Forrest Brazeal is Cloud Bard who doubles as a senior manager at A Cloud Guru, an e-learning company that helps people learn about the cloud. Previously, he worked as a senior cloud architect at Trek10, Inc. and team lead for cloud architecture and services at Infor. One of the original AWS Serverless Heroes, Forrest holds a master’s in computer science at Georgia Tech, where he earned a 4.0 GPA. Join Corey and Forrest as they discuss what it’s like to be a cloud bard, why you should try to pull fun things into your job so you can get paid to do what you love, what it’s like to design and scale cloud training initiatives, how not everyone knows what the cloud is, the role empathy plays in cloud education, how Forrest wrote a book about the cloud in verse, how Forrest believes there will be hundreds of millions of developers by the end of the decade, what Forrest thinks is an effective way to teach people the cloud, and more.
Episode Show Notes & Transcript
About Forrest Brazeal
Forrest is an enterprise cloud architect, speaker, and community advocate. Currently a senior manager at A Cloud Guru, he spent years designing applications for the cloud at Infor and Trek10. One of the original AWS Serverless Heroes, Forrest was also named one of Jefferson Frank's Top 7 Global AWS Experts in 2019. His first book, "The Read-Aloud Cloud", is coming from Wiley in September 2020.
- Book: https://www.amazon.com/Read-Aloud-Cloud-Innocents-Inside/dp/1119677629
- Cloud Irregular: https://cloudirregular.substack.com/ works. Note that this is the link behind some text that is “forrestBrazeal.com/mailinglist” which was not a working link.
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/forrestbrazeal
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/forrestbrazeal/
- Personal Website: https://forrestbrazeal.com/
- Article “Why Central Cloud Teams Fail”: https://info.acloud.guru/resources/why-central-cloud-teams-fail-and-how-to-save-yours
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Forrest Brazeal, cloud bard at A Cloud Guru. Forrest, welcome to the show.
Forrest: Well, thanks, Corey. It's always a pleasure to chat with you.
Corey: It really is. I'm delightful. So, you've been a lot of things: an enterprise cloud architect, a speaker, a community advocate, and now you're apparently a senior manager, which means, dear Lord, people work for you. Or with you, technically. But yes.
Forrest: Yeah. So, I came to A Cloud Guru specifically to just help them engage with the community. And I do a lot of things that you've probably seen floating around there. Some of them have pictures attached to them, some of them have words attached to them, some of them may even have music scored along with them. Basically, my goal is to tell the story of the Cloud any way that I can, and that's why I sometimes call myself a cloud bard.
Corey: And some of the songs and other, shall we say, artistic endeavors you come out with are, frankly, astonishingly good. It's wonderful. It's similar to stuff I want to create, except for the fact that I don't have that little thing called talent.
Forrest: Well, Corey, I think that you're underselling yourself there. But one of the things that I've learned in the years that I've been doing this is, you're going to have a lot more fun in your job if you can find ways to pull the things you enjoy right in alongside the things that you are required to do and figure out a way to get paid for the things you enjoy. And so, over the years, I've spent more and more time figuring out how to do things like write, and sing, and draw, and just pull that right into my job, and somehow that seems to be my thing now.
Corey: And it seems to be working out really well for you. The fact that you can play the piano was definitely a recent, shall we say, revelation to many of us. Your love ballad to S3 was absolutely my kind of ridiculous. Good work.
Forrest: Well, thanks for that. You know, I've got a few AWS related songs up my sleeve, so maybe we can collaborate on something down the road.
Corey: Oh, we absolutely should. There are things in the pipeline on this end, as well, that I think will be absolutely appreciated. So, tell me a little bit about your journey. The last time we really spoke in any depth, you were at Trek10, which now that you've left, of course, Trek9. And now you're at A Cloud Guru. Why?
Forrest: Yeah, well, first of all, I don't think it's fair to call them Trek9. I think I was pretty quickly replaced over there by amazing folks like Alex DeBrie, who I think has also been on the show. So, if anything, they've leveled up. They're Trak10 plus plus now. But yeah, so I was at Trak10 for a couple of years.
I was doing a lot of consulting, a lot of enterprise consulting, and so I was going into these large organizations, and I was helping them figure out, essentially, how to successfully adopt the Cloud, trying to lead these cloud initiatives. I learned a lot doing that. It was really fascinating. And what I came to realize is I wanted to find ways to kind of scale that even farther. A Cloud Guru has this really fascinating opportunity where they are sitting on well over a million students who are learners on the platform right now. And a lot of those folks are coming from enterprises, from businesses large and small.
