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Neurodiversity as an Advantage with Wesley Faulkner
Episode Summary
Wesley Faulkner is a developer advocate at Daily, makers of a real-time video API for developers. He’s also a board member at The Experience Firm. Previously, Wesley worked as a technical community manager at MongoDB, a developer relations advocate at IBM, and a product development engineer at AMD, among other positions. He also ran social media at Atlassian. A resident of Austin, Texas, Wesley has served on the Interactive Advisory Board for SXSW for more than a decade. Join Corey and Wesley as they talk about how companies that can afford to buy vowels are hard to Google, the problems Daily is solving around video, how Wesley ran unsuccessfully for office in Austin, how South by Southwest has evolved over the years and how Wesley can’t wait to meet people face-to-face once the pandemic is over, how Wesley is interested in neurodiversity and what that means, the importance of accessibility and the hidden benefits of posting transcripts with podcasts, how to get over the awkwardness of networking, the importance of thinking about long-term relationships instead of short-term transactions, and more.
Episode Show Notes and Transcript
About Wesley
Wesley Faulkner is a first-generation American. He is a founding member of the government transparency group Open Austin and ran for Austin City Council in 2016. His professional experience also includes work as a social media and community manager for the software company Atlassian, and various roles for the computer processor company AMD, Dell, and IBM. Wesley Faulkner serves as a board member for South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) and is a Developer Advocate for Daily.


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Transcript

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 Wesley Faulkner, who's a developer advocate at a company called Daily. Either the company's named Daily or there's a misconfigured cron job somewhere. Wesley, welcome to the show. Which is it?


Wesley: It is Daily and you can find them at daily.co. Because of the name, it's kind of hard to Google.


Corey: Yeah. It seems like the more interesting a company is, the harder it is to Google. When it's some common word where they had to cheap out due to a shortfall in investment round and they can't afford to, you know, buy a vowel, it becomes super EC2 Google once Google understands there's not an autocorrect story in there. But it seems like the companies that are really poised for success in some markets are incredibly difficult to Google for Puppet and Chef were some of the previous generation stories. What does Daily do?


Wesley: Daily makes a video API built off WebRTC. And today, as we record this, WebRTC went 1.0 officially. And what we do is allow applications to break out video and audio so they can use it and configure it for their applications any way they want. So, you can do like a Zoom competitor, or you can just take the audio feed and make a Clubhouse competitor.


Or you can make a new way of collaborating with those spatial-audio-virtual work environments. There's a lot of different ways that you can use video to make you more productive, and we allow you to do that with our API.


Corey: It seems like there's a lot of emphasis on video these days, given that as we record this, we're still in a pandemic. I keep hoping that one day someone's going to listen to this and “Oh, yeah. The pandemic. I remember those days,” but so far, no luck. Last year, it always felt like “Well, oh, wow, this must have been recorded a while ago. They weren't even talking about the meteor yet.”


So, it just becomes an escalating series of awful, in a bunch of different ways. But video has been something that's been on a lot of people's mind, usually when it breaks. Is this designed to be embedded in other applications? Is it designed to be a standalone application? Is someone going to have a Daily desktop app at some point?


Wesley: So, we empower companies to build on top of our platform to make their own products. There is a possibility that we might make our own branded plugins or proof of concepts that are out there for people to use, but what we really want to focus on is enabling the next video experience and the configuration is where the innovation happens in terms of how big a bubble is or when it shows up. We just want to make sure that we take care of the table stakes of video and make everything, in terms of the stack, easier for people to implement.


Corey: So, one thing I noticed on your website that's always of interest to me is the magic word, ‘HIPAA,’ which I used to think was the female version of an animal. Turns out no, English doesn't work quite the same way as Spanish does. It's for those who are unaware, or perhaps not based in the US, it's the Health Information Portability and Privacy Act, which means you are certified to carry video for medical uses.


Wesley: Yes. And that we don't track PII or making sure that all the information is secure. And a little secret is that HIPAA, sometimes, is easier because you don't need to get hold logs or store that information. So, HIPAA is the Snapchat of database information, which is really good in some cases.


Corey: So, one of the things you're passionate and talking about is neurodiversity. So, why not? Let's have a conversation about that with a segue that even works, which is whenever I wind up having a video call with someone, I use Zoom or something like it, but when I call my psychiatrist for an appointment, we're going back in time to some ancient thing that they've embedded that performs the impossible and makes WebEx look good. But it feels awful, and whenever I've dug into why is this so bad, HIPPA’s always the answer. It feels like it's stuck ten years in the past, and it's annoying and challenging to work with.


