This Corey is joined by Mark Thompson, Developer Relations Engineer at Google, who is here to offer an idea of what a not constnatly snarky assault on the cloud looks like! Mark also brings his work with Angular, DevRel and engineering, and teaching code. Teaching, it should be pointed out, is where Mark really excels and is an award winning university teacher.
Corey and Mark start off with some back and forth on Angular and what exactly a DevRel engineer does. Mark also goes into the award winning part of his teaching, and the unrelenting positivity also keeps him humble. Mark has a lot to offer when it comes to being positive, especially when it comes to the often terrible things that get slung around on Twitter. Tune in for Mark’s inspiring take, and more!
Mark loves to teach and code.
He is an award winning university instructor and engineer. He comes with a passion for creating meaningful learning experiences. With over a decade of developing solutions across the tech stack, speaking at conferences and mentoring developers he is excited to continue to make an impact in tech. Lately, Mark has been spending time as a Developer Relations Engineer on the Angular Team.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by our friends at Vultr. Spelled V-U-L-T-R because they’re all about helping save money, including on things like, you know, vowels. So, what they do is they are a cloud provider that provides surprisingly high performance cloud compute at a price that—while sure they claim its better than AWS pricing—and when they say that they mean it is less money. Sure, I don’t dispute that but what I find interesting is that it’s predictable. They tell you in advance on a monthly basis what it’s going to going to cost. They have a bunch of advanced networking features. They have nineteen global locations and scale things elastically. Not to be confused with openly, because apparently elastic and open can mean the same thing sometimes. They have had over a million users. Deployments take less that sixty seconds across twelve pre-selected operating systems. Or, if you’re one of those nutters like me, you can bring your own ISO and install basically any operating system you want. Starting with pricing as low as $2.50 a month for Vultr cloud compute they have plans for developers and businesses of all sizes, except maybe Amazon, who stubbornly insists on having something to scale all on their own. Try Vultr today for free by visiting: vultr.com/screaming
, and you’ll receive a $100 in credit. Thats v-u-l-t-r.com
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by something new. Cloud Academy is a training platform built on two primary goals. Having the highest quality content in tech and cloud skills, and building a good community the is rich and full of IT and engineering professionals. You wouldn’t think those things go together, but sometimes they do. Its both useful for individuals and large enterprises, but here's what makes it new. I don’t use that term lightly. Cloud Academy invites you to showcase just how good your AWS skills are. For the next four weeks you’ll have a chance to prove yourself. Compete in four unique lab challenges, where they’ll be awarding more than $2000 in cash and prizes. I’m not kidding, first place is a thousand bucks. Pre-register for the first challenge now, one that I picked out myself on Amazon SNS image resizing, by visiting cloudacademy.com/corey.
C-O-R-E-Y. That’s cloudacademy.com/corey
. We’re gonna have some fun with this one!
Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. Anyone who has the misfortune to follow me on Twitter is fairly well aware that I am many things: I’m loud, obnoxious, but snarky is most commonly the term applied to me. I’ve often wondered, what does the exact opposite of someone who is unrelentingly negative about things in cloud look like? I’m here to answer that question is lightness and happiness and friendliness on Twitter, personified. His Twitter name is @marktechson
. My guest today is Mark Thompson, developer relations engineer at Google. Mark, thank you for joining me.
Mark: Oh, I’m so happy to be here. I really appreciate you inviting me. Thanks.
Corey: Oh, by all means. I’m glad we’re doing these recordings remotely because I strongly suspect, just based upon the joy and the happiness and the uplifting aspects of what it is that you espouse online that if we ever shook hands, we’d explode as we mutually annihilate each other like matter and antimatter combining.
Mark: Feels right. [laugh].
Corey: So, let’s start with the day job; seems like the easy direction to go in. You’re a developer relations engineer. Now, I’ve heard of developer advocates, I’ve heard of the DevRel term, a lot of them get very upset when I refer to them as ‘devrelopers’, but that’s the game that we play with language. What is the developer relations engineer?
