The Era of Virtual Events with Shelby Spees

Episode Summary

Shelby Spees is a developer advocate at She brings five years of software development experience to the position, having worked as a DevOps engineer at true[X], a site reliability engineer at Grindr, and a software engineer at The Aerospace Corporation. Join Corey and Shelby as they talk about the pros and cons of remote work, why it’s so important to let employees work in whatever way they can be most effective, how everyone thrives in different environments, the downsides of being a superuser on Twitter, how Shelby keeps track of epic Twitter threads, why Corey thinks it’s harder to speak remotely than in a live setting, the pros and cons of the hallway track at conferences, the aspects of virtual events Shelby prefers, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Shelby Spees
Shelby Spees has been developing software professionally since 2015 in a range of domains, which has made her appreciate the importance of learning how to learn and creating support systems for lifelong skill development. When she’s not helping teams level up their observability practice, you can find her at home playing on her Switch or singing karaoke with her rescue pitbull Nova.

Links Referenced

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.

Corey: This episode is sponsored by our friends at New Relic. If you’re like most environments, you probably have an incredibly complicated architecture, which means that monitoring it is going to take a dozen different tools. And then we get into the advanced stuff. We all have been there and know that pain, or will learn it shortly, and New Relic wants to change that. They’ve designed everything you need in one platform with pricing that’s simple and straightforward, and that means no more counting hosts. You also can get one user and a hundred gigabytes a month, totally free. To learn more, visit

Corey: This episode is sponsored by a personal favorite: Retool. Retool allows you to build fully functional tools for your business in hours, not days or weeks. No front end frameworks to figure out or access controls to manage, just ship the tools that will move your business forward fast. Okay, let’s talk about what this really is. It’s Visual Basic for interfaces. Say I needed a tool to, I don’t know, assemble a whole bunch of links into a weekly sarcastic newsletter that I send to everyone. I can drag various components onto a canvas: buttons, checkboxes, tables, etc. Then I can wire all of those things up to queries with all kinds of different parameters: post, get, put, delete, et cetera. It all connects to virtually every database natively, or you can do what I did, and build a whole crap ton of Lambda functions, shove them behind some API’s gateway and use that instead. It speaks MySQL, Postgres, Dynamo—not Route 53 in a notable oversight, but nothing’s perfect. Any given component then lets me tell it which query to run when I invoke it. Then it lets me wire up all of those disparate APIs into sensible interfaces. And I don’t know front end. That’s the most important part here: Retool is transformational for those of us who aren’t front end types. It unlocks a capability I didn’t have until I found this product. I honestly haven’t been this enthusiastic about a tool for a long time. Sure they’re sponsoring this, but I’m also a customer and a super happy one at that. Learn more and try it for free at That’s, and tell them Corey sent you because they are about to be hearing way more from me.

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Shelby Spees, a developer advocate at a company called Honeycomb. Shelby, welcome to the show.

Shelby: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Corey: It really is, isn't it? It's fun. Folks who were doing developer advocacy in previous years would always have a hard time arranging time to talk on a podcast because, “Well, I'd like to, but I'm about to hit 300,000 flown miles this year,” and going from speaking engagement to speaking engagements. Now that we're all trapped at home, it turns out, it's a little easier to get on people's calendars.

Shelby: Yeah. It's been really interesting because I did a lot of internal speaking and lunch and learns, and workshops, and things like that at previous jobs, but this is my first time being a developer advocate. And I started this job in March, right as we were starting to do lockdown, so I never even got to be really part of the conference circuit. And so, there's a lot of things I'm learning now that I do speaking at events that some people take for granted because they've been doing events for years, and other things are brand new to them because everything's virtual now. And so, I think that the biggest challenge has been realizing if you give a 30-minute talk in the morning, and then someone signs up for a podcast or a webinar or something in the afternoon, that ends up being really draining. 