You're a relatively new company from what I can tell. You’re version 1.0.6 on the website, which unless you have a glacially slow release process, means you haven't been around for decades, yet you've got something that works performantly, and seems to be aligned with modern technology. How’d that happen?


Wesley: Actually, in the world of WebRTC, Daily is kind of ahead of the curve. I mentioned that it hit 1.0 today, and so we've been doing WebRTC since the early teens, and even before then the video technology has been something our founders have dabbled in since their graduate years of college. And there's a lot of flow and churn in terms of what to use and how to use it. Back in the flash days, of course, you had to make sure that you both had the same version, and that everyone 
had it installed, and that there were no incompatibilities with the network you're on.


And then there is a lot of ebb and flow in terms of, is it going to be good for this application or that application? Since we've been building on top of WebRTC in the early days, we've been able to stay basically cutting edge. And so the problems we're tackling is kind of the NASA of video. I think that if you try to use some of the older technologies, you're kind of stuck into being comfortable and just making it work, and we're just trying to enable all of these different scenarios that you couldn't before because we are trying to solve the problems no one else is looking at.


Corey: That's the problem. It always feels like on some level that—at least in the United States—that technology is going to be dictated by the insurance company and in the medical group, and by the time it gets to the doctor, I mean, ideally, they're doctors and focusing on the whole health aspect, not spending their nights and weekends messing around with various video codecs or whatnot. So, it always felt like an insurmountable problem to me. But honestly, this becomes a differentiator.


Wesley: Yeah. I mean, there's a reason why we exist is because there's a need that's not being met. So, if you need one of those off the shelves, just do a quick video chat, there are plenty of solutions out there. And even with WebRTC, you can probably build your own. So, if you were looking for anything that is somewhat complicated, needs a scale, you need to worry about bandwidth; if you need to worry about having more than 200 300 people on a call, that's something that it's really hard to do on your own.


Corey: Again, talking from a speaking to my psychiatrist perspective, that sounds like hell on earth. It's “Great. So, what am I doing now? I'm going to livestream my mental health sessions. That's going to go super well for everyone.” There's vulnerable and then there's just plain dumb.


Wesley: There's reality TV, which is also, if you need the—


Corey: Oh, my God, you're right. That's exactly what that is.


Wesley: [laugh]. I would pay to watch it.


Corey: So, you've had a fascinating career. Like I normally don't read through people's bios on the air, but I’ll make an exception for you. You're a first-generation American, which is awesome; you're a founding member of the government transparency group Open Austin; you ran for the Austin City Council in 2016—that phrasing tells me you did not win?


Wesley: Yes, that's correct.


Corey: You also worked as a social media and community manager for Atlassian which means at one point you were the poor shmoo who was on the other side of my Jira barbs. Sorry about that. I always hate my past comes back to haunt me.


Wesley: I love hearing the pain of others. I feed off of it.


Corey: Yes. And then you worked at a number of companies: AMD, Dell, and IBM, which were awesome, fascinating places in, you know, 1998, but I don't know that that's when you were there. But that's my prejudices, not yours.


Wesley: Yes. Every company seems to have their little nook of being big corporate company because they’re a big corporate company. I try to make sure that I carve a little space for myself. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I’m not.


Corey: Yeah, just as a passion project or something, you’re also apparently a board member for SXSW Interactive?


Wesley: Yeah, been a board member, I think, for over ten years now. Yeah.


Corey: And I'm guessing you are not yet bored with it?


Wesley: It's a great experience. One, you get a free badge every year. And so it’s… didn't do me any good in 2020, but hopefully, when we start getting past this pandemic, we start meeting people face-to-face. It's a sea of people and I love surfing that whenever I can.


Corey: I spend a lot of time at various conferences—in the before times—and one thing I've never been quite clear on is 
what the hell SXSW is. Is there basically a quick summary you can give us?


Wesley: SXSW, it started off as three main festivals: music, film, and then interactive. And interactive is the part that has changed throughout the years. Interactive used to be an encyclopedia on a CD ROM. [laugh]. It used to be video game technology.


And then “New media” started—quote-unquote—with social media, Facebook, Twitter. And those companies decided to launch some of their products and send some of their people to South By and it started attracting some of their same companies. And then, when the bubble started with the internet, with companies forming that are internet first, they also came to South By and they brought the VCs with them. And so it didn't just become a meet and greet, it was becoming a place to start and get funding for your company. And that whole crowd just basically made a beachhead with South By, and it grew because of that.


