This week Corey is joined by Chris Williams, Enterprise Architect for World Wide Technology, to talk titles, Twitter, business cards and other subjects of the ineffible. Chris’s title does include the letters AWS, but no, he doesn’t work there. Yet still AWS is still hard for Chris to shake!
Chris discusses his place in the AWS community as a AWS hero, but he is also a VMware vExpert. Chris and Corey go into the specifics on the distinctions between the two and the roles that each play within their respective communities. Chris also breaks down the nuances between the various practices of enterprises and start ups, to which Chris has much to offer given his expertise as an enterprise architect. Corey and Chris also dive into some anecdotes on how some of these practices, at least at the enterprise level, need to change. Chris has a lot to offer so tune in for the details!
Chris Williams is a Enterprise Architect for World Wide Technology — a technology solution and service provider. There he helps customers design the next generation of public, private, and hybrid cloud solutions, specializing in AWS and VMware. His first computer was a Commodore 64, and he’s been playing video games ever since.
Chris blogs about virtualization, technology, and design at Mistwire. He is an active community leader, co-organizing the AWS Portsmouth User Group, and both hosts and presents on vBrownBag. He is also an active mentor, helping students at the University of New Hampshire through Diversify Thinking—an initiative focused on empowering girls and women to pursue education and careers in STEM.
Chris is a certified AWS Hero as well as a VMware vExpert.
Fun fact that Chris doesn’t want you to know: he has a degree in psychology so you can totally talk to him about your feelings.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. One of the things I miss the most from the pre-pandemic times is meeting people at conferences or at various business meetings, not because I like people—far from it—but because we go through a ritual that I am a huge fan of, which is the exchange of business cards. Now, it’s not because I’m a collector or anything here, but because I like seeing what people’s actual titles are instead of diving into the morass of what we call ourselves on Twitter and whatnot. Today, I have just one of those folks with me. My guest is Chris Williams, who works at WWT
, and his business card title is Enterprise Architect, comma AWS Cloud. Chris, welcome.
Chris: Hi. Thanks for having me on the show, Corey.
Corey: No, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I have to imagine that the next line in your business card is, “No, I don’t work for AWS,” because you know a company has succeeded when they get their name into people’s job titles who don’t work there.
Chris: So, I have a running joke where the next line should actually be cloud therapist. And my degree is actually in psychology, so I was striving to get cloud therapist in there, but they still don’t want to let me have it.
Corey: Former guest Bobby Allen is now a cloud therapist over at Google Cloud, which is just phenomenal. I don’t know what they’re doing in a marketing context over there; I just know that they’re just blasting them out of the park on a consistent, ongoing basis. It’s really nice to see. It’s forcing me to up my game a little bit. So, one of the challenges I’ve always had is, I don’t like putting other companies’ names into the title.
Now, I run the Last Week in AWS newsletter, so yeah, okay, great, there’s a little bit of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ going on here. Because it feels, on some level, like doing unpaid volunteer work for a $2 trillion company. Speaking of, you are an AWS Community Hero, where you do volunteer work for a $2 trillion company. How’d that come about? What did you do that made you rise to their notice?
Chris: That was a brilliant segue. Um—[laugh]—
Corey: I do my best.
Chris: So I, actually prior to becoming an AWS Community Hero, I do a lot of community work. So, I have run and helped to run four different community-led organizations: the Virtualization Technology User Group of New England; the AWS Portsmouth User Group, now the AWS Boston User Group; I’m a co-host and presenter for vBrownBag; I also do the New England AWS Community Day, which is a conglomeration of all the different user groups in one setting; and various and sundry other things, as well, along the way. Having done all of that, and having had a lot of the SAs and team members come and do speaking presentations for these various and sundry things, I was nominated internally by AWS to become one of their Community Heroes. Like you said, it’s basically unpaid volunteer work where I go out and tout the services. I love talking about nerd stuff, so when I started working on AWS technologies, I really enjoyed it, and I just, kind of like, glommed on with other people that did it as well. I’m also a VMware vExpert, which basically use the exact same accolade for VMware. I have not been doing as much VMware stuff in the recent past, but that’s kind of how I got into this gig.