And one component of my role of A Cloud Guru that I really enjoy is this ability to hear from a lot of these customers, understand where they're succeeding or failing with rolling out cloud competency, not just to, like, that little central group of experts, but to this broad team of folks—many of whom have years of technological experience, but it's all very legacy-based—and figuring out how to design and scale cloud training initiatives that will work for those groups.
Corey: Something I've appreciated about you—well, there's not much I appreciate about you, at least that's the public like because you're one of those people where if I'm too flattering to you, you become completely insufferable—but one of the things I do appreciate about you if I can be sincere for a second, has been that you're less aimed at solving the esoteric technical challenges, though you certainly do that than you are at helping people understand and wrap their heads around what's happening in this space in an intelligent way that doesn't assume that someone has just spent four years with getting a computer science degree first.
Forrest: You know, I appreciate you saying that. And I think that the word that we have to keep in mind here is empathy. It's easy for those of us who've been in the Cloud for a while, and I've been building in the Cloud for well, at least six years now. And some folks even longer than that. And it's easy for us to think, “Oh, well, everybody's doing this, now. Cloud has won, and we're in that late adopter phase,” and that's really not true.
I mean, what is it, something like two, three percent of all IT spend is in the Cloud, even today? I was just on a call the other day with someone in the public sector, a large group of people actually in the public sector, and was stopped about halfway through my presentation on the Cloud by someone who said, “I just really don't get this term ‘cloud.’ I, in fact, I have just barely gotten to understand the term ‘server,’ and now I'm really having trouble with this new abstraction.” And this is a person who's super successful, has been a professional for a long time. And they're just now getting to the point of even beginning to engage with what this whole abstraction of the Cloud means.
And so, what I try to do when I'm creating content, when I'm speaking to audiences, is step back and remember, how did I feel back when I first encountered this beautiful, dangerous idea of the Cloud. This meeting of the internet and cheap, compact hardware that I consider to be one of the greatest technological innovations of the last half-century. It's super exciting. There's so much color, and magic, and mystery to what we're looking at here when we build on the Cloud. And I want to help people understand that. I want to get them excited. I want to send them off to build the next generation of great cloud applications.
Corey: I think that might be the transformation that we're seeing, and that people are taking far too lightly, where it's less about needing to have this deep background in technology to deliver outcomes. That is what these cloud services are empowering as they move further up the stack. They're all built on these primitives that we've all come to know and, if not love, at least tolerate. I mean, you love them, you write ballads to them. But I'm not trying to build a service anymore that leverages how to store data in vast quantities on a cloud provider. S3 has nailed that for me. Instead, I want to do something interesting that happens to require that functionality. And the things that move up the stack and leverage that, but mean I don't need to spend three weeks learning what S3 is and how it works, that just sort of abstract that all away from me, are incredibly powerful.
Forrest: That's exactly right. And somebody asked me a question on Twitter the other day, and I wish I could remember who this was, or I would name-drop them here, but the person said, “Hey, Forrest, why is it that I have to still go into the AWS console and choose compute and persistence options separately? Shouldn't we be past that point? Shouldn't I just have something handed to me that packages that all up in one section?” I had about 10 answers pop into my head of why that doesn't make sense, and then I thought about it a minute longer, and I was like, “You know what? There's going to be more and more people asking this question over the next five to ten years as we have more folks that just want to build.” They're not so much interested in okay, well, how do I match the exact compute obstruction to the exact right storage abstraction.
For the 80 percent use case, that really should eventually be something that's packaged up for me, and I can focus just on plugging services together and building on top. That's been the serverless dream. That's been the cloud-native dream. That's the quote-unquote, “low code, no code dream,” and we're going to see more services like that coming out. But I think we're talking about hundreds of millions of developers who are going to be practicing professionally by the end of the next decade, and it's up to us to create experiences, to create best practices, to create guided solutions that are going to get these folks where they need to be with as little fuss as possible.
Corey: To that end, you have just recently released a book. It comes from Wiley publishing. What ridiculous title have you given it?
Forrest: So, the title of the book is The Read Aloud Cloud, subtitled An Innocent's Guide to the Tech Inside. And you say, “Why would you create a tech book with a title that rhymes?” And the answer is be—
Corey: The entire thing is in verse.
