Join Corey and Angela as they discuss Angela’s transition from a system admin in higher ed to a solutions architect for a software company, one of the main reasons Angela stayed in higher ed for 15 years, how COVID-19 is disrupting education and why that’s a good thing, how the current college model is broken for many and why that needs to change, how Twitter is a great platform for learning in public, why Angela thinks everyone should go to re:Invent at least once in their lives (whenever it returns), and more.
Angela Andrews is a solutions architect at Red Hat. Prior to that, she was a systems administrator in higher education for over 15 years. With many interested in technology, she’s dived into areas like cybersecurity, where she was a substitute teacher and teaching assistant (TA) for a cybersecurity boot camp. She attended a full-stack coding boot camp and also taught and TA’d classes teaching people how to code. Angela is the organizer for #PythonForAll, an online meetup called where people learn how to program in Python. She’s given talks on topics like self-care, WordPress, AWS, and also is a contributor to Women Techmakers YouTube video series.
Angela is married with two sons and a dog whom she adores, named Scout. In her spare time, she likes to read, lift weights, SPIN, swim, learn new technologies, and occasionally blog.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Angela Andrews, who's currently a solutions architect at a small company called Red Hat. Angela, welcome to the show.
Angela: Hey, Corey, how are you? Thank you so much for having me on.
Corey: No, thank you. And what makes this a little bit strange is that I'm standing, sort of, in two points for this conversation temporally. At the time that we're recording this episode, everything is still in a planning stage, but by the time people are listening to it, you are this week's guest author of Last Week in AWS because I am out on parental leave, where probably at the time people are listening to this, I'm surrounded by screaming and diapers, and then when I'm done with my morning routine, I have to go deal with an infant.
Angela: I'm so happy that I get to help you out in your wonderful time in your life, and I'm very excited to be doing this. So, thank you.
Corey: Of course, it's always a challenge because the first year that I went down the path of building out a newsletter, and then, “Oh, hey, turns out I'm expecting a kid.” I took one week off, but then I could find time to wind up doing the newsletter on the side. It's not really a side project anymore in the way that it once was, so all right, how do I wind up not having to, effectively, give family time in service of basically entertaining the masses about cloud computing, which compared to those two things doesn't really went out as far as priorities go. So, thank you for making it possible for me to take, I think, what is my first real time off since I started this thing.
Angela: I'm really happy to do it. Thank you.
Corey: So, you are currently a solutions architect, but before that, you were a systems administrator in higher ed for over 15 years.
Angela: Yes, I was and it's a very interesting transition. It's actually a very logical transition. Being a systems administrator is challenging, and it never stays the same, and just moving into this space where you are now not beholden to a whole community of faculty, staff, students, parents, administration, but you're working at a software company where your reach is global and you have the opportunity to touch not just one university, but many universities that I support. So, it was a very logical shift. I didn't know it at the time, but I am so happy to be here. This was the best thing that could have happened to a diehard first Windows, then Linux/Windows, and then systems administrator. And now I am a solutions architect. So, the transition is phenomenal.
Corey: So, the path that you've taken is somewhat familiar to me. My first job that—let's not kid ourselves—I bluffed my way into as a Unix administrator was at a university. And at least at the small university I was at, their computer science department was, eh, roughly six people. So, it wasn't at a scale where it had massive technological progress. So, yeah, it turns out that someone who's super loud, and it just so happened—I'm not making this up—the technical reviewer was out sick that day, and I sounded confident, was enough to basically land the job. I crammed like absolute hell and spent 16 hours a day learning the things I should have learned, for the first three months I had the job.
I don't recommend this, by the way, but that's what happened. And then I realized, huh, somehow I’d learned enough to surpass a number of people that I'd already been working with. And I was already learning early in my career that my personality and higher ed, don't particularly get along. I'm a terrible student for similar reasons. But I was only there for a year before the siren song of private industry wound up coming out, luring me away into places where I could, you know, have my own personality defects manifest differently. You stayed there for 15 years. What was that like?