Corey: One of the things that strikes me as being the right move with respect to these, effectively, community voice accolades is Microsoft got something very right—they’ve been doing this a long time—they have their MVP program, but they have to re-invite people who have to requalify for it by whatever criteria they are, every year. AWS does not do this with their Heroes program. If you look at their Heroes page, there’s a number of folks up there who have been doing interesting things in the cloud years ago, but then fell off the radar for a variety of reasons. In fact, the only way that I’m aware that you can lose Hero status is via getting a job at AWS or one of AWS competitors.
Now, the hard part, of course, is well, who is Amazon’s competitors? Basically everyone, but it mostly distills down to Microsoft, Google, and Oracle, as best I can tell, for Hero status. How does VMware fall on that spectrum? To be more specific, how does VMware fall on the spectrum of their community engagement program and having to renew, not, “Are they AWS’s competitor?” To which the answer is, “Of course.”
Chris: So, the renewal process for the VMware vExpert program is an annual re-up process where you fill out the form, list your contribution of the year, what you’ve done over the previous year, and then put it in for submission to the board of VMware vExperts who then give you the thumbs up or thumbs down. Much like Nero, you know, pass or fail, live or die. And I’ve been fortunate enough, so my vBrownBag contributions are every week; we have a show that happens every week. It can be either VMware stuff, or cloud in general stuff, or developer-related stuff. We cover the gamut; you know, people that want to come on and talk about whatever they want to talk about, they come on. And by virtue of that, we’ve had a lot of VMware speakers, we’ve had a lot of AWS speakers, we’ve had a lot of Azure speakers. So, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to qualify each year with those contributions.
Corey: I think that’s the right way to go, from my perspective at least. But I want to get into this a little bit because you are an enterprise architect, which is always one of those terms that is super easy to make fun of in a variety of different ways. Your IDE is probably a whiteboard, and at some point when you have to write code, I thought you had a team of people who would be able to do that all for you because your job is to cogitate, and your artifacts are documentation, and the entire value of what you do can only be measured in the grand sweep of time, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Corey: But you don’t generally get to be a Community Hero for stuff like that, and you don’t usually get to be a vExpert on the VMware side, by not having at least technical chops that make people take a second look. What is it you’d say it is you do hear for, lack of a better term?
Chris: “What would you say ya, do you here, Bob?” So, I’m not being facetious when I say cloud therapist. There is a lot of working at the eighth layer of the OSI model, the political layer. There’s a lot of taking the requirements from the customer and sending them to the engineer. I’m a people person.
The easy answer is to say, I do all the things from the TOGAF certification manual: the requirements, risks, assumptions, and constraints; the logical, conceptual, and physical diagrams; the harder answer is the soft skill side of that, is actually being able to communicate with the various levels of the industry, figuring out what the business really wants to do and how to technically solution that and figure out how to talk to the engineers to make that happen. You’re right EAs get made fun of all the time, almost as much as consultants get made fun of. And it’s a very squishy layer that, you know, depending upon your personality and the personality of the customer that you’re dealing with, it can work wonderfully well or it can crash and burn immediately. I know from personal experience that I don’t mesh well with financials, but I’m really, really good with, like, medical industry stuff, just the way that the brain works. But ironically, right now I’m working with a financial and we’re getting along like a house on fire.
Corey: Oh, yeah. I’ve been saying for a while now that when it comes to cloud, cost and architecture are the same things, and I think that ties back to a lot of different areas. But I want to be very clear here that we talk about, I’m not super deep into the financials, that does not mean you’re bad at architecture because working on finance means different things to different folks. I don’t think that it is possibly a good architect in the cloud environment and not have a conception of, “Huh, that thing seems really expensive if I do it that way.” That is very different than having the skill of reading a profit and loss statement or understanding various implications of the time value of money calculation that a company uses, or how things get amortized.