Forrest: The entire thing is in verse. You're absolutely correct. Ev—
Corey: I was kidding.
Forrest: No, I'm not kidding. It is a hundred percent written in verse. There are some prose essays at the end of the chapters that, you know, unpack things a little bit. They're called “Word to the Nerd” sections. But that's like a “To the parent” section. You can read that if you want to.
Corey: Well, I've heard verse ideas.
Forrest: You've heard verse ideas, yes. Well, you'll hear a lot more verse ideas if you happen to read this book. So, basically the idea is, it's a book first and foremost that you as a technical professional, a cloud professional, can hand to your non-technical family member, friend, coworker, someone who's always asking you, “Hey, what is the Cloud? Can you explain that to me again?” And they just feel like they can't get their heads around it.
That's not a dumb question. It's not that these technologies are super hard to understand. They're just really abstract. It's easy to understand why a doctor exists, why a lawyer exists. We all have some intuitive understanding of that. It's not so easy to visualize what a cloud architect does. What exactly does that person build? And this book is designed with, yes, verse, and with lots of pictures, lots of cartoons, and goofy images, and insane visual metaphors to help you understand what the Cloud does, what people in the Cloud do, and why this is something that's important for your life, whether you're actually looking at building on the Cloud yourself or not.
Corey: So, to be clear, is this aimed at children? Is it aimed at adults? Who is the target audience for this because when I see a read-aloud book that rhymes, I'll be honest, I buy an awful lot of those lately, but they usually are for my toddler.
Forrest: So, look, people who buy books tend to be folks who are adults, not children. So, in that sense, the book is for adults, it's definitely something that is.
Corey: Good point. Step one: target an audience that has money.
Forrest: You know, that is marketing 101. But it’s certainly something that's age-appropriate; you could read it to a child if you wanted to. My suspicion, certainly based on the folks who've seen it so far, is that it's one of those things that you just kind of want to have for your desk if you're an engineer. It's something that we can participate in, that we can be in on the joke with, as you’re, for example, paging through a chapter that's called “Evolution of the Cloud: A Prehistory,” and is showing you an IBM 401 mainframe fighting a triceratops. It's showing the Cloud is this explosion coming out of a volcano, right as the—
Corey: Yes, the meteor in the sky that's labeled AWS/400. And here we go.
Forrest: There you go. Exactly. I think there's a diagram somewhere in there that shows all the parts of the computer as they relate to the anatomical parts of the dinosaur as it's explaining mainframes. So, it's just very zany. There's a lot of visual humor in there. And I think that engineers will get a kick out of it. But it's definitely something that you can hand to either a child or to a non-technical adult—hey, maybe even your CEO; they like pictures. And you’ll walk away from it with some idea, some mental map for what exactly the Cloud is.
Corey: So, it's fun and relatively straightforward for me to explain concepts of the Cloud on Twitter in pithy short statements. For example, someone said, “What is the Cloud? Explain it using small words.” And my answer was, “Oh, cloud means that you used to run programs on computers. Now you run them on money.”
And that's fun, and it's great, and it's pithy, but it doesn't actually improve any understanding. And in fact, it does, in some cases, lead people in the exact opposite direction in service of a joke. What I like about your approach has been that you've never gone in that direction. The jokes may suffer for it, in my own personal opinion—but I'm reasonably certain that's envy speaking—whereas you go the extra mile to make sure that regardless of the joke, it's in service of education. Your priorities are reversed from mine, and I think that is admirable.
Forrest: Well, I’ve learned a lot from you, Corey, and I know that a lot of folks have, and I think we all have different approaches to—
Corey: I'm a terrific bad example.
Forrest: Well, I think at one point, you referred to me as ‘Safe For Work Corey Quinn’ and I feel like ‘Safe For Work Corey Quinn’ wouldn't have much value. So, you're your own thing. But what I'm trying to do is to create something that sticks with people. And you add a little bit of that magic, a little bit of that, as we sometimes call it‘the sidecar of delight’ to what you're creating. And that brings people back for more; it gets them nerding out about it.