And there's been a couple days over the last couple of months where we realized I have four speaking engagements on my calendar today. Like, that's going to be a lot. But for the most part, it's been really fun, and figuring out that transition between being public-facing and speaking. And then going back to my content work, or interacting with my teammates and things like that. Just having that all in one place is really convenient, at least. And I have a really nice desk setup now. So, [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, I think that's something that we're never going to be able to go back to in corporate offices. I mean, I discovered this a few years early when I started my company and realized that, “Wow, okay, I can bootstrap this and run it for a while, but I'm certainly not going to rent office space in San Francisco because, money.” So, instead, I'm going to go all out and I put some sarcastic budget toward decorating out my home office, and I love what I've built; it's awesome. And it was—to be very direct—dirt cheap, particularly in light of what it costs to hire people. 

So, I look at this now and then I look at all of the crappy startup offices I've worked in in the course of my career, and it's, “Wait a minute. You were fighting against getting me a nice standing desk or a good chair? Instead, you got the other one because you wanted to save $300. Are you nuts? Look at how much time I spend between sitting in the chair, and working at my desk, and yelling at my computer screen.” Why cut money in the dumbest possible things? I don't want to go back to it.

Shelby: Yeah, I know. I realized that working remote isn't for everybody, but I do feel that for a lot of us, it's been a big improvement. I specifically wanted a remote role, and this is my first time working remote, so it just happened that I started when everyone else was going remote. And so it was really interesting because it was my first time working remote I didn't own a desk. I barely used my computer at home, I just did everything at work. Occasionally I would have to go online for on-call or something, but otherwise, it was just me at my kitchen island or me on the couch. 

And so, when I started Honeycomb, right before I started, I talked to our HR manager, and I'm like, hey, is there, like, a budget or something so I can expense a desk? And this was the first time they encountered that. So, I mean, now we've onboarded a whole bunch of remote people in the last few months. But I'm responsible for us having even a protocol around that. And so that kind of felt cool, and I was happy to work with them. 

You know, what's a reasonable amount of money to spend on a standing desk, or how many monitors does it make sense to have? And so Liz has been a big supporter there, where she was like, “You should make sure you get a really good mic and a really good camera because you're going to be doing a lot of events and stuff.” And so it's been great. And I think remote work really does suit me because I'm very sensitive to background noise, I’m very sensitive to other people having conversations around me, and when I first started working in software, I was supposed to share an office, but my officemate worked in a lab, and so she was just gone all the time. So, I basically had this gorgeous office all to myself with a window that overlooked a courtyard, and it was the best possible scenario. But I could still hear my office neighbors talking on the phone during the day. And so I started wearing noise-canceling headphones and stuff. 

And you think like that shouldn't be necessary if you have an office with a door that closes, right? And so I found myself not really being able to focus until, like, 3, 4 p.m. and I would just work from four to seven because I would have so much trouble focusing during the normal workday. So, yeah, this really suits me now because I can just be flexible about what works with my brain.

Corey: That's something I'm learning is that it's difficult for people to say that, “Oh, I love remote work,” or, “I hate remote work,” because the thing that really surprised me when I started doing it full time has been that I don't actually want to be remote all the time. And I don't want to be sitting in my coworkers’ laps all the time. There's some areas where I want to be alone, and can work independently, and get things done super well. I'm emphasizing that type of work during the pandemic. There are other times where it's sitting in the same room as someone, having a conversation collaboratively is incredibly valuable. Both schools of thought are completely valid. The problem is when people try and build it into the same one, into this unified way of approaching all things must be like this all the time. That's where you run into trouble.

Shelby: Absolutely. And what's exciting to me, or the opportunity that we've had during the pandemic is figuring out how to do that in the same room collaboration stuff when we can't be in the same room. And my teammates have shown me so many cool tools, and strategies, and with pairing on code stuff, or doing product design or prioritization, meeting using sticky notes and a mural board and things like that, where it ends up being almost more productive than it probably would have been if we were in the same room, just because the tools are so well-designed for that use. But there's also just the camaraderie stuff. I'm figuring out right now, is it safe for me to just go walk to, like, a cafe and sit outside a cafe, one day a week? Because sometimes I just need that change of scenery, I just need it to be on a different screen size for my brain to process it differently. And so I miss that; I miss just the variety.