There are nuances piled on top of nuances in finance, and it’s easy to sit here and think that oh, I’m not great at finance means I don’t know how money works. That is very rarely true. If you really don’t know how money works, you’ll go start a cryptocurrency startup.
Chris: [laugh]. So, I plugged back to you; I was listening to one of your old shows and I cribbed one of your ideas and totally went with it. So, I just said that there’s the logical, conceptual, and physical diagrams of an environment; on one of your shows, you had mentioned a financial diagram for an environment, and I was like, “That’s brilliant.” So, now when I go into a customer, I actually do that, too. I take my physical diagram, I strip out all of the IP addresses, and our names, and everything like that, and I plot down how much it’s going to cost, like, “This is the value of the EC2 instance,” or, “This is how much this pipe is going to cost if you run this over it.” And they go bananas over it. So, thanks
for providing that idea that I mercilessly stole.
Corey: Kind of fun on a lot of levels. Part of the challenge is as things get cloudier and it moves away from EC2 instances, ideally the lie we
would like to tell ourselves that everything’s in an auto-scaling group. Great—
Corey: —stepping beyond that when you start getting into something that’s even more intricately tied to a specific user, we’re talking about effectively trying to get unit economic measures of every user, every thousand users is going to cost me X dollars to service them on average, on top of a baseline of steady-state spend that is going to increase differently. At that point, talking to finance about predictive models turn into, “Well, this comes down to a question of business modeling.” But conversely, for engineering minds that is exactly what finance is used to figuring out. The problem they have is, “Well, every time we hire a new engineer, we wind up seeing our AWS bill increase.” Funny how that works. Yeah, how do you map that to something that the business understands? That is part of what they do. But it does, I admit, make it much more challenging from a financial map of an environment.
Chris: Yeah, especially when the customer or the company is—you know, they’ve been around for a while, and they’re used to just like that large bolus of money at the very beginning of a data center, and they buy the switches, and they buy the servers, and they virtualize them, and they have that set cost that they knew that they had to plunk down at the beginning. And it’s a mindset shift. And they’re coming around to it, some faster than others. Oddly enough, the startups nowadays are catching on very quickly. I don’t deal with a lot of startups, so it takes some finesse.
Corey: An interesting inflection that I’ve seen is that there’s an awful lot of enterprises out there that say, “Oh, we’re like a startup.” Great. You mean with weird cultural inflections that often distill down to cult of personality, the constant worry about whether you’re going to wind up running out of runway before finding product-market fit? And the rooms filled with—
Chris: The eighty-hour work weeks? The—[laugh]—
Corey: And they’re like, “No, no, no, it’s like the good parts.” “Oh, so you mean out the upside.” But you don’t hear it the other way around where you have a startup that you’re interviewing with, “Ha-ha, we’re like an enterprise. We have a six-month interview process that takes 18 different stages,” and so on and so forth. However, we do see startups having to mature rapidly, and move up the compliance path as they’re dealing with regulated entities and the rest, and wanting to deal with serious customers who have no sense of humor about, “Yeah, we’ll figure that part out later as part of an audit document.”
So, what we also see, though, is that enterprises are doing things that look a lot more startup-y. If I take a look at the common development environments and tools and techniques that big enterprises use, it looks an awful lot like how startups were doing it five or ten years ago. That is the slow and steady evolution of time. And what startups are doing today becomes enterprise tomorrow, and I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a sea of vendors out there who, in the event that winds up happening are eventually going to find themselves without a market at all. My model has been that if I go and found a Twitter for Pets style startup tomorrow and in ten years, it has grown to become an S&P 500 component—which is still easier to take seriously than most of what Tesla says—great.
During that journey, at what point do I become a given company’s customer because if there is no onboarding story for me to become your customer, you’re in a long-tail decline phase. That’s been my philosophy, but you are a—trademarked term—Enterprise Architect, so please feel free to tell me if I’m missing any of the nuances there, which I’m sure I am because let’s face it, nuance is hard; sweeping statements are easy.