I mean, about a year ago, I had created a rap battle between two versions of myself around serverless and containers, and it was ridiculous and goofy and silly. But it really was designed for a serious purpose, which was, without a large amount of snark, without a large amount of disdain for either side of that ongoing battle, just to help people understand what are the trade-offs here? Where might I choose to use one of these technologies over the other? And then ultimately, aren't they both in service of the same goal? Isn't it both about crawling up the stack and trying to minimize undifferentiated heavy lifting, as our friend Werner Vogels would say? So, that's the reason behind why I create these things. If I fail on that, and certainly I do, I appreciate it when people let me know, so I want to create things that help you understand and then meet you where you are.
Corey: And I say an awful lot of snarky things, but I'm quite sincere when I say that there is something incredibly admirable about that. My approach has always been that—my theory of adult education, and I learned to give talks by being a corporate trainer for a very interesting product at the time, was first you've got to get people's attention if you want to be able to teach them anything. So, my approach was always on getting people's attention and then leaving the actual heavy lifting of teaching people things to, you know, others who care about things and are good at them. You have sort of condensed those two into the same step because the jokes that you do are not the setup for the education, the jokes that you do tend to contain the education. And I think that that's a key distinction that really changes the entire format of the message.
Forrest: Maybe that's the case. And not to get too far down a rabbit hole here, but one of the things that always frustrates me about certain folks who do comedy today—and I'm thinking about folks like John Oliver at Last Week Tonight, is there's a serious message that they have, and then they try to sort of flavor that with jokes, but the two things are always discrete, and it feels like they're using a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, but the sugar and the medicine are two very different things. I want the sugar to be the medicine. Getting back to the idea of the Cloud, I personally find this subject fascinating. I think it's amazing to learn about. I think it's mind-blowing what we can do.
And I want to make that process of learning itself enjoyable. And that's another reason that I came to A Cloud Guru, is that’s something that they've had in their DNA since day one. With their instructors, with their features, and everything about the way that they present their content. I started working with them years ago when I started being involved more heavily with Serverlessconf, and right away, kind of, got that that was a big part of what they were all about. And so, I'm excited to be able to do a little bit more of this kind of work on the clock now.
Corey: It's always nice to find a place to be where the thing that you're doing aligns directly with the business needs. I've struggled in my entire career, where me doing the snarky thing, the conference talks, the brand-building was always viewed as a distraction from the thing I was supposed to be doing. The fun thing is, though, was I was better at the fun things that I enjoy doing than I was at the actual real job I was supposed to be doing. I didn't recognize it for what it was at the time, but what meant was I was in the wrong job.
Forrest: Yes, there you go. And of course, one solution to that might be just to sort of create your own job description and, in fact, an entire company around your exact skills, which is something I admire a lot about you, Corey.
Corey: Oh, absolutely. There's a lot to admire about me. I'm delightful. But one of the tricks I found as I went down this ridiculous path the way that I did, has been that I've been figuring out as I go, the things that work, and at least for me, it was the everything I do now is directly aligned with the things that got me fired from a whole bunch of companies. And I finally figured, all right, there's one of two scenarios that's correct: either every employer, boss, friend, mentor, casual acquaintance, person on the bus, et cetera who told me what my problem was, was right, and this means I'm going to starve to death.
Or I see something other people don’t, and embracing this in a constructive way could turn into something better than the jobs I've had. And I was always going to wonder if I didn't try it. All right, let's give this a shot and see what happens. And here we are four years later, I seem to have come up with an answer that, I guess, solves for that problem. I haven't gone out of business yet. I keep looking every month, and nope, still in business. It's worked, for better or worse, and it turns out that when you own the company, you can't exactly get fired anymore without some serious work.
Forrest: Well, that is true to one extent. Being in consulting, as you know, you're still sort of employed by your clients to some extent, but it seems to have worked out.
Corey: For better or worse, yes. And to be fair, there are different definitions of consulting. Very often people have one or two clients that are 80 percent of their revenue. The goal is to never have a single client that's more than 20 percent of revenue, and I crossed that milestone a while back. So, it now means in order for me to get quote-unquote, “Fired,” there either has to be something systemic like I don't know, a pandemic that hits a little differently, or I wind up instead doing something disastrous myself like, wow, and today, Corey went on a complete racist tirade on Twitter, which is generally not my failure mode.
Forrest: Yeah, it's interesting to have such a large portion of your career tied to how you present yourself publicly to everyone. And that's something that I've struggled with at times because it can feel like it's very all-consuming. And a lot of times people will ask me, “How do you make time to create, and how do you find a balance between that and the rest of your life?” And I've not always been great with that. If anything, it's been a struggle to extricate myself, and have a persona that's different from what's out there publicly. And I'm curious to know how you balance that.
