. You did the filming, you did the producing of it, it was, “Oh, wow, great. So, what I'm really hearing here is you could have introduced me to my wife six or seven years before I actually met her.” And I'm a little resentful of the fact that you didn’t. Never mind the fact that I didn't meet you until years after I met my wife, but that's no excuse, Matty.
Matt: I mean, we find our way where we find, but that was really funny sitting there and Bethany was just talking about this law school musical at, you know, where she went, and I was like, “Oh, I produced the video of that, one year.” And then I started going back through, like, blog archives to find the year when I did it, and that's when she went back and said, “Oh, and here it is, with your name on it.”
Corey: And you had a mutual friend of hers, that was great.
Corey: And it was like, “Oh, yeah. Have you ever met [00:06:07 Darlin]?” Like, “Yeah. We went to her wedding.”
Matt: Yeah. [laugh].
Corey: It is small freaking world. So, let's talk about something that no one is tired of yet, namely COVID and its impact on DevRel. Now, to my understanding, you're not DevRel anymore?
Matt: That is correct. Yeah, I am technically not in—
Corey: You have transformed beyond that?
Matt: I have transformed beyond that. I've rolled out with the Autobots and become a transformation person. But there's still a lot of what I do that feels very DevRel adjacent. And I'm also still heavily involved in the communities I was involved in before, especially around conferences and events, and I still do speaking and all that. So, when we're—we’re thinking about how DevRel has changed with COVID and stuff, as regards to those things, it's the same for me as it is for someone who actually has that on their, quote-unquote, “business card,” if that's the thing people have anymore.
Corey: The problem that I have with online events is that people are sucking at them. They seem to be more or less the same thing. Now, let me be clear: at the time of this recording, re:Invent has not yet started. This is AWS’s own version of Cloud Next, wherein it's going to take three weeks of sessions and whatnot, of a bunch of video being dumped online as best I can tell, and that has the potential to be—how do I frame it—an unmitigated shit-show because, yeah, re:Invent, for those of us who have been there in person, is a lot. It's a solid week of a bunch of content, but the entire world sort of revolves around that in the Cloud-y space.
Now that you're stretching out over three weeks, approximately, no one is going to be allowed, by their employer, to just take those three weeks off and watch a crap-ton of video. Now, I couldn't be surprised, but based upon AWS’s video and online event stuff in years past, I'm a bit of a skeptic. You said you had some ideas on how to make online events more compelling. What have you got?
Matt: Well, yeah. So, there's a lot to unpack there. When we kind of look at the history of this year with events, if you look around that April timeframe, there are a bunch of virtual events that everybody loved, and they were great. I mean, so what I'm about to say is going to sound like damning with faint praise, but you could kind of have done almost anything, and everyone was so starved for doing something that felt at all like a conference that you were fine. And again, if you organized an event that I was a part of in April of 2020, I'm not saying you did a bad job and you only had attendees because of the time, but what happened then is everybody said, “Oh, well, we can just keep doing that.”
And over time, you're finding that again, that appetite that consumers are being a little more discerning maybe is a nice way to put that. And what it all comes down to is this tendency to say what we want to do when we do a virtual event is, “Well, what do we do with our other event, and how do we just throw that online?” And just to be fair, quote, “Just throwing it online” is a lot of work. I'm not trying to say, like, it’s easy—
Corey: Oh yeah, camerawork, and video, and all the rest. Even doing something crappy like that takes a crap-ton of effort, work, time, and money.
Matt: So, I think the thing that we need to think about when you're changing an event to virtual is that you are changing an event to virtual. “It’s like we like to say, getting promoted to manager is not a promotion, it's a career change.” If you're an individual contributor, and now you're a manager, you don't just do what you were doing before the same way but do it at a different scale; you're fundamentally changing your responsibilities and the outcomes you're trying to achieve. And that's the key. So, I’m on the—the founder of DevOpsDay Chicago, this was our seventh installment—if you will—of that event, and the first time we were ever doing it virtually.
And I'm fairly proud of how we did it. I've said before, the general feedback we got from the event—which was in September—was, “I hate virtual events. I still hate virtual events. But if we have to have them, I would like them to be like this.” And that's about the best I could ever possibly hope for.