Angela: Well, it was interesting. I stayed so long because working in a higher ed institution, your children get to go to school for free or on a discount. So, there's that draw that keeps you there longer, probably longer than you should be, but it is a really interesting draw. And as luck would have it, I think most of us have bluffed our way into higher ed, wouldn't you say? So, yeah, I started out in corporate and decided to pivot into higher education.
And it was an interesting transition coming from corporate to go to higher ed. You really need to loosen up, and slow down, and realize that things ain’t the same. Nothing is the same anymore. There's bureaucracy, but it's a different kind of bureaucracy. And it took a while to, like, unbutton the top button, metaphorically speaking because they just ride roughshod in higher ed. I'm joking, but I'm not joking, you know what I mean? It's just different.
Corey: One of those, “Haha, only serious,” type of comments.
Angela: JK, JK. [laughs].
Corey: One thing that really shattered my faith in higher education, on some level, was working within it. And I'm not trying to be rude on that. I come from a family of teachers, and I was always brought up to lionize higher ed, which is why, basically, having an eighth-grade education on paper was such a disappointment to my parents. Now, I'm a disappointment in other ways. But going through that it was always higher ed is the way and the light.
And then I started supporting a bunch of professors with PhDs. And it turns out a common failure mode there is in this one extremely narrow segment of a very deep field, I am one of the world's leading experts in this thing. Which means I'm probably a world-leading expert in everything else that you do, too, because they don't even offer PhDs in making the printer work. How hard could it possibly be? And I joke sometimes about Googlers being condescending, but they've got nothing compared to tenured professors who want the computer to go.
Angela: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That's funny you say that because I always championed higher education myself. So, much so, I wanted to guarantee that my kids had the opportunity to go, and I wouldn't go into the poorhouse doing it. But once you're in there, you realize that it's a bit of a sham. Like, not a sham.
I think because there's so many careers nowadays, with the advent of the internet and so much information out there, you don't need a college degree to be successful in a certain field. I think putting people in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars for a job that they really can't pay off their student loans seems like a horrible purpose in life. And the fact that the cost of education has increased 400 times—and I've seen numbers over the years, but people could actually work their way through college in the 60s and 70s, and things like that. You cannot work unless you worked at Google to be able to pay your way through college. How can that be sustainable?
And I think that question is—those chickens are coming to roost. I hate that phrase, but COVID is really going to expose how a higher education is effectively educating our next generation. So, with internet information being so prevalent, COVID, so much online learning where you don't have to spend $50,000 a year to learn something because there's just so much information out there. I think we're in a very interesting time for higher education. And I'm interested in seeing what the next three years, next five years flush out. Things are going to be different after this, and I hope it's for the better because people go broke trying to get a higher education. And I think that's very unfair.
Corey: We see it beyond that in recession times where you have this entire generation—at least I consider myself part of this generation—that was sold a bill of goods in that, “Oh, go to college and get a bachelor's degree. It doesn't matter what the degree is in, just get a degree. It's a credential, it guarantees you a job.” Yeah, funny story. Turns out it doesn’t.
And so people didn't know what they wanted to do, so they picked degrees and things, and okay, fine. I'll get a degree in English or philosophy—which was one of my majors once upon a time, but I was trying to get through college and failing—it was okay, as long as I have the degree, that'll guarantee me a job. And then people graduate with this with a hundred-twenty grand in debt or whatnot, and, okay, now what? I can't get a job. And very often the response is, ah, you need another degree.
And at some point, it's one of those, stop: you're going through this completely backwards. When I talk to folks who are having trouble finding a job and considering going back to school, my approach is always the same. Stop for a second, figure out what job you want to have, find people who do that job, take them out for coffee, meet with them. Figure out what would they recommend you do here? And then oh, they say, “Oh, yeah, if I were going to try to do what I'm doing now, yeah, you're going to need to get a degree—or not get a degree.”