Corey: And that's part of the thing that I noticed when I started getting deeper into, I guess, what you'd call DevRel these days, has been that the role is different every time. And some days I'm on stage speaking to a bunch of people-less so these days—other times I'm depressingly speaking to a very silent, and more than a little judgy camera that doesn't give me any feedback or energy whatsoever, and other times I'm writing, and other times I'm building something myself to see how it works. And no two days look alike, and for some things—I don't understand, now that I'm doing a fair bit of coding, how the living hell people can do this effectively or well in large open-plan offices. And I look back at the times that I was coding professionally, and I have distinct memories of taking an almost sarcastic number of sick days or working-from-home days, not because I was sick: because it was the only way I could get an isolated area where I wasn't getting distracted constantly.

Shelby: Yeah. That was actually something that came up at my last job when they wanted to reorganize. We had two floors, we had the sales and marketing and media floor, and then upstairs was the tech and product floor. And so, everyone talked about how the third floor was just silent all the time, and we loved it. And then at one point someone moved and came upstairs and started putting on satellite radio things and I looked at my teammates, and it's like, “Okay, no. Mutiny. This isn't going to happen.” 

And then you go downstairs, and people are talking, and there's background music, and it's just a very different kind of work. And I think that's okay. And some people can code with background music. I can code as long as there's no lyrics to what I'm listening to, and as long as it's not catchy. But everyone has different ways that they can work, and I think the most important thing—and the reason why open offices are just going, the way of the dodo—is it's so hard to accommodate everyone's different work styles. You can't please everybody, so just give them the opportunity to make the office space that works for them.

Corey: I think that's actually one of the more empathetic and humane approaches to things. I've just never understood why, when you're hiring people who are incredibly talented and not to mention, incredibly expensive, you don't have a conversation with them as a part of that of, “Hi, now that we've made the offer and rest, great, how do you work most effectively?” And then do whatever you can in order to empower that. At some level with junior folks, the answer may very well be, I haven't worked in enough workspaces to really have a good idea. In other cases, it’s great. When I'm doing this working in a conference room is great. During incidents, I like having a room with all the relevant people in, et cetera, et cetera.

Shelby: Yeah.

Corey: But I want to bring up something else that is fun. You and I both spend a—how do we say this—unfortunate amount of time on the Twitters. And you, at the time of this recording, recently had a tweet that went out that I replied to, and oh, boy did I get letters. I don't often get it wrong on Twitter, but I am convinced by the aspects of who has responded to my take on this, that I am in the wrong on this. Specifically—and what you said was completely innocuous—of a website where you list your speaking engagements historically.

Shelby: Mm-hm.

Corey: So, let's start at the beginning there. What inspired you to go ahead and list these things?

Shelby: So, Ian Coldwater, who’s also awesome, was—

Corey: —Ian is amazing.

Shelby: Yes. I looked up to them so much, and they're a big speaker, and—

Corey: —they are technically surprisingly short. 

Shelby: Oh, [laugh] good to know. And so, they were tweeting about, it’s both of you I assume that remember all the talks I've ever done. And you quote to me that, and said something about, “Do you remember this tweet that you once made?” And I have written, like, 50,000 tweets or something ridiculous, and—maybe not on this account, but on my previous account—and so it's just like, “Yeah. No, I don't remember that.” 

And it's actually been a pain point for me, where I remember being remarkably articulate and smart in some tweet, or some thread at some point in the past, and I can never find it again. And so that's happened enough times that I actually went and created a threads page on my personal site, where I just embed tweet threads because it's too hard to actually keep track of them anywhere else. And it's really simple, it’s just a Hugo embed code and stuff. And at the same time that all this was happening, I was talking to my manager about my speaking strategy and how I'm still learning how to propose talks and apply to CFPs, and come up with good topics and things like that, and he recommended that I try out Notist, which is a service where you can host your slides and link to events and things like that. And so I saw this, and I saw that Matt Stratton uses it and has a sub-domain for his speaking page. 

So, I was like, “Well, I'm still a baby DevRel, but nothing wrong on having a speaking page and just keeping track of stuff there.” And I’m, like, a little bit vain. And I just really like having a pretty personal site and things well-organized. So, I was like, “Oh, I’ll get ahead on this, and I can just have everything organized and I'll never run into that problem where I'm trying to find stuff, and it's buried or lost until years or whatever.” So, I don't expect people to find my speaking page and be like, “I need to have her come to my event,” but it's nice to have it for me so that if I want to reference something like, “Oh, here's a talk I gave that I talked about that in more detail.” 