And the reason I use this as an example—because a lot of folks are asking me, “Well, how did you do it?” And they want to know how did you set up Discord and set up the bots. That's all fine, but I think it's important to look back to how we approached it. And when we were deciding whether or not—do we cancel the event, or do we make a virtual event? And this was way back in, basically, the month of April is when we were making this decision for a September event.
We said we would only do this if we felt like we could provide an experience that was in the same spirit. And our event, and DevOpsDays in general, are very participant-forward. They're very much about interaction, and you'll notice this is the only time throughout the rest of the day that I'm going to use the term ‘hallway track,’ and I'm only going to use it to say, like, I wish we'd stop saying that. And there's a reason.
Corey: Oh, I’m right there with you. It feels absolutely like it minimizes the value of talking to humans in a bi-directional way. Or many to many, to be honest.
Matt: And it's an implementation, it's not an outcome. The outcome isn't to have a hallway track, the outcome is to have genuine interactions with participants. So, when we were deciding this—and we spent about a month—I said, “Look, while we're making this conversation, I don't want to hear about a single specific platform or technology or anything. Let's take some time and think about what the outcome is that we're trying to accomplish.” Because when you start a problem—and this is true with everything we do as engineers—you lead with the tech, you're losing the art of the possible.
And we never would have landed with the implementations we did if we started thinking about it that way, and the experience would have been different. So, for us, it was a lot about how do we create a space where people can have this interaction? And I realize that community events are a little different than maybe the more marquee or the larger events that definitely are much more about people talking to you, or at you. For us, so we run a single track event, talks in the morning, open spaces in the afternoon, and when I build a program for our traditional event, I always consider that the talks are simply kicking off points for these open space conversations. It's so that people have a common thing to be talking about later when they're interacting with each other because that's the real value.
I mean, Andrew Clay Shafer said with the first DevOpsDays, he wanted them to just be all open spaces but he knew nobody would get their company to let them go if there wasn't at least some people standing on a stage. And so that's the thing; what you have to do when you're talking about your pivot, is again, you're changing the event. It's not the online version of that event, it's a new event that happens to be online, and we find ourselves falling into this trap quite a bit.
There's a lot of things that we do, I hate to say, regular, in a in-person event that are simply because of the laws of physics. It's not feasible to move 1000 people to different rooms every 20 minutes in person. It takes 20 minutes just to move them, so you do things like chunk up your talks, then have your open spaces or things like that. But then in a virtual setting, you can do that. You can move things around.
And I think to give a little credit to the extended idea that maybe re:Invent is doing—that's a little bit of that idea is, like, “Oh, conferences are day-long events because you can't have people flying in and out for an hour every Tuesday for a month.” So, that's a little bit about, I guess, removing that. But when all we're doing is saying, “Okay, we always have talks, and they work like this, so let's just stream them instead,” you're not providing anything new. And you're not taking advantage of the ability to get these folks working together or talking to each other. And again, the reason I said the H-T word is because what people are trying to do is they're trying to re-implement the mechanism that that happened.
Well, let's make it so there's a virtual lunch line, or we'll randomly pair people up or something like that. But you're like, well, those experiences also aren't as random as we like to think they are. It's not about just Corey and I get paired up together randomly, and we'll have a great experience. We probably won't, even if it wasn't me and Corey. But you need to have some way that you're facilitating this stuff.
Corey: Right. When it's the same people who show up to all these online events who generally tend to know each other, which yeah, that's kind of the circles we run in, those of us who've done DevRel-ish things for a while. Great. What about someone who's this is their first event? How do they get dragged into the social story? And that's something that a lot of these events are really missing out on.
Matt: Well, and I think that's the thing because they either do it in a way that's not very interactive—I mean, I always say a webinar with a Slack channel, that’s not a virtual event. That's a—okay, again, a very one-way thing, and then you just sort of throw this quote, “community” out there and hope that it happens. You have to have a lot of intentionality. And then you go on the other side, where there's platforms that just sort of will randomly pair up four people and put them in a virtual table so they can just chat. Well, how do those are people that will have something to talk about?