Chris: As an architect, [laugh] it would be a disservice to not say my favorite catchphrase, it depends. There are so many dependencies to those kinds of sweeping statements. I mean, there’s a lot of enterprises that have good process; there are a lot of enterprises that have bad process. And going back to your previous statement of the startup inside the enterprise, I’m hearing a lot of companies nowadays saying, “Oh, well, we’ve now got this brand new incubator system that we’re currently running our little startup inside of. It’s got the best of both worlds.”
And I’m not going to go through the litany of bad things that you just said about startups, but they’ll try to encapsulate that shift that you’re talking about where the cheese is moving so quickly now that it’s very hard for these companies to know the customer well enough to continue to stay salient and continue to be able to look into that crystal ball to stay relevant in the future. My job as an EA is to try to capture that point in time where what are the requirements today and what are the known detriments that you’re going to see in your future that you need to protect against? So, that’s kind of my job—other than being a cloud therapist—in a nutshell.
Corey: I love the approach. My line has been that I do a lot of marriage counseling between engineering and finance, which is a fun term that also just so happens to be completely accurate.
Chris: Absolutely. [laugh]. I’m currently being a marriage counselor right now.
Corey: It’s an interesting time. So, you had a viral tweet recently that honestly, I’m a bit jealous about. I have had a lot of tweets that have done reasonably well, but I haven’t ever had anything go super-viral, where it was just a screenshot of a conversation you had with an AWS recruiter. Now, before we go into this, I want to make a couple of disclaimers here. Before I entered tech myself, I was a technical recruiter, and I can say that these people have hard jobs.
There is a constant pressure to perform, it is a sales job that is unlike most others. If you sell someone a pen, great, you can wrap your head around what that’s like. But you don’t have to worry about the pen deciding it doesn’t want to go home with the buyer. So, it becomes a double sale in a lot of weird ways, and there’s a constant race to the bottom and there’s a lot of competition in the space. It’s a numbers game and a lot of folks get in and wash out who have terrible behaviors and terrible patterns, so the whole industry gets tainted—in some respects—like that. A great example of someone who historically has been a terrific example of recruiting done right has been Jill Wohlner. And she’s one of the shining beacons of the industry as far as how to do these things in the right way—
Corey: —but the fact that she is as exceptional as she is is in no small part because there’s a lot of random folks coming by. All which is to say that our conversation going forward is not and should not be aimed at smacking around individual recruiters or recruiting as a whole because that is unfair. Now, that disclaimer has been given. Great, what happened?
Chris: So, first off, shout out to Jill; she actually used to be a host on vBrownBag. So, hey girl. [laugh]. What happened was—and I have the utmost empathy and sympathy for recruiting; I actually used to have a side gig where I would go around to the local recruiting places around my area here and teach them how to read a cloud resume and how to read a req and try to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to actually have good conversations. This was back when cloud wasn’t—this was, like, three or four years ago.
And I would go in there and say, “This is how you recruit a cloud person nowadays.” So, I love good recruiters. This one was a weird experience in that—so when a recruiter reaches out to me, what I do is I take an assessment of my current situation: “Am I happy where I’m at right now?” The answer is, “Yes.” And if they ping me, I’ll say, “Hey, I’m happy right now, but if you have something that is, you know, a million dollars an hour, taste-testing margaritas on St. John island in the sand, I’m all ears. I’m listening. Conversely, I also am a Community Hero, so I know a ton of people out in the industry. Maybe I can help you out with landing that next person.”