Corey: And it's turned into something that still becomes impossible to define. And I've basically been boycotting it because no one has ever invited me to speak there. And everyone looks at me super strangely when I say that and it's not that kind of thing. But I don't know, invitations work the same way, universally. So, I am insisting that my misunderstanding is something I'm imposing on the world. I'm really tech-bro-ing my way through it.


Wesley: Yeah. That’s the same reason why I don't go to TED or cons.


Corey: Exactly. If they want me there, they will have me on the floor giving a talk. It'll be amazing, and the 360 stage and all the amazing things that scare the heck out of people. But speaking of before times, you also describe yourself as a public speaker. What do you like talking about?


Wesley: I love talking about neurodiversity. I love also talking about diversity and inclusion, which is part of neurodiversity, but since it's one of those things that doesn't really get highlighted, I want to make sure that I break it out to give some focus. And I love talking about networking.


Corey: Well, tell me more about the neurodiversity piece. What exactly does that mean? Where does it start? Where does it stop? It's a term that not everyone is particularly familiar with. Until very recently, I was in that group.


Wesley: So, neurodiversity is the acknowledgment that brains work differently. And that a variety of functioning is considered normal. There have been names associated with different understandings and different processing like Asperger's or autism. I'm dyslexic, ADHD. And there are many different kinds that are there at birth, and then there are some that are inherited, like PTSD, or depression, or anxiety. Those are all different ways of processing and seeing the world or different situations.


Corey: I'm going to talk about something I haven't ever mentioned on this show because why the hell not? If I can't talk about it, who the hell can? When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with ADD which later became ADHD, and the more I talked to people who've been down this path—I mean, I've been on medication for three decades now, aside from a decade where I just white-knuckled it the whole way, and [laugh] that didn't work so well. But it seems that ADHD is very much a spectrum disorder, and everyone who has it experiences it very differently. And the universal constant though, whenever you talk to someone who has it is, they feel like they're a shitty person where they keep dropping the ball, they're a bad friend, they're bad at showing up on time. It's basically the single unifying theme, start to finish, always feels like it's beating yourself up for things that are fundamentally not really a choice.


Wesley: Yes. I would say from all the people that I know have ADHD, me included, that's definitely part of it, of feeling like you can't focus, which means that you're not paying attention to some of the details, but also ADHD, flip-flops between being hyper-focused on one thing or being focused on a lot of things, and it feels like the way that it's seen in the media, it's described differently. And I think that's part of the reason why I like talking about neurodiversity is to bring more awareness around this subject and for people to be able to understand that it's not necessarily someone's fault, but also to highlight some of the advantages of neurodiversity.


Corey: That's a good way of framing that. One of the things I did when I started this company was I built it around things that I was good at, and avoided things I was not. In my initial reports on AWS bills were two pages. And “Oh, yeah, do these five things. It will save you 20% off your bill. Have a nice day,” is what it distilled down to. And it was right, and it worked, but it turns out when you're charging people bespoke consulting project money, they kind of want something that doesn't fit in a tweet. Who knew.


So, as we expanded, I brought in a business partner who's my exact opposite, whose primary language is Excel. And slowly, we wound up building systems around me to at least mitigate an awful lot of my shortcomings in that respect. But I still can't shake the feeling that it's a lot of work people have to do that they wouldn't if I weren't this way. And that tends to disregard the fact that if I work this way, I would not be able to do the things that I do. It's a double-edged sword, and I think it's something I need to be a lot more public about than I have been. So, 2021, here we go.


Wesley: Yeah. I think if you look at entrepreneurs, people who are neurodiverse over-index because they don't necessarily fit in the systems that are considered standard. They problem-solve in different ways, which don't necessarily conform to the standard operating procedure of most established companies. So, if you—thinking that, like, “I had to break out and I had to do this,” what you're doing is you're doing it your way, and you're building a team around you, hiring people, give them a purpose, given them a function in their duty because of yourself and the gifts that you were given.


Corey: And that's sort of part of it. The fact that I can context switch very rapidly is helpful, the fact that I can't pay attention for super long means that I'm better at reading things extremely quickly. When you're trying to sort through everything coming out of AWS, that becomes an asset more than it is a hindrance. And in some ways, it's hard for me to remember and realize—I’m still learning almost every day—that there are different aspects and different manifestations of ADHD, and that in many cases, I've always just written them off for 40 years as “The way that I am.”