And the thing about all of this is it's hard, which is why people don't do it [laugh]. It requires intentionality. And it's a lot easier to just sort of say, “We do the things the way that we always did them because we have a process around that we have an understanding. And I don't have to educate people.” That was a big thing with us, and I think is going to continue to be a thing.
When I look back at our event, I say, I wish we had done more sponsor enablement for the event, and I don't mean teaching them how to use our platform. Yes, we did that, but there had to be enablement about—you have to change what it means to be a sponsor at virtual event because at a regular event, you can do the, “I’ll throw up a booth with some swag, and if I build it, they will come,” and people will just show up. You have to work harder to get that virtual engagement, and I think that's something that is definitely the responsibility of someone who wants to sponsor an event to think about what they want to do, but as an event organizer, I think it's always really good to kind of help and say, “Here's some examples. Maybe you could do this. Maybe you could do that.”
And also set them up for success—or at least for less failure—by saying, “If you're going to just hang out in the video channel we give you and wait for people to come to you, that's not going to work. You're going to be disappointed with that result. So, here are some things you could do instead.” And over time everybody will learn how to do this and that's great, but it's going to require us taking that extra effort, I think, for a while.
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Corey: And that's part of the problem is that the folks who are organizing these events—at least the corporate ones, in many respects—have competing priorities here. Take re:Invent as an example, where the problem that re:Invent has had for years has been that it tries to be too many things to too many people. Is it a giant partner summit? Yes. Is it the expo hall where they drive a bunch of business to their partners? Yes. Is it a bunch of service announcements, sarcastically so? Yes. Is it the biggest community event for the entire global community of AWS users? Yes.
And trying to be so many different things to so many different people is incredibly challenging at the best of times, and now that they're trying to take that online, which parts do you keep? Which parts do you jettison? If you're going to have a whole partner event, why does that need to be co-located online? I mean, there's no reason to get people in the same room at the same time. The track selection is just a nightmare right now. There's a whole bunch of weird problems that companies are running into trying to figure out how this is going to work. And no one knows. So, we're waiting to see.
Matt: Well, and that goes back to the outcomes, right? Because in a lot of ways, big giant in-person conferences are kind of becoming an anachronism because, for the longest time, that was the best way to reach a lot of people simultaneously because you didn't have streaming. And so, if you think back—I'm thinking back to, like, COMDEX days because that's really where this all comes from. Okay, if I wanted to get a bunch of interested people to hear the same message at the same time, okay, you know what? In the ’90s we didn't have streaming; that's what you did.
We said, “Get yourself on a plane and come to Vegas, and spend a bunch of days.” And then we've continued that model, even though it's maybe not the most effective way to do that. And it can actually be very exclusionary. Those keynotes are also streamed, so if you can't get to the event, why did anybody have to be there in the first place other than that's always how we've done it?
And there's a lot of personal things connected to that, which is, it gives them an excuse to go on a trip that work will pay for, so maybe they'll be more inclined to come and listen to your BS, so that could be a thing. But I think we need to really look at all of it and say that the function of several days all in a row that are all together in that way are all based upon physical requirements. And maybe it's not the most effective way.
Corey: I would argue it's almost certainly not. It's hard to do this, and the people organizing these events on the corporate side, too, are also looking at this through a lens of, they have things to sell, they have a narrative to pitch. They're not in this from the attendee perspective, in many respects. When I worked at larger companies that would participate in events like this, the question was very rarely—from the event folks—around, “Well, how can we make this valuable for the engineers attending this for engineering-focused conferences?” And it just felt like it was missing the point. And that's becoming exaggerated and exacerbated by this move to, surprise, everything's online.
Matt: And I think the threat to those big events is community events because they tend to be more participant-focused because the people who are organizing them are probably actually participants of conferences and that's their focus. And so if I can say, “Well, wait a minute, if I can get a better experience out of this, for lack of a better word, community event or something like that—” I know we aren't having velocity, but why do we have to have velocity? Some of the vendor oriented ones because they're controlling the message, so that's not as much a competition, but I think it's kind of a chicken and the egg thing. When I think about, quote-unquote, “corporate events,” the main reason that you're having that is because you want to get a big captive audience to hear your stuff. So, if all you have is, “Come to this event and hear us talk about our products over and over and over again, and announcements,” that's not enough.