Corey: I just want to say for the record, that is absolutely the right answer. And something like that is exactly what I would give, historically. I can’t do it now because let’s be clear here. I have a number of employees and, “Hey, Corey’s out there doing job interviews,” sends a message that isn’t good when it comes to how is that company doing anyway. I miss it because I enjoyed the process and I enjoyed the fun, but even when I was perfectly happy, it’s, “Well, I’m not actively on the market, but I am interested to have a conversation if you’ve got something
Because let’s face it, I want to hear what’s going on in the market, and if I’m starting to hear a lot of questions about a technology I have been dismissive of, okay, maybe it’s time to pay more attention. I have repeatedly been able to hire the people interviewing me in some cases, and sometimes I’ve gone on interviews just to keep my interview skills sharp and then wound up accepting the job because it turned out they did have something interesting that was compelling to me even though I was reasonably happy at the time. I will always take the meeting; I will always at least have a chat about what they’re doing, and I think that doing otherwise is doing yourself a disservice in the long arc of your career.
Chris: Right. And that’s basically the approach that I take, too. I want to hear what’s out there. I am very happy at World Wide right now, so I’m not interested, interested. But again, if they come up with an amazing opportunity, things could happen. So, I implied that in my response to him.
I said, “I’m happy right now, thanks for asking, but let’s set up the meeting and we can have a chat.” The response was unexpected. [laugh]. The response was basically, “If you’re not ready to leave right now, it makes no sense for me to talk to you.” And it was a funny… interaction.
I was like, “Huh. That’s funny.” I’m going to tweet about that because I thought it was funny—I’m not a jerk, so I’m going to block out all of the names and all of the identifying information and everything—and I threw it up. And the commiseration was so impressive. Not impressive in a good way; impressive in a bad way.
Every person that responded was like, “Yes. This has happened to me. Yes, this is”—and honestly, I got a lot of directors from AWS reaching out to me trying to figure out who that person was, apologizing saying that’s not our way. And I responded to each and every single one of them. And I was like, “Somebody has already found that person; somebody has already spoken to that person. That being said, look at all of the responses in the timeline. When you tell me personally, that’s not the way you do things, I believe that you believe that.”
Corey: Yeah, I believe you’re being sincere when you say this, however the reality of what the data shows and people’s lived experience in the form of anecdotes are worlds apart.
Chris: Yeah. And I’m an AWS Hero. [laugh]. That’s how I got treated. Not to blow my own horn or anything like that, but if that’s happening to me, either A, he didn’t look me up and just cold-called me—which is probably the case—and b, if he treats me like that, imagine how he’s treating everybody else?
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Corey: Every once in a while I get some of their sourcers doing outreach to see folks who are somewhat aligned on them via LinkedIn or other things, and, “Oh, okay, yeah; if you look at the things I talked about in various places, I can understand how I might look like a potentially interesting hire.” And they send outreach emails to me, they’re always formulaic, and once in a while, I’ll tweet a screenshot of them where I redact the person’s name, and it was—and there’s a comment, like, “Should I tell them?” Because it’s fun; it’s hilarious. But I want to be clear because that often gets misconstrued; they have done absolutely nothing wrong. You’ve got to cast a wide net to find talent.
I’m surprised I get as few incidents of recruiter outreach as I do. I am not hireable and that’s okay, but I don’t begrudge people reaching out. I either respond with a, “No thanks,” if it’s a particularly good email, or I just hit the archive button and never think about it again. And that’s fine, too. But I don’t make people feel like a jerk for asking, and that is an engineering behavioral pattern that drives me up a wall.
It’s, “So, I’m thinking about a job here and I’m wondering if you might be a fit,” and your response is just to set them on fire? Well, guess what an awful lot of those people sending out those emails in the sourcing phase of recruiting are early career, and guess what, they tend to get promoted in the fullness of time. Sometimes they’re no longer recruiting at all; sometimes they wind up being hiring managers in different ways or trying to figure out what offer they’re going to extend to someone. And if you don’t think that people in those roles remember when they’re treated poorly as a response to their outreach, I have news for you. Don’t do it. Your reputation lingers long after you no longer work there.
Chris: Just exactly so. And I feel really bad for that guy.