If a job you want is you want to be an anesthesiologist, yeah, you're going to need to go back to school. But if it's going to be running systems at scale for web properties, maybe you kind of don’t. Figure out what it is that's holding you back, you are going to need a piece of paper that says you're capable of doing things. But a degree is increasingly not about that, and was, arguably, never intended to be. A certification might be, but the right answer really is a resume showing the things you've done this before, which winds up conveying, I guess, a sense of competence. The hard part is, how do you bootstrap that when you don't have it to begin with, and you're starting from scratch?
Angela: That's true. Well, I agree with you about being sold a bill of goods. I mean, I fell for the okey-doke myself. It was, “Oh, you have to get a college degree. You have to because how else will you get a job? How else will you be able to find something that you want to do? You don't want to work as a—fill in the blank—for the rest of your life.”
So, I fell in lockstep. I tried a bunch of different things and decided that I didn't like any of them, but I was able, [laughs], I was able to get through college, and at the end of it, I realized that I really didn't need this degree to do what I'm doing right now. I work in IT. I really don't think that four-year degree helped me be a better systems administrator. It did help me in other ways: I think it maybe helped me be a better thinker, a better planner, a better time management person.
I think it helped in some respects, but I didn't think I had to pay thousands of dollars to learn those skills. Now, the funny thing is, for some jobs if you want to work in IT—you have to have a college degree to work in higher ed. I think their motto—or mantra—could be, “Yes, this person works in IT, but we have this many people with bachelor's and this many people with master's degrees working on our staff, so we value education.” And I don't need to see my name with my degrees after it in a staff catalog because who cares? You're going to call me when your printer doesn't work, you know what I mean?
It's really interesting how they bolster that up. And you said something else that I thought was interesting. People want to degree their way into a job and you said, stop. Well, I learned something—I'm going to say it—I learned it in college where if you want to find something that you want to do—because you go to college, sometimes you don't know.
There's something called an investigational interview. So, you find someone, you look them up on LinkedIn, you get a referral, and you ask them for coffee. And I've done this. I wanted to be an attorney, so I was studying for my LSATs, I was doing paralegal work for the ACLU, and I'm like, “Do I really want to take this next step?” Mind you, I'm an adult, and I would be an adult learner going to night school, basically, to become a lawyer.
So, I spoke with people who had done this, and everyone's story is different, and I found out that you do not have what it takes to work all day, to be a mom, to be a wife, to be a pet parent, and then try to go off and go to law school at night. So, I only did one semester in law school and I just threw in the towel. I said, “this is not for me.” So, I didn't waste too much time.
But I did at least investigate. I discovered what kind of lawyer I could possibly be. Like, where my strengths were, where my weaknesses were. And those conversations, I thought were very helpful. Now, of course, you cannot get in Google and be an attorney. That's not something that you can do. So, I get it.
Corey: See you say that, but giving legal advice on the internet does not the subject itself to the same credentials as you would expect.
Angela: It sure doesn't.
Corey: I swear, I'm not making this up: I am one of the moderators of Reddit’s legal advice subreddit for proof of that.
Angela: You're giving legal advice?
Corey: No. Mostly it’s how to be an adult advice of, “Stop talking to the police. Yeah, you're going to want to hire an attorney. And no, you can't sue a dog.”
Angela: You can't?
Corey: Well, not successfully.
Angela: Oh, okay. [laughs].
Corey: No, and in practice, though, I thought something much the same once myself of, “Huh, maybe someday, if I ever learn to become a good student, I could, I don’t know, become an attorney.” It was a great example. And it turned out I married one, and when I said, “Would you think I'd be a good attorney?” And she laughed and laughed, and then realized I was seriously asking, and started screaming, “No, don't do it.”
And yeah, when you see folks who I know have gone through the gauntlet, get that thousand-yard stare of no, as they remember all of the pain and tribulation of getting somewhere, it's, “Huh. Maybe my understanding of this thing is naive.” I have saved myself untold hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of my career, just by asking people who've already done a thing, whether it's anything like I imagined it would be. Yeah, it turns out that being a lawyer is nothing at all like it appears on Boston Legal.