So, that's why you have all this extra content. [00:20:22 unintelligible] event that's practitioners talking, and customers talking, and you can learn, and you can do all this because that's all the loss leader that gets them in so they’ll listen to your product sell. Well, if I don't have to come to see you to do that, and if I can get that kind of content somewhere else, why do I go through all the hassle of this long—whether it's re:Invent or something like that—if it's less appealing. And I think there is a huge amount of attendees at a conference that you will lose when it's not a good excuse to go to Vegas. Then they're like, “Well then, really, why do I have to do your thing?”
Corey: Oh, yeah. I don't miss Las Vegas, my God.
Matt: Yeah. [laugh].
Corey: It's a town that’s built on exploitation. Let's not delude ourselves here. So, it always felt super weird to be going there as if it were a tacit endorsement of that. The fact that I don't have to this year is kind of amazing.
Matt: But let's not delude ourselves that there is a large number of people that would feel exactly the opposite. And what you would see as a bug, they see as a feature.
Corey: Yeah. And that is the nature of the world, for better or worse. So, here's a question for you, you were, for a long time, someone who identified as DevRel, now you're not. Talk to me about that.
Matt: So, the funny thing is, in a lot of ways, I feel like I'm just being a little more honest about what I'm doing right now. So, I've kind of been a little bit on the outside of a lot of Devrelians, with being really honest about what we're here for. So, there's a lot of noise made inside DevRel and dev advocacy and stuff, about, “Well, we're not sales. We're not marketing.” As if—almost it feels a little bit like a better than.
And, first of all, I think as an individual, if you want to get yourself connected, either you're building the thing that's being sold, or you're selling the thing that's being sold, and if you're not connected somehow in a measurable way to either of those things, you are the easiest thing in the world to get rid of. So, that's a little bit. But I spent a couple years in DevRel at PagerDuty, and I did so much work with our field, with our sales folks helping with customers and stuff, and I never felt like that was bad. And I think the reason that people feel this way is it feels like they want the community to think of them as very impartial, right? “You can trust me because I'm not trying to sell you something.”
And the reality is, that happens inherently just by virtue of your title. You don't have to actually not do the things. It's kind of a running joke that a customer will tell a sales engineer something they would never tell their account rep because even though you might have sales engineer in your title, you don't feel like a salesperson, so there's more trust, for better or for worse. And I always used to say that the best salesperson at Chef Software was Nathan Harvey, the VP of community because nobody saw him coming. But did Nathan care about Chef making money? Absolutely because Nathan would like to continue working there, right? And it's actually a partnering thing with your field.
So, anyway, the point is, I did a lot of work with prospects and with customers, and it was never connected to the product. So, for example, if I was going to be—again, this is dating us into the past days when we could be traveling places, but let's say I was going to be in Australia for a conference, and I was going to be there for a week because, generally, you don’t fly in and out. I would have 10 to 11 meetings while I was there with potential PagerDuty customers with our sales team, and at none of those meetings was I talking about our product. They would be meetings to talk about, “Hey, how are you doing, incident response?” “What's your digital transformation look like?” “How are you learning from incidents?”
It was all very high-level culture stuff, but it's incredibly powerful because it does a couple different interesting things. It makes the customer say, “Okay, one of the values of if I use your company, and now I have a relationship with you, and I have access to stuff like this that isn't just coming in and doing a sales pitch.” And it also kind of adds to that, like, “Oh, y'all aren’t just trying to sell me something.” On the side of the account team, this gives them a reason to talk to the customer. I can't tell you how many meetings I would walk out of, and the sales rep would say, “I've been trying to meet that CTO for six months. But they took a meeting with you.”
Corey: Oh my God, yes. Done right, DevRel can open doors. I mean, let's not kid ourselves, why do you think I have an interview show podcast? Honestly, it's to get me in front of people that I have no business speaking to, and also you. Because most folks are going to be, “Oh, you want to just talk to me at random? Well, that's weird. No, I got things to do.” “Do you want to be a guest on a podcast?” And people will clear their freaking calendars and be excited to see me rather than their usual reaction of vaguely annoyed.