Corey: It's a weird thing. In fact, you're at A Cloud Guru now. One of the founders, Sam Kroonenburg, was out in San Francisco a year and a half or so ago, back when I was doing a few of the release review episodes to basically show me the ropes, and we do the recordings, and it went pretty well. Sam kept cracking up, which is generally a good sign for my type of humor.
And then we go out for lunch. And we get to talking, and we're interrupted by someone, “Excuse me, this is going to sound incredibly rude. Are you Sam Kroonenburg?” And it turned into this whole, “Huge fan of what you do,” et cetera, et cetera. And I realized that if I'm not careful, that turns into me, where I'm not able to go walk down the street in San Francisco without getting stopped and said, “Excuse me, are you that open-mouth jerk from Twitter?” At which point, that's my immediate cue to duck because it's probably someone who works at AWS, and I'm about to get punched in the face.
But it tells me that at some point, there's a Rubicon that gets crossed, and you can't go back from it. Now, this sounds like a complete unrealistic thing to worry about or complain about, but if you talk to actual celebrities, not these crappy Twitter celebrities, of which I am barely one, this becomes an actual problem. When you have paparazzi following you all the time, you can't go out in your sweatpants to get a gallon of milk without having pictures taken and showing up on the internet. You always have to be prepared to deal with the public. Now, I'll never get there, but there's definitely a spectrum between no one knows or cares who you are, and everyone recognizes you on sight and possibly wants to stab you with a pitchfork. I don't know where I'm going to wind up on that, but I am starting to realize that it's sort of a one-way door. You can't go back to obscurity once you start getting recognized.
Forrest: I just want to say I think it's hilarious that you get stopped on the streets of San Francisco. I feel like, only in Silicon Valley would that happen, would you be recognized for your Twitter profile picture. That's all well and good. I mean, I'm not particularly concerned about reaching a point where I have to think twice before I go out to the store for milk.
Corey: In fairness, it does happen more when I'm walking inside of Amazon buildings in Seattle. The spit takes people do, even though they're not drinking coffee, at the time is pretty impressive.
Forrest: Yeah. We're just waiting for an Amazon building to actually be named the Low-Flying Quinnypig, or something like that. I think that's probably your ultimate evolution. But no, I where I was really going with that question was more just it's hard to set a balance between the time that you spend putting yourself out there and the time that you spend recharging. And I think that's something that even if the people that I'm talking to you—you know, you and I are probably never going to have Corey Quinn levels of notoriety, but if we're creating, there's always that challenge where you're trying to find places to just be yourself, places to recharge, and places to not just always be focusing on putting some version of yourself out there to the world. And I haven't cracked that problem yet, but I think that one thing that has helped me is just really trying to move more of that, actually, into my day job. And again, going back to what I do now, that's why I'm grateful to have the ability to do it from nine to five.
Sponsorships can be a lot of fun sometimes. ParkMyCloud asked, “Can we have one of our execs do a video webinar with you?” My response was, “Here’s a better idea. How about I talk to one of your customers instead, so you can pay to make fun of you.” And turns out, I’m super-convincing. So, that’s what’s happening. Join me and ParkMyCloud’s customer, Workfront, on July 23rd for a no-holds-barred discussion about how they’re optimizing AWS costs, and whatever other fights I manage to pick before ParkMyCloud realizes what’s going on and kills the feed. Visit parkmycloud.com/snark to register. That’s parkmycloud.com/snark.
Corey: And I think you're doing a fantastic job of it, too. I've got to be perfectly blunt with you here. There are times I feel a stab of envy. When Forrest posted something on the internet, and it's blowing up again, it’s, “Dammit I've been outshone again,” but you deserve it. And again, this is not a zero-sum game by any stretch of the imagination. What you do is impressive, incredible, and I'm a huge fan of what you do. It's just always interesting to realize, oh, I'm not the only funny person in the world. And I've got to say, in some of the meetings I've been in, I kind of start to believe I am.
Forrest: Well, that's the thing about being in tech is—and I said something about this the other day—in tech, to some extent, code is table stakes. Folks are technical; that's why we're in tech. And having some of these other skills in your stack, like speaking, like writing, like a sense of humor, as surprising as that might sound, it's honestly not that common. And being able to layer some of those other things in, it really makes you stand out.