And that's usually the way it comes up is I'll be having a conversation with someone on Twitter or someone who's a Honeycomb user, and it's like, “Oh, here's a handy resource that I can point you to.” We also have them on the Honeycomb site, too. There's just another place to store things. So, tell me more about what—like, there was drama?

Corey: Sort of. Indirectly. Because it turned into a bit of a downstream discussion. Because I love the idea, in the abstract, of publishing all of the talks I have given. I would want to remove a few of them just because, honestly, I'm ashamed of some of them, but that's a different story. 

So, the problem that I ran into inadvertently was in the statement that I don't generally make my slides available to people after the talk. And the reason behind that, from my perspective, was relatively well-intentioned. It was that, first, my slides are not a report; there are remarkably few words on them and without the context of the presentation, it's not going to make much sense to people. Further, a lot of my slides rely heavily on accompanying sarcasm. And if you just get a picture of the slide, it might look like I'm making a point that I'm not intending to. In some cases, those points might be construed as actively problematic if you remove the context from them, which, from my perspective, makes perfect sense. It turns out, I'm wrong.

Shelby: So, why are you wrong [laugh]?

Corey: Because other people have reminded me, don't always think the same way that other people think. And they say, that's great and all. I might remember vaguely you gave a talk, and seeing the picture will jog my memory. Occasionally, there is useful stuff in one of your slides that would be helpful. And I'm starting to really change my perspective based upon the feedback that I've gotten. It turns out—and this might come as a surprise to some of the worst people on the internet—when presented with new information and given time to reflect, it's okay to change your position on something.

Shelby: Mm-hm. Absolutely. And it makes a lot of sense. And I've had that happen before where I've seen an event and I've listened to someone talk, but there's a point that they made that's like, the slide will ring a bell for me. I mean, that's kind of how I got through college is I took notes and I never really went back and referred to my notes. 

But even just visualizing that page of my notes to that page of the textbook, I could answer the question… because I never studied, of course. But yeah, and so for people who—the slides can be a really good resource, and I think maybe I'm a bit more conservative than you about this, but I hesitate to write things in slides that could be misconstrued later on. And this is also, like, I’m new to public speaking a little bit, and I mostly present in a professional—representing my company and things like that. So, my approach would be cover your ass because someone's going to get access to your slides anyway. We also upload my slides to the website and make them available at Honeycomb, and make them available to anyone who wants to download them, and sign up for emails and stuff, and so that's another reason for me to just cover my ass. 

But if you're out there and you're an independent speaker, and you're comfortable writing things on slides knowing that it's accompanied with the context, that's a perfectly understandable position. But I think the artifact of the slide deck can be really helpful for a lot of people. And especially, I think there's been so many times when I've wanted to go back and just see a graph, or a chart, or just a list of bullets or something—I'm very bullet oriented—to help jog my memory on a point someone made.

Corey: I guess I've been avoiding looking at this whole issue because I have a perspective on this that I don't know how to reconcile. I firmly believe that accessibility is incredibly important. We are all only temporarily abled, for lack of a better term. Our eyes, our ears will fail if we're fortunate enough to live long enough. And I personally do not have the kind of attention span that enables me to sit down and listen to a full 45-minute-long video; I'd rather read it. 

I can consume the information faster. I don't provide transcripts of my talks. I don't do any sort of transcription work. And on the one hand, there is the argument of, well, this stuff is super hard, it's challenging, it becomes expensive, and it's a lot of extra work for, to be frank, most of my talk videos get maybe five views. It's not the primary vector for these things. 

I mean, accessibility is important. Every episode of this podcast, dating back to the beginning has been fully transcribed in the show notes, by a human. Especially for the half of them or so, not some random service: we have a named person on contract who does all of these, and they're amazing.

Shelby: Yeah, I've gotten to the point—and I think it was a year or so ago—that I decided I'm not going to post any pictures on Twitter that don't have an alt text. 

Corey: I’m so bad at doing that.