Matt: Bryan Berry, who was the guy started the Food Fight show with Nathan Harvey many years ago, had a blog post and he said, “The dirty little secret of tech podcasting is this is how you get people to spend an hour talking to you that you could never get that time from them at a conference.” And it's not because they're rude or anything, it's just like you said: it's sort of like, “Hey, Corey, you want to sit down and just talk to me for an hour while you're trying—” No. Of cour—yeah, again, you would love to because we're friends, but even then, you're like, “I got stuff to do.” “Want to be on my show?” “Absolutely, no problem.” And it's very powerful, and it's why I keep doing it: because I get to have fun conversations with interesting people.
Corey: Yeah, that is really what I view DevRel as being. It's, “Yeah, I'm just going to chat with people I like and I'm interested in and oh, by the way, there's an audience.” But it was weird when I started podcasting—still, I don't get a whole lot of feedback in response to these shows because—oh, I get letters when I send out newsletters, but no one calls in to yell at me about something I say on this show. It feels almost like calling into a radio show—something only dangerous lunatics might do—whereas then I go to a in-person conference—in the before times—and I would get swarmed by people who love the show. It's, “Holy crap. You mean the microphone was working?”
Matt: Mm-hm. A funny thing that happens is you feel like you get to know the host of the shows that you love to listen to even if you've never met them. I mean, my relationship with Paul began with him as a voice in my headphones for years. And then I mean, that dude was at my wedding. And I'm not saying just because you listen to podcasts, you'll become BFFs with every host, but you get to know them that way, and then it can be kind of a little weird to—like, when you meet them for real, and you're like, “Oh, you are an actual three-dimensional person, not just the voice of this thing.”
And I want to go back, just real quick, to something you said about what DevRel should be. So, one of the things too, I think that's hard, is kind of defining what DevRel should do is sort of like defining what engineering means. So, what I was explaining about what I did as an advocate doesn't mean that every single developer advocate should do that, nor would they be necessarily good at it, and they're going to be good at things I'm not. So, there's a lot of components to a good DevRel team. Again, it's about being T-shaped and stuff.
But I also do feel like… I’ve become a real big believer in—I don't think he came up with the term but the person who introduced it that I first heard about was John Allspaw about the difference of work-as-imagined versus work-as-done. So, you can talk to an organization about, for example, “How do you do incident response? How do you learn from things?” And they'll tell you all these things, but then you actually talk to the folks who do the work, and they're like, “No, that's not what we do.”
And it's come up two times recently for me, and this is why it’s so interesting how it applies. So, one is about developer advocacy. So, if you talk to a lot of folks in DevRel, they will tell you that, like, “My job is I advocate for the community, and I'm a voice into the product,” and all this stuff. And normally—if that's happening, that's great. You're actually doing your program really well, but—
Corey: Then you say, “Oh, so it's marketing.” “No, it's not marketing.” Says the angry DevRel person who doesn't understand what marketing does.
Matt: Some of it is marketing. That's the thing.
Matt: there's a lot of stuff. So, but it's sort of like we have this identity that, in my imagined world, I am abstracted away from that filthy lucre of money, and I'm not connected to revenue, and that doesn't matter. But actually work-as-done, it's super is. And it's funny because it also connects to this idea of virtual events.
So, one of the things that's very polarizing when you're talking about doing a virtual event is, should the talks be live or should they be pre-recorded? And I've given this a lot of thought because I did an event and we fought about it for a long time. Actually, we didn't fight about it very long, but we wanted to. And so when you kind of think about it, the advantage of a live talk is certainly much easier for the speaker in terms of your time commitment is when you give the talk. You don't have to pre-record, you have to all this sort of stuff. And it can feel a lot more… well, it can feel more live, because it is.