Corey: I do hope that he was not reprimanded because he should not be. It is clearly a systemic problem, and the fact that one person happened to do this in a situation where it went viral does not mean that they are any worse than other folks doing it. It is a teachable opportunity. It is, “I know that you have incredible numbers of roles to hire for, all made all the more urgent by the fact that you’re having some significant numbers of departures—clearly—in the industry right now.” So, I get it; you have a hard job. I’m not going to waste your time because I don’t even respond to them just because, at AWS particularly, they have hard work to do, and just jawboning with me is not going to be useful for them.
Corey: I get it.
Chris: And you’re trying to hire the same talent too. So.
Corey: Exactly. One of the most egregious things I’ve seen in the course of my career was when that whole multiple accounts opened for Wells Fargo’s customers and they wound up firing 3500 people. Yeah, that’s not individual tellers doing something unethical. That is a systemic problem, and you clean house at the top because you’re not going to convince me that you’re hiring that many people who are unethical and setting out to do these things as a matter of course. It means that the incentives are wrong, it means that the way you’re measuring things are wrong, and people tend to do things out of fear or because there’s now a culture of it. And if you fire individuals for that, you’re wrong.
Chris: And that was the message that I conveyed to the people that reached out to me and spoke to me. I was like, there is a misaligned KPI, or OKR, or whatever acronym you want to use, that is forcing them to do this churn-and-burn mentality instead of active, compassionate recruiting. I don’t know what that term is; I’m very far removed from the recruiting world. But that person isn’t doing that because they’re a jerk. They’re doing that because they have numbers to hit and they’ve got to grind out as many as humanly possible. And you’re going to get bad employees when you do that. That’s not a long-term sustainable path. So, that was the conversation that I had with them. Hopefully, it resonated and hits home.
Corey: I still remember from ten years ago—and I don’t always tell the story, but I absolutely will now—I went up to San Francisco when I lived in Los Angeles; I interviewed with Yammer. I went through the entire process—this was not too long before they got acquired by Microsoft so that gives you some time basis—and I got a job offer. And it was a not ridiculous offer. I was going to think about it, and I [unintelligible 00:24:19], “Great. Thank you. Let me sleep on this for a day or two and I’ll get back to you definitely before the end of the week.”
Within an hour, I got a response rescinding the offer claiming it had been sent by mistake. Now, I believe that that is true and that they are being sincere with this. I don’t know that if it was the wrong person; I don’t know if that suddenly they didn’t have the req or they had another candidate that suddenly liked better that said no and then came back and said yes, but it’s been over a decade now and every time I talk to someone who’s considering something in that group, I tell this story. That’s the sort of thing that leaves a mark because I have a certain philosophy of I don’t ever resign from a job before I wind up making sure everything is solid—things are signed, good to go, the background check clears, et cetera—because I don’t want to find myself suddenly without income or employment, especially in that era. And that was fine, but a lot of people don’t do that.
As soon as the offer comes in, they’re like, “I’m going to go take a crap on my boss’s desk,” which, let’s be clear, I don’t recommend. You should write a polite and formulaic resignation letter and then you should email it to your boss, you should not carve it into their door. Do this in a responsible way, and remember that you’re going to encounter these people again throughout your career. But if I had done that, I would have had serious problems. And so that points to something systemically awful at a company.
I have never in my career as a hiring manager extended an offer and then rescinded it for anything other than we can’t come to an agreement on this. To be clear, this is also something I wonder about in the space, when people tell stories about how they get a job offer, they attempt to negotiate the offer, and then it gets withdrawn. There are two ways that goes. One is, “Well if you’re not happy with this offer, get out of here.” Yeah, that is a crappy company, but there’s also the story of people who don’t know how to negotiate effectively, and in turn, they come back with indications that you do not know how to write a business email, you do not know how negotiations work, and suddenly, you’re giving them a last-minute opportunity to get out before they hire someone who is going to be something of a wrecking ball in the company, and, “Whew, dodged a bullet on that.”
I haven’t encountered that scenario myself, but I’ve seen it from other folks and emails that have been passed around in various channels. So, my position on this is everyone should negotiate offers, but visit fearlesssalarynegotiation.com, it’s run by my friend, Josh; he has a whole bunch of free content on his site. Look at it. Read it. It is how to handle this stuff effectively and why things are the way that they are. Follow his advice, and you won’t go too far wrong. Again, I have no financial relationship, I just like what he’s done a lot and I’ve been talking to him for years.