Shelby: It's really hard, and it's the standard I hold for myself. And what ends up happening is I almost never post screenshots anymore, and I rarely post pictures now because it's just, I know that I'm going to write alt texts, and if I'm busy, or it's a big long screenshot or something with a lot of text, it's a lot of work to transcribe. But I've also done it when there's something that I think is really, really important, I will sit down on my phone and thumb type all of the text in the screenshot, and switch back and forth between the original context and the Twitter app and stuff. And that's just a standard that I hold for myself. I don't think that's the perfect or ideal way of thinking of accessibility, but I think it can help a lot of people to think of it that way. And I've been streaming less—I have a Twitch channel that nobody watches and—because I feel bad streaming if I don't have captions, and it's sort of, right now, for me to stream independently, it's prohibitively expensive to hire a professional captioner to do live captions, and so—

Corey: Oh, it absolutely is. The reason we have sponsors on this show, in part, is to defray those expenses.

Shelby: Yeah. And so it's sort of this conflict for me between getting content out there that might help more people, but wanting to make it accessible to anybody who might benefit from it. And so the way I see it is if I can't make this accessible to someone who's using a screen reader, or someone who depends on captions, or whatever, then I'm not going to make it available to anybody, which is—some would argue that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater or something like that, but it's just… this stuff matters. 

And I totally rely on subtitles, I rely on transcripts for a lot of things. If you ever watch me live tweeting-I’ll sometimes stream myself live-tweeting, where I have the event open and the live captions open, and my Twitter window open, and I'll go back and reread the live captions to make sure I catch everything. And so, it's just—is a challenge, and I think it's something that we have solutions for, and I think it's less on individuals to make sure it happens. And that's where I'm trying to use my influence at Honeycomb a little bit, is just we have the bandwidth to make sure every single image on the Honeycomb website has alt text. So, I am now enforcing that. 

My corner of the website is the blog, and so every image that goes on the blog should have meaningful alt text. I don't get to influence accessibility decisions in the product, but I can do it in my little corner of the world. And just help people start thinking about this stuff. Because that's usually the biggest issue. It’s less that it’s like, “Oh, I don't want people to be able to use screen readers.” It's like, “Oh, well, I never even thought about that before; we just were ignorant of these alternative ways of interacting with our tools.” And so I've gotten to the point where I've enabled the Android screen reader feature to just make sure that alt texts on my tweets actually shows up. So, alt text isn't the be all end all of accessibility, but it's the one that I understand a little bit and I have some influence there. But it's definitely a challenge.

Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by our friends at Linode. You might be familiar with Linode; they’ve been around for almost 20 years. They offer Cloud in a way that makes sense rather than a way that is actively ridiculous by trying to throw everything at a wall and see what sticks. Their pricing winds up being a lot more transparent—not to mention lower—their performance kicks the crap out of most other things in this space, and—my personal favorite—whenever you call them for support, you’ll get a human who’s empowered to fix whatever it is that’s giving you trouble. Visit to learn more, and get $100 in credit to kick the tires. That’s

Corey: It really tends to be. It's hard to make things accessible. It takes work, it takes investment, it takes a focus on doing it in a way that is genuine, empathetic, and meaningful. And right now, I feel that’s something the world needs a lot more of. And I genuinely hadn't considered that there are folks who would benefit from me putting my talks up there. 

My secret shame—that also bugs me, and one of the real reasons I never did before—is I reuse talks a lot. If I give a talk at a meetup somewhere—back in-person—and 200 people show up, great. That should not be the only time I give that talk. It takes a lot of work to build a talk that's good. Even years later, if I'll give it a big conference, I'll still give it again because it is new to other folks, assuming it is still reasonable. 

As a result, I will also reuse slides, or portions of slides, or even entire deck sometimes for different talks, and I feel like putting all my slides up there is, “Oh, he's not doing as much work as he thinks. He's phoning it in.” Which I understand is a ridiculous fear, but it's still there, the back of my head that voice whispering, “You're a fraud. You've secretly suck at this. They're going to find out.”