Angela: Nothing. I was an LA Law fan when I was younger, and I just knew that that was the bee's knees, “Oh, this is amazing. Championing for the little people, that'll be awesome.” It is nothing like that. It is so much work.
It's nothing like you would expect it to be. But again, that is one of those things where you don't go into it lightly. And that's not the only career that you don't go into lightly. You should do your homework, you should talk to people. And I think talking to people is a vehicle for many things, not just career advice, but for just getting to understand people, and getting to know people, and being able to relate to people that are not like you are not in a position like you. So, I'm an avid… Tweeter? Twitterer? I don't know what you call it, but—
Corey: Thought leader.
Angela: Oh, there. I am an avid thought leader on this platform called Twitter, and I enjoy talking to people that aren't like me because I think I've grown—should I say that? Should I say that I think I've grown since I've become a thought leader on Twitter? Please don't quote that. Because that sounds so pompous. But—
Corey: Oh, that's going to be a pull quote when we wind up—
Angela: Oh my God.
Corey: —doing the tweets about this.
Angela: Oh, my God. But I do. I think I've learned a lot from people by interacting with them on social media. And it's not always things that I like about them, or things I like about myself, or things that I like about the world that I live in, but there's a lesson in it. And I think that has allowed me to be a much more empathetic person, a much more thoughtful person.
So, I think that in and of itself has helped me become a better person overall, away from the keyboard, away from the Twitter app. It just helps me interact with people better because not everyone agrees with me. Not everyone has lived my experience. And I think sometimes social media can be the great equalizer—you know what I mean—if you're willing to put in the work and listen to people. And it's also a great place to build communities.
There's something that binds you to someone else somewhere on social media. And if you're lucky enough to find that, and then find a group of people who believe and like the same things you do, that community can be very encouraging. It can be very fulfilling. And that's what stemmed from a group that I started earlier this year because I was learning Python. So, I dabbled in web development over the years, and programming and I wanted to start using Python, especially at work.
So, as a systems administrator, Python is a great tool for automating all the things. So, I'm learning it with a guy that I met on Twitter—shoutout to Will—and we decided, “Wow, this would be great. More people probably want to learn Python too. We should probably put a post out and see who wants to learn with us. I mean, it's just two of us. Let's see if there's other people interested.”
Man, my Twitter blew up. I didn't realize so many people wanted to learn Python. So, we started this little group called Python For All. And it means Python for all the things. You know, Python touches everything, it touches Cloud, it touches automation, it touches cybersecurity, it touches ML, data analytics. So, Python For All, that's what I meant by that.
And luckily, we were able to get people—who wanted to be group leaders—manage these online meetups. So, we have four that go on different time zones, different days, and people just get together once a week and learn Python. So, that is just an example of the good that can come out of social media and extending yourself and building communities. So, it's not the cesspool we all think it is all the time. There was a little glimmer of something special about being a thought leader on Twitter.
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 linode.com/screaminginthecloud to learn more. That's linode.com/screaminginthecloud.
Corey: There really is. And one thing that I found that works, that is certainly an expression of privilege is getting something wrong on Twitter means I will, in fact, be corrected by people on the things that I got wrong. And mostly, it's not going to be calling me a trash goblin. Now, that doesn't apply, depending upon followers, and the rest, and what circles it winds up going big in, but I've been a big fan of the idea of learning in public on some level, I do worry that that's incredibly problematic for people who don't look like me.
Angela: That's true. So, you usually get that lesson pretty immediately.
Corey: Well, to be clear, when I talk about learning in public, I will sometimes ask questions such as—like, at this point, I built up enough of a reputation for knowing what I'm talking about that I have no problem admitting out loud the things that I don't know. In fact, when I was a hiring manager, I was always viewing the differentiation between senior and not, was being willing to admit you didn't know something. And, “Yeah, I don't know how this thing works. What's the best way to do this thing?”