Chris: Nice. I’ll definitely check that out. [laugh].
Corey: Another example is developher—that’s develop H-E-R dot com. Someone else I’ve been speaking to who’s great at this takes a different perspective on it, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of advice out there. Just make sure that whoever it is you’re talking to about this is in a position to know what they’re talking about because there’s crap advice that’s free. Yeah. How do you figure out the good advice and the bad advice? I’m worried someone out there is actually running Route 53 is a database for God’s sake.
Chris: That’s crazy talk. Who would do that? That’s madness.
Corey: I can’t imagine it.
Chris: We’re actually in the process of trying to figure out how to do a panel chat on exactly that, like, do a vBrownBag on salary negotiations, get some really good people in the room that can have a conversation around some of the tough questions that come around salary negotiation, what’s too much to ask for? What kind of attitude should you go into it with? What kind of process should you have mentally? Is it scrawling in crayon, “No. More money,” and then hitting send? Or is it something a little bit more advanced?
Corey: I also want to be clear that as you’re building panels and stuff like that—because I got this wrong early on in my public speaking career, to be clear—I built talks aligned with this based on what worked for me—make sure that there are folks on the panel who are not painfully over-represented as you and I are because what works for us and we’re considered oh, savvy business people who are great negotiators comes across as entitled, or demanding, or ooh, maybe we shouldn’t hire her—and yes, I’m talking about her in a lot of these scenarios—make sure you have a diverse group of folks who can share lived experience and strategies that work because what works for you and me is not universal, I promise.
Chris: So, the only requirement to set this panel is that you have to be a not-white guy; not-old-white guy. That’s literally the one rule. [laugh].
Corey: I like the approach. It’s a good way to do it. I don’t do manels.
Chris: Yes. And it’s tough because I’m not going to get into it, but the mental space that you have to be in to be a woman in tech, it’s a delicate balance because when I’m approaching somebody, I don’t want to slide into their DMs. It’s like this, “Hey, I know this other person and they recommended you and I am not a weirdo.” [laugh]. As an old white guy, I have to be very not a weirdo when I’m talking to folks that I’m desperate to get on the show.
Because I love having that diverse aspect, just different people from different backgrounds. Which is why we did the entire career series on vBrownBag. We did data science with Ayodele; we did how to get into cybersecurity with Christoph. It was a fantastic series of how to get into IT. This was at the beginning of the pandemic.
We wanted to do a series on, okay, there’s a lot of people out there that are furloughed right now. How do we get some people on the show that can talk to how to get into a part of IT that they’re passionate about? We did a triple series on how to get into game development with Dennis Diack, the founder of Apocalypse Studios. We had a bunch of the other AWS Heroes from serverless, and Lambda, and AI on the show to talk, and it was really fantastic and I think it resonated well with the community.
Corey: It takes work to have a group of guests on things like podcasts like this. You’ve been running vBrownBag for longer than I’ve been running this, and—
Chris: 13 years now.
Corey: Yeah. This is I think, coming up on what, four years-ish, maybe three, in that range? The passing of time, especially in a pandemic era, is challenging. And there’s always a difference. If I invite a white dude to come on the podcast, the answer is yes before I get the word podcast fully out of my mouth, whereas folks who are not over-represented, they’re a little more cautious. First, there’s the question of, “Am I a trash bag?” And the answer is, “No.” Well, no, not in the way that you’re concerned about other ways—
Chris: [laugh]. That you’re aware of. [laugh].