Shelby: Yeah. No, I feel like I've been so lucky to work with Charity and Liz and Christine—and now George joined us a little bit after I joined at Honeycomb—where I'm surrounded by people who are very experienced in doing DevRel work. And so I don't even get to question that stuff because they're just like, “Oh, these are the four talks that I'm giving this year,” and I'm doing four talks this year for, like, 30 events, or 400 events, or—Liz has probably done 400 events this year already. And so there's no question about whether you're going to repeat a talk because it's probably a week of work that goes into writing a good talk and making the slides, and stuff, sometimes longer. And so it doesn't make sense for that to be a one-off outcome. 

Being able to reuse it and especially—like you said, sharing to a new audience, or even the same audience seeing a talk for the second time, things will sink in better. So, that's something that I haven't even had the chance to question because it was just like, of course, you're going to repeat talks. That's been really helpful. And I've talked to Charity about this, where when she started her speaking career, and she was just figuring everything out by the seat of her pants and stuff, and she said, “You're so lucky you don't have to do all that.” And so I try to acknowledge I really am benefiting from the experience of all my teammates and everyone around me who can give me advice that it's no big deal. So, there's still the things—and I think the hard part for me has been what talks to give and write, and things like that. But, of course, once I write it, it's not set in stone, but it's definitely going to get re-used. 

Corey: I think that that's probably the right view to take. And, again, as mentioned earlier, I’m wrong on this.

Shelby: Yeah, it's hard, though. And I think it's harder when you don't h—I don’t know, I just feel so lucky to have the network I have, and I've been able to grow since starting at Honeycomb, where people really believe in me. And it's kind of scary, but it helps keep me a little bit motivated. I don't have to even believe in myself. Because people have these expectations of me, I guess I’d better work on this. [laugh]. I certainly wouldn't be able to do all this as an independent speaker. And so, I don't really understand how people do that. That's super scary to me.

Corey: Speaking takes a lot of work. Something I've noticed is that it's harder for me to do it remotely than it is in person. There’s something about the energy that changes things dramatically. I also don't prep super well for things, so most of my talks are improv. I have bullet points in the speaker notes but that's really about it. And it means that I'm going to give a different talk every time I give it, and I'm going to feedback from the audience. You get no feedback from a teleprompter. I've tried.

Shelby: Yeah. I think of it more like other kinds of performance. And maybe this is the difference is, I grew up doing orchestra, and I never learned how to improvise on violin. I had friends who were like, “Oh, you could totally do violin in jazz band.” I was just like, “Okay, no, that's madness.” 

And so it was just like, well, of course I'm going to play something more interesting than Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but it's like you hear Eine kleine Nachtmusik everywhere you go. You hear, “Spring,” or Für Elise, or all these super classic songs everywhere you go, and nobody questions it. And that's okay. It's okay to reuse material because a different performer, or even the same performer at a different event, it'll come out differently. And I think that's helped me with the public speaking side, as well. 

It’s just one, like, of the talks I give is a talk that Liz and Danyel wrote. I'm qualified to give it, and I understand it, and it's stuff that I've worked on before, but I didn't write it. And it was only my third speaking event that I actually gave the first talk that I wrote myself. And so it was actually easier to write the talk myself than it was to learn somebody else's talk. But it's the sort of thing where it's like, you put sheet music in front of me and I'll learn how to play it. And so I guess that's helped a lot with my mindset.

Corey: Yeah. That comes down to learning what works for you and what doesn't. And we're all learning as we go with this whole glorious pandemic thing. DevRel is sort of reinventing itself and I kind of like it. It also seems that companies are, “Oh, we're going to do a big online conference for three weeks, and it's a whole bunch of videos that we just throw out there.” 

The dynamic is changing; you miss the hallway track for one, which is the most valuable aspect of conferences, at least to me, and two, if I go back in time to my days as an employee of other companies, I can get my boss to sign off on a day or two for a conference, maybe even a week. But AWS doing re:Invent over a three-week span, for example; I don't know too many staff are going to be able to say, “Hey, I'm just going to spend three full weeks watching videos all day and that's going to be okay, right?” You lose something. They might have on in the background and that's great, but that means no one's paying full attention to these things. I don't know how you get around that.