And I get remarkably few people telling me that I'm a moron and a fraud for not having the answer to that particular thing. I get a lot more people chiming in asking how they can help, which is encouraging. Other approaches that are also high risk that have done… a bit of a mixed bag results for me were talking about how Git works in a conference talk. I submitted a talk called Terrible Ideas in Git, and it got accepted. So, yay, I can use this to teach people Git. It's in four months, what do I need to do first? Probably learn how Git works. And that's sort of a forcing function that inspires you to learn things, but that has a failure mode that is painfully embarrassingly public.
Angela: A much higher threshold than just learning in public. That's totally different, I agree with you.
Corey: Oh, but if ask on stage, and someone raises their hand and—rightly or wrongly—calls bullshit on everything you've just said, the only response that I've ever needed for that is, “That is a great point. A little out of scope. Come and talk to me after.” Spoiler, no one comes and talks to you about that stuff after. They just want to look smart in front of the rest of the room.
Angela: I have to use that. Let me write that down.
Corey: Oh, yeah. It works super well because there are three things that are not questions, and when I've had enough of people's nonsense—back when we would speak on stages—my last Q&A slide didn't say, “Questions?” It said, “Three things that aren't questions, reading your own resume, comments, and calling bullshit on my entire presentation.” You can, in fact, condense all three of those down with a great compression algorithm into one bullshit onion called, “That's not how we did it at Google.”
Angela: [laughs]. That’s—I’m writing this down.
Corey: Oh, by all means.
Angela: Three things that aren't questions. I've given a couple talks in my time, and most people have great questions, and I've been lucky enough that I think I've been able to answer some of them. But yeah, you're right about—it gives people the opportunity to tell you how much they know, more than what you know because they know more than you know. So, I've had that, and I think that's very interesting. It's like sticking your chest out like you're a chicken and you're walking around.
So, I think that's a very funny analogy. I think learning in public is a great opportunity. And you're right, people are very helpful. I find I've had issues where I'm a person that really—it's like, “Oh my God, I have to ask someone for help.” And I'm not really sure what that's about, but it pains me to have—let me figure it out. Let me figure it out. It pains me to have to ask because it's like, it's probably easy, and someone's going to say, “Well, you didn't know that?” That's one feeling that I really don't like, but—
Corey: A question like that tells you a lot more about the person asking it than the person they're asking it to.
Angela: That's true. And I have no problem most of the time admitting what I don't know, and you don't know what you don't know. So, I've put myself out there on social media quite a few times. I wanted to learn something, I wanted more insight into something and people that don't even follow me have reached out to me and been amazingly helpful with something that I'm learning. And I felt as if, on the other side of it, wow, I don't think I would have come at it at this angle had I not spoken to X, Y, and Z.
So, I think there's an opportunity to put yourself out there sometimes, even though sometimes it might pain you, you don't know what opportunity awaits, you don't know who's going to read that post, you don't know if someone feels like they're the perfect person to give you that little gem of information that you're looking for. So, I think it's a great idea. Don't be afraid to learn in public because you really don't know what you're going to get, but it usually is something positive and worthwhile.
Corey: That's sort of how I wind up seeing a lot of things. It's the, learn in ways that help inspire other folks. I mean, I've got to admit, I am not someone who learns well when I sit there and read a blog post on something, or I sit in a class, or I go to a workshop. For me, I've got to have a problem that I need to solve, and then I need to stumble my way through it, as far as solving it.
And I wind up learning things that I would have caught earlier if I had the ability to learn more effectively in a classroom. Like, “Int and a string? What the hell is the difference between that? Aren't they the same thing? One’s numbers and one has the numbers and other stuff?” What's the problem and I sound like, effectively, Fisher-Price teaches programming, more or less, as I stumble my way through awful implementations that eventually I batter into working. But the online meetup you talk about of Python For All sounds like it would have been something that worked super well for my type of learning style.
Angela: I think it has helped quite a few people. I mean, again, I've never met, maybe 98 percent of the people that are a part of the community. And what I've found is when you get on these meetups, and you hear what activities they've done during the week, or how they've solved a certain problem and you get to look at their code, some people get those aha moments just by looking at someone else's code or talking through a problem. And again, those are different learning methodologies, different learning tools that may be us assigning something; it really didn't click for you. You get the assignment, and you look at it, you're like, “Oh, wow, okay.”