And you can be like, hey, and if you're the kind of person that writes your slides, the day before the talk, it works out super good for you, so your content can be super-duper fresh. And then an advantage in the pre-recorded is you minimize connection problems, your schedule can be correct because at least if a speaker's long, you knew they were long, and—if you're intentional about this—can interact with the other participants during their talk. And that's actually really cool. I've done that, and I've seen it happen. It's really kind of fun. It's a little weird at first, to be sitting there and watching yourself while you're talking to other people. But you can answer questions in real-time, you kind of chat. It's fun. But here's the sticker. People will tell you, “Well, the reason that I want to do a live talk—”
Corey: Well, hold on a second, let's not kid ourselves. There's a lot of stickers in DevRel.
Matt: There are so many stickers in DevRel. And they're actually hard to get to people now, so it’s—yeah.
Corey: Oh, and the whole conference thing? Yeah, that's a scheme put on by Big Sticker.
Matt: It really is. So, some proponents of live talks will say, “Well, the reason that live talks are better is because the speakers can riff off each other.” Corey can be like, “Hey, earlier this morning when Matty was talking about this thing, that connects right back to what I'm talking about now, and whatever.” And you know what? That is a great example of work-as-imagined versus work-as-done.
So in the physical space, I will not argue this happened. I can tell you some examples of when it happens super awesome. There was one time I was at a conference, I was the opening keynote, Heidi Waterhouse was the second-day keynote, and Ken Mugrage closed it out. And our talks—not intentionally—all connected to each other. And then Heidi and Ken were able to build on that. But you know why that happened? Because we're in a physical event and we had to sit in a room together for two days. Virtual events, you have even more likelihood of a speaker that's going to come give their talk and peace out, and their interaction will be just for their talk. And by the way, if that's what you do, that's okay; I'm not judging you unless there was a different expectation. So, and then virtual events, it's with one very marked exception: every virtual event I've been a part of—either as a speaker or a participant—this has never happened, this reconnecting of talks. And the only one where it happened was Austin's Deserted Island, DevOps talks with the Animal Crossing one, and I always point people back to that event as a virtual event to learn from and to not get distracted by the gimmick that it was connected to a game. So, the reason that all of us, as speakers, talked about each other's talks was we were all in a Zoom together all day long. Not talking, but the presenter’s Zoom, everybody else who was a speaker was welcome to be in there on mute and just listening. And it was kind of a little bit like a speaker lounge. Like, it gave a connection to the speakers. And we were conscious—but that requires intentionality.
Corey: Ah, but counterpoint, too, for folks who aren't speaking, doesn't that feel isolating?
Matt: To be in that Zoom you mean, or to not?
Corey: To not be in that Zoom.
Corey: when it feels like all the speakers know each other, it feels like it widens the divide between people who are on the inside track and people who are not, and I've always had issues with that with—I try not to spend too much time in the speaker room for that reason, except when I'm building my talk. Once it's done, other than if I'm in there helping someone get ready for theirs, I try and go and socialize with the attendees because not for nothing Matty, I see you an awful lot more than I do the folks I haven't met yet, so I'd rather get the chance to forge new relationships and bring people in. “Oh, I love your talk. I wish I could give a talk.” “Well, guess what, buddy? You can. Let me help.”
Matt: That's absolutely true.
Corey: It's great to go out and meet with folks, and I find a lot of the exclusionary stuff is a little on the strange side.
Matt: So, I'm going to take a little spin on that and say some of the quote-unquote, “exclusionary stuff” actually helps build up new speakers. Not to say that you shouldn't do exactly what you just said because you're exactly right, but you don't hang out in that speaker lounge, but not just to talk to your buddies. I always try to do that. If I'm in the speaker lounge and there's a speaker that I don't know, who's in there working on—I try not to interrupt them, but I will talk to them. It's a chance to bring them into that fold.
And the same thing is true with speaker dinners. And in my couple years when I lived on the conference circuit almost exclusively, I would run into a situation I'm like, “Oh, the last thing I want to do tonight is go to the speaker dinner.” Because speaker dinners are fun, except when you do them every week. But I continually said, “No. You know what? You're going to do this because yeah, for you, ‘Mr. DevRel,’ this is an annoyance and you're bored with it, but most of these speakers, this might be the only talk they're giving this year.”