Shelby: Yeah. And honestly, I'm even encouraged to attend events and I get to join on behalf of Honeycomb, or even just as myself, I join the conference Slack and stuff, and I'll live tweet people's talks and stuff, but it's gotten to the point where it's very hard for me to justify it in terms of, okay, this thing is in the middle of my workday, and I have all of these other priorities that I have tighter deadlines, or just are higher priority or whatever, it's been very hard for me to justify attending people's talks. And I want to attend people's talks so bad; people are putting out such good content. And so I can justify some of it because it's synchronous, and I'm there at the same time: I'm in the Slack, I'm talking to people. I really enjoy conference Slacks. 

I know they're not for everybody, but the hallway track, I was never really part of it and it sounds super scary to me. I really hate mingling. I hate talking to strangers. I'm sure I would get over it for work stuff, but just the idea of approaching a speaker after their talk is just like, I could never do that. I never talked to my professors. I never went to their office hours. 

Corey: I've got to be honest, I have the same exact problem as you do, and that is the reason—I’m not kidding—that I started speaking in the first place. I am terrible at approaching people and striking up the conversation. Give me a 10-second icebreaker and we're fine. It turns out when you're the speaker, people will solve that problem for you and that's what got me started. 

Shelby: I really did not grok networking or just even talking to strangers my entire career. And so I feel like I'm in networking cheat mode now where people are just like, “I saw your talk. Let me add you on LinkedIn,” or, “I’ll start following you on Twitter. Let's have this great conversation over Slack,” or whatever. And there's things about virtual conferences that are really exciting for me. 

I think being able to bring in attendees who could never afford to fly out to an event and stay at a hotel, encouraging people to sign up for free events, and having company sponsorships, just cover the base-level logistics stuff. I mean, the one big conference I ever attended was re:Invent, which is, like, six conferences in one and so—

Corey: Oh, my God, that is like starting your drug experimentation by effectively, “Just give me everything injected directly into my veins, the entire pharmacy; go with it.”

Shelby: Yeah.

Corey: It’s awful. That is not, [laugh] that is not a conference. That's a monstrosity.

Shelby: It was a lot. I think I only left the hotel, like, twice. 

Corey: That's the problem. There are six hotels. 

Shelby: Yeah. It was a lot. My idea of a conference is okay, maybe one of those hotels. I'm not going to bother with all of them. And I'm lucky that also my coworkers had been to re:Invent every year, and so they were like, “Oh, okay. Don’t try and get to all the different places.” 

They gave me this whole strategy, so I was really lucky there. But yeah, I went to that and I went to a DevOps day in LA, once. And so my understanding of conferences is so warped. But it's so comfortable for me to interact with people online and over text, especially. It gives me a little bit more time to think about what I'm going to say, and especially in groups of more than two or three people, I really struggle to keep up with conversation and be an equal conversation partner. 

I get really overwhelmed and intimidated and stuff. And so the mingling and the group conversation circles and stuff, the idea that just scares me. And so I think it’s—not everyone, and especially not people in the DevRel space are going to agree with me, but I think it's encouraging to have online discussions and just bring in more people who are me and who aren't ever going to approach a speaker after their talk.

Corey: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, talk about how you view, well, several aspects of several different things. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Shelby: I'm always on Twitter, @shelbyspees is my username. I have a website, that I don't really keep updated. Well, I've been playing around with styling stuff, but I'm working on blog posts and things like that. And those are the main two places. Twitter, especially, is great. You can also reach out to me at [email protected] is my personal email, and I check that, like, once every couple of weeks. I'm a very bad pen pal, but I love hearing from people and I'd love to talk more about any of this stuff.

Corey: Excellent. Well, thank you once again for taking the time to speak with me. I appreciate it.

Shelby: It's been wonderful. Thanks, Corey.

Corey: Shelby Spees, developer advocate at Honeycomb. 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 Apple Podcasts, whereas if you hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts along with a comment telling me exactly why I'm wrong and that open-plan offices are the best, while shouting over the loud salesperson sitting three inches away from you.

Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at, or wherever fine snark is sold.

This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
Newsletter Footer

Get the Newsletter

Reach over 30,000 discerning engineers, managers, enthusiasts who actually care about the state of Amazon’s cloud ecosystems.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Sponsor Icon Footer

Sponsor an Episode

Get your message in front of people who care enough to keep current about the cloud phenomenon and its business impacts.