And so I always encourage people to think about, what can I do that sets me apart? What makes me not just a pair of hands on a keyboard somewhere? What makes me someone who can actually provide unique value? And you may say, “Well, there's nothing.” But there absolutely is. And it may just be that you're still exploring and discovering that about yourself, but what else do you do? What do you know? What are you able to put out there?
For me, I mean, I like to draw pictures, and I like to engage with people and explain concepts in ways that makes sense to me. And that's something that you can do over time. And some of the people that I really enjoy who are really good at this, people like Julie Evans, who does those beautiful, beautiful zines on topics like containers and Linux kernel topics, just absolutely amazing stuff. And she's so sincere about how she does it. That's the thing I love about her: she's not creating in a way that’s saying, “Hey, look at me,” or, “She is all about me.” It's just, “This is something that I really love, and I'm excited about it, and I want you to be excited about it.” That's contagious, that's infectious, and that's what brings people to you and it causes what you create a stick.
Corey: And that's really what it comes down to. People say that, oh, you're sort of riding the lightning, whatever you're on social media, or putting yourself out there like this because one wrong move, and people are going to jump on you and tear you to pieces on it. And I don't find that to be true. Disclaimer: I am a straight, white man in tech. I am absolutely not the typical target for harassment, and I have a very different experience than many other folks do.
But, I have found that when I get something wrong—and yes, I do—and I get called out on it, as happens from time to time, the trick I've learned is that, first—and this is a psychology thing that is challenging for everyone, and I go through it every time—I suppress slash ignore that initial flash of defensive irritation, of oh, but it was a good joke. Someone's complaining about it. And I have to force my way through that and realize, okay. Let me put myself on the other side of this for a minute. Did I just potentially make certain folks feel crappy?
And if I did, I've gotten it wrong in almost every case, unless that other person happens to be the person that named Systems Manager Session Manager, in which case, yeah, you probably should feel a little bad about that. And if I need to resort to making people feel bad in order to make a joke land, then I probably need a better joke. And when you apologize for getting it wrong, sincerely and full-throatedly, only jerks continue to beat you up on that. But the trick, of course, is you have to do better. You can't keep making the same mistake.
Forrest: That's right. And when we conduct so much of our lives online, it's inevitable that we're going to put a foot wrong. I've certainly done it. I mean, I think there's probably a normal range of ways to put your foot wrong without just bringing malice aforethought to it. But I think there needs to be an understanding for us as a community that when someone does that, there's a reasonable window of time for them to apologize and say, “Okay, I should have thought about that more before I said it. I can see that came across wrong. That's on me. I apologize.”
And that's normal, and we move on. And it always makes me a little bit sad when I see the Twitter mob doing the two minutes hate on someone who they've decided is “It” for that day. Nobody ever wants to be “It” on a given day on Twitter. I try to stay out of those piles wherever I can, just because I don't think it's very constructive, but especially when that person has said, “Okay, I get it. I was wrong. You've educated me.” Then that's the time to celebrate that someone learned.
Corey: It really is. And I think that people forget that at their own peril. It's a common problem, and people also I found, tend to see some of the things I do, and completely misinterpret all of the thought and work that goes into it, and figure oh, Corey is just being a jerk on Twitter. I too can be funny by being a jerk to people on Twitter, and it goes the exact wrong direction that a human being would want to see it go.
Forrest: Exactly right. And I've actually said this to people before. You're a unicorn, Corey, in the sense that you can calibrate this snark in a way that it lands in the right way, and it's directed toward the right folks, and it actually ends up with a constructive outcome. That is not something to try at home. That's something to leave to the experts.
You're going to have much better success in terms of joining a community and contributing, and having that public presence that you may want to have if you focus on being positive, and finding the things that you love that you can celebrate. a feature, or a tool, or a service that you've used, that is just making you really excited, has made your life easier in some way? Go ahead and write a blog post about that. Do a tweet thread about it or something; share it on social and tag the creators. They're going to be so happy that someone saw what they did and enjoyed it. They're going to share it, they're going to welcome you into their community.