Corey: Oh, God, yes, but—yeah. And then—and that’s part of it, and then very often, there’s a second one of, “Well, I don’t think I have
anything, really, to talk about,” is often a common objection here. And it’s, yeah, if I’m inviting you on this show, I promise that’s not true. Don’t worry about that piece of it. And then it’s the standard stuff that just comes with being me, of, “Yeah, I’ve read your Twitter feed; you got to insult me here?” It’s, “No, no, not really the same tone. But great question; throw the”—it goes down to process. But it takes constant work, you can’t just put an open call out for guest nominations, and expect that to wind up being representative of our industry. It is representative of our biases, in many respects.
Chris: It’s a tough needle to thread. Because the show has been around for a long time, it’s easier for me now, because the show has been around for 13 years. We actually just recorded our two thousandth and sixtieth episode the other night. And even with that, getting that kind of outreach, [#techtwitter 00:31:32] is wonderful for making new recommendations of people. So, that’s been really fun. The rest of Twitter is a hot trash fire, but that’s beside the point. So yeah, I don’t have a good solution for it. There’s no easy answer for it other than to just be empathic, and communicative, and reach people on their level, and have a good show.
Corey: And sometimes that’s all it takes. The idea behind doing a podcast—despite my constant jokes—it’s not out of a love affair of the sound of my own voice. It’s about for better or worse, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I have a platform. People listen to the show and they care what people have to say. So, my question is, how can I wind up using that platform to tell stories that lift up narratives that are helpful for folks that they can use as inspiration—in my case, as critical warnings of what to avoid—and effectively showcasing some of the best our industry has to offer, in many respects.
So, if the guest has a good time and the audience can learn something, and I’m not accidentally perpetuating horrifying things, that’s really more than I have any right to ask from a show like this. The fact that it’s succeeded is due in no small part to not just an amazing audience, but also guests like you. So, thank you.
Chris: Oh no, Thank you. And it is. It’s… these kinds of shows are super fun. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t have done it for as long as I have. I still enjoy chatting with folks and getting new voices.
I love that first-time presenter who was, like, super nervous and I spend 15 minutes with them ahead of the show, I say, “Okay, relax. It’s just going to be me and you facing each other. We’re going to have a good time. You’re going to talk about something that you love talking about, and we’re going to be nerds and do nerd stuff. This is me and you in front of a water cooler with a whiteboard just being geeks and talking about cool stuff. We’re also going to record it and some amount of people is going to see it afterwards.” [laugh].
And yeah, that’s the part that I love. And then watching somebody like that turn into the keynote speaker at a conference ten years down the road. And I get to say, “Oh, I knew that person when.”
Corey: I just want to be remembered by folks who look back fondly at some of the things that we talk about here. I don’t even need credit, just yeah. People who see that they’ve learned things and carry them forward and spread to others, there’s so many favors that people have done for us that we can only ever pay forward.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. So—and that’s actually how I got into vBrownBag. I came to them saying, “Hey, I love the things that you guys have done. I actually passed my VCIX because of watching vBrownBags. What can I do to help contribute back to the community?” And Alistair said, “Funny you should mention that.” [laugh]. And here we are seven years later.
Corey: Well, to that end, if people are inspired by what you’re saying and they want to hear more about what you have to say or, heaven forbid, follow in your footsteps, where can they find you?
Chris: So, you can find me on Twitter
; I am at mistwire.com
—M-I-S-T-W-I-R-E; if you Google ‘mistwire,’ I am the first three pages of hits; so I have a blog; you can find me on vBrownBag
. I’m hard to miss on Twitter [laugh] I discourage you from following me there. But yeah, you can hit me up on all of the formats. And if you want to present, I’d love to get you on the show. If you want to learn more about what it takes to become an AWS Hero or if you want to get into that line of work, I highly discourage it. It’s a long slog but it’s a—yeah, I’d love to talk to you.
Corey: And we of course put links to that in the [show notes 00:35:01]. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Chris. I really appreciate it.
Chris: Thank you, Corey. Thanks for having me on.
Corey: Chris Williams, Enterprise Architect, comma AWS Cloud at WWT. 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 a comment telling me that while you didn’t actively enjoy this episode, you are at least open to enjoying future episodes if I have one that might potentially be exciting.
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com
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