But you come to the next meetup, and you hear the conversation that people are having about how they worked through it, or how they were able to solve it. And you get to see different solutions for the same type of exercise, and that is interesting. I love seeing that aha moment because that opens up to more understanding; that opens up to being less afraid, and those are the people I find who as the weeks go on, they are emboldened because they've seen the light. They've seen that there's a different way to approach a problem. And those Python For All people, they shine, they shine.
And as the weeks go on, I'm amazed at sometimes you just need to see something. It can be the same way multiple times, but like you said, depending on how you learn, it doesn't matter. Once you get that aha moment, you're in great company, and you're unstoppable. And then who knows what's next? Who knows what you learn next? And who knows what you can help someone else learn next? So, yeah, that's great.
Corey: I love that you're having this conversation with me now before you've written your guest issue of Last Week in AWS because the entire nonsense production system is beaten together with Python, learning the way I just described, and it is monstrous. And I'm going to bet that when this publishes, you will immediately take to Twitter repudiating everything you have just said on this. Like, “Yeah, you know I said it's important to be empathetic and help people learn the way that's best for them. Yeah, I take it all back. Corey is rubbish at code, and should never be allowed in public or within 200 yards of a computer ever again.” I'm assuming that that's the outcome we're going to get to.
Angela: Well, yeah. I'll probably say, “Scratch that I didn't mean any of it.” You know—
Angela: [laughs]. Well, we'll see.
Corey: Like, “No, it's very important to help people learn in the way that they learn best. Except for Corey. Never teach him things.” I'm willing to be the exception that proves the rule.
Angela: I'm going to put you on the ‘do not learn’ list.
Corey: Exactly. [laughs]. Thank you, once again, both for being on this podcast, as well as taking the burden of the newsletter off of me this week. It’s really appreciated.
Angela: Well, I'm really happy to help. I am a follower of the newsletter. I was introduced to it by a former boss, and it has been very helpful in teaching me new things and opening my eyes to new services, so it really was a great introduction to meet you, and to talk to you. I actually think I met you briefly. I think it was at re:Invent in 2019. I think I kind of said, “Hi,” when you were putting stickers down on this table, you probably don't remember it because there was—
Corey: That is entirely possible. It turns out that at re:Invent, I wind up getting firehosed half the readership of the newsletter in about a 20-minute span. So, it’s—
Angela: I bet you do.
Corey: My entire brain winds up completely short-circuiting. It's like, “Really? We met and we had lunch, and we wound up signing a business deal, and we did a bunch of sponsorship work with you? Couldn't pull you out of a police lineup, but thanks for saying.” It is such a high impact in such a short period of time, number of people. Do not recommend.
Angela: Definitely. It was my first one. I hope it's not my last. I mean, COVID is kind of changing the game, but it was a bit of a firehose. So, if you've never been to re:Invent, I think everyone should go at least once, and then hate it, and never go again. So, hopefully, I'll see you there in five or six years, maybe? I don't know.
Corey: I will be there whenever they start running it again and I'm not risking my life in it. But until then, where can people find you if they want to learn more?
Angela: Well, like I said, I'm on Twitter. And my Twitter handle is @scooterphoenix. And I tweet about all sorts of things. So, if you like Beyonce, you should definitely follow me. If you want to hear about Black Lives Matter and Brianna Taylor, people not being arrested, you should definitely follow me. And if you just like cheesy jokes and memes as a response to anything you tweet me, you should definitely follow me. So, yeah, I’d love to hear from you.
Corey: Can endorse. Your Twitter feed is constantly surfacing new gems.
Angela: [laughs]. Thank you.
Corey: Thank you once again for taking the time to speak with me. It really is appreciated.
Angela: Thanks. It was a pleasure.
Corey: Angela Andrews, solutions architect at Red Hat. 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've hated this episode, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts along with a comment telling me exactly what I got wrong about tenured professors.
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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