This is how I got started in the serverless community back when that was very nascent, is just by writing about what I was doing, and really celebrating services like Step Functions when that came out. I was so excited; it solved a huge problem for me. And that led to Serverlessconf and meeting a ton of great people, some of whom are now my coworkers in A Cloud Guru. So, it really can happen if you are looking for something to be your shtick, to be your thing, you know, being Corey Quinn is not for everyone. It may not be for anyone other than Corey Quinn, it's a better idea to just become a person who is genuinely excited about the things that you like, and that will pull people in.
Corey: And that's something that I found is often overlooked. If people are trying to get out there to be the next Forrest Brazeal, which I've got to say I attempt to do from time to time. Like, “I could learn the piano and figure out a way to sing.” Not nearly as well, and work on growing a beard, because I still look like an angry 14-year-old trying to prove a point to Mommy and Daddy in the form of rebellion that isn't going super well. But if I succeed all of those things, I'm only ever going to be the second-best version of you. I've got to find the thing that works for me instead. And that's something that I think people also forget. They pattern themselves after a specific person, or group of people and try and become them. But you have to walk your own path.
Forrest: Well, that's exactly right. And I mean, that could get us on a whole rabbit-hole about the self-help industry, and folks hold themselves up as, hey, this is the one true way, and in fact, this is something that worked for them. You've got to look at your background, and your environment, and who you are, and where you came from, and find a way to make that work for you.
Corey: So, one last topic before we call it a week, I guess, is you had a blog post somewhat recently called ‘Why "Central Cloud Teams" Fail.’ What drove that, and what are you seeing? Because I have angry opinions on it, but you probably have data.
Forrest: Yeah. So, this is something that I've been struggling with for a number of years, back to when I was working in-house on central cloud teams, and if you've been on one of these, you know what I'm talking about. These are the teams who usually give themselves a cute name like the Cumulonimbus Team or something like that. I mean, they're often established right at the beginning of an organization's cloud transformation. So, these are the folks, they're usually self-professed experts, they're folks who are, you know, the quote-unquote, “10X engineers,” whatever that means.
They're the people who have a lot of ability to learn on their own, and pick up technologies quickly and so, when the organization decides, okay, we're finally going to do this cloud thing, you take this group of people—it’s usually smaller number; it's going to be less than 10—and you say, “Okay, we're going to form a team of you folks, and you are now going to establish the standards, you're going to establish the best practices, the automation, the tooling, all of our other legacy product teams are going to use to migrate to the Cloud over the next X number of months or years.” And usually, that's something that's kind of an ego trip for the central cloud folks, they say, “Okay, I’m finally going to be able to shape the direction of this company the way I always believed it should be, and I'm going to build on these services,” and they think to themselves, especially, “Well, I don't need any kind of formal training here because I'm really good at googling stuff, and I'm just going to make this happen on my own.” And unfortunately, what happens is you fast forward six, twelve, eighteen months, and that central team is burned out, they're frustrated, they're not having the impact they expected to have, to the point where a lot of them are leaving the company. And the reason for that is that they're getting clobbered with support tickets. I've seen this in-house.
I saw it as a consultant on multiple occasions, and now that I've been talking to a lot of customers at A Cloud Guru, which is a great way to see a really broad spectrum of folks at different stages of their cloud maturity, I've seen it over and over and over again. These are teams that are getting—instead of pushing standards, and tooling out as they were hoping to do, they find that all of the work is coming inbound, and it's folks from these legacy teams who are saying, “Well, what is that S3 thing again? What is EC2 stand for? I was trying to log into the AWS console, but this secret key doesn't seem to be going into my password box, or whatever.” And that's what causes, again, that central team to burn out. Those folks leave, they move on to greener pastures, and then the organization's cloud adoption stalls.
And the light bulb moment that I had around the time that I was coming to A Cloud Guru was—because I'm one of these engineers, who is relatively high functioning, high performing, and has been in the past. And I was one of those folks who thought, “Well, I'll just figure out what I need to know as I go along. I don't need to sit down and do a bunch of training.” And what I realized is—this kind of blew my mind—you need on that central team, training more than anyone. Your experts need training more than anyone else, but it's not for themselves, it's for the rest of the organization. You have to have a way to scale your expertise and turn yourself into a Center of Enablement, where you go out and allow those other legacy engineers to skill up on their own terms. And that's where having an actual formal training program will help. It'll help them, and it will keep you from drowning under a billion JIRA tickets that just say, “What is AWS?”