This is an exciting and special night for them. And not that it's a special night because I get to spend time with Matty Stratton. I'm not trying to put it that way. But the overall thing, when we are, quote, “professional speakers,” we get very jaded about a lot of stuff. Swag is a good example, too.
As an organizer, I might be like, “Oh, the last thing I need is another hoodie that's special for speakers because I get, like, 15 of these a month.” But if your program is good, it's not going to all be people that this is the 15th hoodie they're getting this month. And so for the speakers where this is a special event for them, that stuff matters, and that including them at that level, even though it feels a little exclusionary for me to say including them into that excluding circle, but it also makes it feel special to do that.
So, I think trying to recreate that in some way because you don't have the simplicity of a speaker dinner. Even that's why I think it's nice to have a private channel in the event chat for the speakers because it's just a place to sort of connect about a shared experience, which is speaking at this event.
Corey: Yeah. It's about trying to forge a sense of community when it's difficult to, I guess, reinforce that there is in fact, the community there when there are other communities, just a browser tab away. It's a hard problem, and I have a lot of empathy for people who are going through it. But I think the cultural tolerance we had at the start of this whole pandemic is wearing thin because, sure, you have two weeks to plan a virtual event versus, “You've had nine months. What's the plan here?”
Matt: And we've also as attendees and a community, we have that content. Like, again, I think at the beginning of this, everyone was just excited to have anything because we just had to deal with having a whole bunch of stuff canceled. We didn't even know if we'd ever see each other on the circuit again this year or anything. We didn't even know what it was going to look like, so we're really excited about it and that forgives a lot of rough edges. Which is great, but we don't have the excuse of rough edges anymore, folks. This has been going on. We've seen what works and we've seen what hasn't. And the hard news is, what works is doing a lot more work than you want to do.
Corey: Absolutely. It's a hard problem to solve for, and I don't have any easy answers. If people want to hear more about you, what you're up to, what you're not up to, and what's upcoming in the wild world of Matty Stratton, where can they find you?
Matt: So, I have a blog post I've been working on for about a month, basically ever since DevOpsDay Chicago ended that is all about this. And it's specifically about how we did our event, and by the time this gets published, it will absolutely be done. So, I presume that Corey will include a link to that in the [00:35:44 show notes]. So, go look for that.
Corey: Oh, absolutely I will.
Matt: We also have an upcoming episode of Arrested DevOps in the next week or so, which will be in the past for you listening to this now, where we talk about the event. So, if you want to hear a little more nerdery about that, there's that. But that being said, if you'd like to catch up with the wide world of Matty Stratton—and in pandemic time of being stuck home eating all the time, that world is definitely getting wider—you can find me on Twitter at @mattstratton. That's probably the absolute best place to connect with me and find me. You can find me on LinkedIn, I tend to be pretty polite and reply to messages and stuff, but that's not the best place to find me, but I'm fairly easy to find over there.
And if you want to see where I'll be upcoming speaking as much as I do, which I'm doing a lot less than I was in the past for lots of reasons, if you go to speaking.mattstratton.com you can find all my past talks, upcoming things like that. And if you'd like to hear me talk on a microphone without Corey most of the time, our podcast, Arrested DevOps, one of the longest still-running DevOps podcasts, arresteddevops.com. We have episodes every couple weeks.
Corey: most podcasts are measured in minutes. That one's measured in years.
Matt: It is. It's really weird.
Matt: Like, I've actually thought about, maybe we're time to be done, and I just—I can’t. It's too much of a thing, you know? So, we're keeping on going, and we've got a bunch of great content coming for you. But yeah, come find me on Twitter, and only about half of what I post is taking shots at Corey.
Corey: The other half is responding to the shots I've taken at you.
Matt: exactly. Because it's a bi-directional medium. It’s a conversation.
Corey: Exactly. [laugh]. Matty Stratton, transformation specialist at Red Hat. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Matt: Thanks for having me on. This was fun.
Corey: I am 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 app of choice, whereas if you hated this podcast, leave a five-star review on your Apple Podcasts or any other podcast app of choice you use, along with a comment telling me what your middle name is.
Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at ScreamingintheCloud.com, or wherever fine snark is sold.
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