Wesley: Also, I mean, you probably can judge things fairly quickly. Like, “This is crap,” “This is put together poorly,” or “They didn't spend enough time actually getting to the root of the matter.” Because you get bored. You're like, “This is a waste of my time.” And that type of feedback comes quicker to you because you know what you're looking for, and you know it's not cutting it. And so when you pass on and you make people, quote-unquote “Adjust” to you, what you're doing is you're making their material more accessible for everyone, which is also really great.


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Corey: I'm trying. Every episode of Screaming in the Cloud has a transcript that goes along with it, and that's partially because not everyone wants to listen and other people want to read. I don't have the attention span to sit and listen to these things, even at 2X. I want the transcript so I can read it. And if I have that desire, it's a near certainty that I'm not the only person doing it.


Incidentally, if you're listening to this and didn't realize that, yeah, if you prefer to read, go to screaminginthecloud.comand take a look at all of the episodes: there's a full transcript for everyone because accessibility is important.


Wesley: Not only just important, it helps everyone. Like for you, it probably helps with your SEO, it helps with when someone's looking for a certain subject or a certain person, that you could be a hit on Google. So, it has some knock-on effects that people don't realize, too.


Corey: One of the things that I find continually surprising is just how many people that I have a deep and abiding respect for who when something comes up that alludes to being neurodivergent, which is the opposite of neurotypical for those who are not familiar with the phrase, it seems oh that everyone I talked to and work with extensively has something going on that is a deviation from the norm. And for someone who grew up in my position viewing it as just a set of weaknesses and a shameful thing you never ever talk about. It's kind of liberating in a way to realize, oh my god, I'm not alone. There's a community of us. And in fact, we formed a community and didn't even realize this was a common, shared thing.


Wesley: Oh, absolutely. And I think you mentioned the shame. That shame I have, and I'm still battling. And speaking on neurodiversity is something I'm doing to try to get past that. But as a parent, I want to make the world a better place for everyone, including my kids, so that they can not only accept who they are, but the world can also accept them.


Corey: It's a fascinating thing. One other thing we sort of have in common that I'm very curious about that you alluded to a few minutes ago is, you talk about enjoying networking. And sure enough, I pull up a couple of social media sites, and we have a crapload of people in common on all of them, but this is the first time we've ever spoken other than through a few messages back and forth and writing. How is it that you have traveled so broadly in the same circles that I am in--first off—and secondly, how have we never met before now?


Wesley: Well, I mean, that's one thing about networking is if you find a passion and you do it, you are able to broaden your network fairly quickly, especially using the internet. But for me, in terms of the circles, I'm in a lot of different circles. You mentioned my background, I'm a first-generation American. I'm also a Black American. When that kind of means that I've never really, in some ways, found a place where I felt entirely comfortable, which means that I am generally uncomfortable at a certain level, no matter where I am, which makes the barrier of entry for these different networks, all even. [laugh].


So, what I try to do is just find good people and talk to people. And when you do that, you meet people who do different things. So, in social media space, I've met a lot of people, and in marketing, I've met a lot of people, and in developers and developer relations, I've met a lot of people. How we have never met is one of those things that is just I feel is inevitable. I hopefully will meet everyone that I can, who feels the need to talk to people who care about other humans.


Corey: One of the things that I found that was very aligned with my way of thinking about the world was a book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, a consultant. And he talked about how it was important to meet people as much as you can, to introduce people every chance you get, and do favors for people without ever really expecting anything in return. And it sounds hokey, it sounds like something you want the people you're about to take advantage of to believe, except for the part where I've lived the last ten years like this, and it absolutely is true. It comes back around in super weird ways. If I help someone without thinking about how this is going to benefit me, I just do it.


And invariably, people reach out randomly at appropriate times, and, “Hey, I've got this thing going on. Can you help us with this?” And it becomes a business opportunity, or it's a chance to wind up meeting someone who's aligned with some research I'm doing. It's one of those things where you put something out, and it sort of comes back in some weird ways. And in fact, there were studies that mentioned in this book that the wealthy, it was not about giving money to each other that led to a lot of their success so much as it was they did favors for each other.


One of them was on the board of a private school, so they put their thumb on the scale and got someone else's kid in. Admittedly not a sympathetic example. But the point stands, when you help people out it comes back in super weird ways. What's your take on that?