Corey: And that is a common pattern. The problem that I've had is every time I talk to companies doing the central cloud team thing, they make a few, from my perspective, perceived blunders. First, they call it a Cloud Center of Excellence, which to me implies that oh, that's the Cloud Center of Excellence—and, let’s face it, who doesn't love a team that calls themselves excellent to your face—that implies that there's a counter team somewhere else called the Data Center of Mediocrity. And obviously, it's clear where the top-flight high performers go and where the folks who we’re just trying to replace with shell scripts live. It sets up an incredibly toxic environment due entirely to terrible naming. Some of the aspects that it brings in can be debated, but if you start off with I have this idea and the name of it enrages people, you're really fighting an uphill battle you don't need to fight.
Forrest: Yeah, I think that's true. I like the Data Center of Mediocrity. I tend to call it the Legacy Donut of Dreadfulness, which is what surrounds the Cloud Center of Excellence. And you're constantly trying to take bites out of that legacy donut, but it tends to sort of engulf you. So, some of this sets itself up for failure, and I think that going from the Cloud Center of Excellence model to the Center of Enablement model is something that we've been hearing a lot over the last couple of years as more and more folks at the enterprise strategy level have started to realize that this is not going to work long term.
Where the Center of Enablement thing even can fail is if you are not understanding that you actually have to go out and embed and engage with these individual teams. I mean, enablement doesn't just mean putting up a page in Confluence that says, “Here's how we're doing things now.” That's not going to get adoption all by itself. I don't care if you have executive sponsorship, or people pushing down from the top, or whatever. What it's going to lead to is shadow IT. It's going to lead to people going off and doing their own thing in the shadows because they don't have the relationships, they don't have the incentive to go and engage with you, and all of your fancy-schmancy guidelines and guardrails.
So, you've got to work on building those relationships and taking some of your experts and rotating them around between these teams. I was talking about this with a coworker the other day, and they pointed me to an example from the air war in World War II, where you had the US forces actually taking their best pilots off the frontlines, they’d take their aces out of the planes, and they ship them back to America, and they’d put them into flight school where they were training the next generation of recruits. The , on the other hand, the Germans and the Japanese, they are leaving their aces on the frontlines until they get shot down, and that's the end of the competency of that Air Force. And it's the exact same thing in the Cloud, you want to make sure that you are putting your best people in a position where they can skill up others. And tying it all the way back to the very first thing we talked about with what it means to move into managing as opposed to just being an individual contributor engineer. That's one of the things that's really hard to get your head around is yeah, my primary value-add here is in helping other people skill up. And that can be extremely rewarding, extremely satisfying, but it’s definitely a mindset shift, and it takes time to get good at that. So, I'm still working on that.
Corey: And I think you're actually doing a pretty good job of it. I don't want to come across in any way on this recording as having a problem with anything you're saying, anything you're doing. I love when you send out your emails. In fact, that is what inspired me to start doing a weekly long-form email. My biggest problem with your Cloud Irregular dispatches is that they are, in fact, irregular, and I prefer seeing your comment more frequently rather than less.
Forrest: Yes. Well, you and me both, unfortunately. I do also have a lot of other things that are happening, and I thought it was wiser to commit to something that I could put out on my own schedule rather than tying myself to something that I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up cadence-wise. Corey, I don't have the advantage of having a newsletter be kind of my main thing, so I have to do that on the side. But yeah, I'd love to be able to write more. I'm actually thinking of doing some different things with that newsletter. So, if you're interested in checking it out, forrestbrazeal.com/mailinglist, and you can get the Cloud Irregular.
Corey: Excellent. Sounds good. So, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. If people care more about what you have to say, where can they find you? And for folks with media presences, like you, this is always a loaded question. I have 15 platforms, which one do I mention?
Forrest: Right. Obviously, on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can certainly connect with me there. I do have a website, forrestbrazeal.com. You can find my newsletter there. It is called the Cloud Irregular, so it comes out every month or two. And then if you're interested in the book that we mentioned, The Read Aloud Cloud. We’ll hopefully have a link to that here in the show notes. You can check that out. It's available wherever extremely weird books about the Cloud are sold. And yeah, certainly look forward to any comments or feedback you may have about that.
Corey: Excellent. Thank you again, for taking the time to speak with me. It is deeply appreciated, as always. Forrest Brazeal, cloud bard at A Cloud Guru. 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 Apple Podcasts. Whereas if you've hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, and a comment that must rhyme.
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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