Wesley: Well, there's two kinds of economies. There's the money economy, and there's, like, the friend economy, when you have a roommate, and they eat some of your food, you don't necessarily keep track of how much they've eaten and make sure they pay you back. If you both live together, and it kind of just works out. Eventually, if you're really good friends, I am of the philosophy that if you are doing transactional networking, meaning that you're doing something to get something back, you're in essence, making a short term decision, not a long term engagement with that person because you're usually trying to get something because of their position, power, or influence. So, if that person's position, power, or influence changes, or yourself, and what you do and what you need changes, you kind of lost that relationship and it's inherently short term.


But if you are really trying to connect with people you care about, and people you want to be what I call fully present and fully seen, then you won't hold things back like say, “Hey, that's kind of racist,” because you want to cultivate that relationship for that transaction. But if you're truly trying to be yourself and you're calling that person out and that doesn't end the relationship, it'll in fact strengthen that relationship, and it'll be a longer commitment than just that one transaction that you're hoping for. And it'll come back because once you're in someone's life, you become top-of-mind. I give a talk on how to get over the awkwardness of networking. And when you look at your recent called list, and then when you look at who you're connected to on LinkedIn, if you don't have the same feeling of fondness, when you look at those people, then you can realize that those are just transactions and you're not building a network of people you care about, just a network of people who can take advantage of.


Corey: The idea of viewing relationships as transactional leads to an awful lot of negative things, the ability to be able to have a conversation with folks, regardless of who they are, it's its own skill in some ways. I've got to admit, when I first started doing this podcast, I was incredibly intimidated by some of the guests that I've had. And I no longer have that reaction, for whatever reason. And I think a large part of it comes from, I had an intern from Facebook, a while back, and I had the EVP that runs all of Azure, I've had the CEO of Stack Overflow, I've had personally what I find to be the most impressive guest ever, Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, who runs S3 and storage at AWS, there are fantastic people and many more, and if you treat all of these people the same way, as people, it really goes a long way. I don't have a database of these people appointed to reach out for when it's time for a favor.


It doesn't work that way. And I feel like that would be a way of cheapening it in some ways, and in many ways working directly against me. When someone reaches out with a nomination for someone who would be a guest on this show. My response is always “Great, what story will they tell?” Not “Well, what's their job title? How long have they been doing it? Are they an investor? What do the VCs think of them?” It's the wrong angle. And every time I see folks who go down that path, I am discouraged by how apparently this is not what everyone [unintelligible 00:27:02].


Wesley: Yeah. And then let's say you do have the person who's in this high position, and then they are just a total crap person, but you're like, “I'm going to make sure I get them on the show because they have influence.” And then they get arrested. Do you still have them on the show? Probably not.


Because they've lost that position and they've tarnished their reputation publicly, even though that they might have a tarnished reputation privately. But if you're going by your own gut, and your own honor system of the kind of people that you want to honor with their time and your time and give them a platform, you won't fall into that loop or that challenge because you'll be governed by a sense of elevating people who care about other people.


Corey: I've talked about this on Twitter from time to time, but I don't believe I've ever said it explicitly on the show, so I'm going to hijack this to say it right now. If you're listening to this, I have two requests for you: the first is, if I can help you with anything, please ping me. Worst case, I will tell you, “I don't know. But I probably know someone who can.” Secondly, it turns out when you run a podcast, everyone is super nice to you, which means that very often trash fire people don't present that way.


So, if you ever listening to this show, and you hear that I have a guest that you know is garbage, please tell me that. Confidentiality is guaranteed, but I don't want to wind up platforming folks who are frankly, terrible. I'm losing my connection to the back channel network in some ways, as a result. It's a weird thing to ask for, but I'm quite sincere with it. 
Please, as a personal favor. And as always, if I can help you, please let me know.


Wesley: You already are.


Corey: I do my best wherever I can. Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. If people want to 
learn more, where can they find you?


Wesley: Well, you can find me on Twitter. I'm @wesley83, on Twitter, and I am at Daily. So, go to daily.co, and if you hit the help, it'll get to me, if you don't want to go that route. Those are the two main ways. If you send me a message on LinkedIn, most likely I will not reply. I do treat LinkedIn as my own personal network of people that I care for and about, so if you're sending me a request there, at least to chat with me first on Twitter so we can get to know each other.


Corey: Absolutely. And we will of course put links to all of that in the [show notes 00:29:25]. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.


Wesley: Thank you, Corey. I really appreciate being on your show.


Corey: Wesley Faulkner, developer advocate at Daily. 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 entire podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment telling me why you're the garbage person.


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.


This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
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