Mark: So, I describe my job this way: I like to help external communities with our products. I work on the Angular team, so I like to help our external communities but then I also like to work with our internal team to help improve our product. So, I see it as helping as a platform, as a developer relations engineer. But the engineer part is, I think, is important here because, at Google, we still do coding and we still write things; I’m going to contribute to the Angular platform itself versus just only giving talks or only writing blog posts to creating content, they still want us to do things like solve problems with the platform as well.
Corey: Cool. Okay, again, this is not me setting you up for a joke or anything like that. I try to keep my snark to Twitter, not podcast because that tends to turn an awful lot into me berating people, which I try to reserve for those who really have earned it; they generally have the word chief somewhere in their job title. So, I’m familiar with sort of an evolution of the startups that I worked at where Backbone was all the rage, followed by, “Oh, you should never use Backbone. You should be using Angular instead.”
And then I sort of—like, that was the big argument the last time I worked in an environment like that. And then I see things like View and React and several other things. At some point, it seems like, pick a random name out of the air; if it’s not going to be a framework, it’s going to be a Pokemon. What is the distinguishing characteristic or characteristics of Angular?
Mark: I like to describe Angular to people is that the value-add is going to be some really incredible developer ergonomics. And when I say that I’m thinking about the tooling. So, we put a lot of work into making sure that the tooling is really strong for developers, where you can jump in, you can get started and be productive. Then I think about scale, and how your application runs at scale, and how it works at scale for your teams. So, scale becomes a big part of the story that I tell, as well, for Angular.
Corey: You spend an awful lot of time telling stories about Angular. I’m assuming most of them are true because people don’t usually knowingly last very long in this industry when they just get up on stage and tell lies, other than, “This is how we do it in our company,” which is the aspirational conference-ware that we all wish we ran. You’re also, according to your bio, which of course, is always in the [show notes 00:04:16], you’re an award-winning university instructor. Now, award-winning—great. For someone who struggled mightily in academia, I don’t know much about that world. What is it that you teach? How does being a university instructor work? I imagine it’s not like most other jobs where you wind up showing up, solving algorithms on a whiteboard, and they say, “Great, can you start tomorrow?”
Mark: Sure. So, when I was teaching at university, what I was teaching was mostly coding bootcamps. So, some universities have coding bootcamps that they run themselves. And so I was a part of some instructional teams that work in the university. And that’s how I won the Teaching Excellence Award. So, the award that I won actually was the Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award, based on my performance at work when I was teaching at university.
Corey: I want to be clear here, it’s almost enough to make someone question whether you really were involved there because the first university, according to your background that you worked on was Northwestern, but then it was through the Harvard Extension School, and I was under the impression that doing anything involving Harvard was the exact opposite of an NDA, where you’re contractually bound to mention that, “Oh, I was involved with Harvard in the following way,” at least three times at any given conversation. Can you tell I spent a lot of time dealing with Harvard grads?
Mark: [laugh]. Yeah, Harvard is weird like that, where people who’ve worked there or gone there, it comes up as a first thing. But I’ll tell the story about it if someone asks me, but I just like to talk about univer—that’s why I say ‘university,’ right? I don’t say, “Oh, I won an award at Northwestern.” I just say, “University award-winning instructor.”
The reason I say even the ‘award-winning’, that part is important for credibility, specifically. It’s like, hey, if I said I’m going to teach you something, I want you to know that you’re in really good hands, and that I’m really going to do my best to help you. That’s why I mention that a lot.
Corey: I’ll take that even one step further, and please don’t take this as in any way me casting aspersions on some of your colleagues, but very often working at Google has felt an awful lot like that in some respects. I’ve never seen you do it. You’ve never had to establish your bona fides in a conversation that I’ve seen by saying, “Well, at Google this is how we do it.” Because that’s a logical fallacy of appeal to authority in many respects. Yeah, I’m sure you do a lot of things at Google at a multinational trillion-dollar company that if I’m founding a four-person startup called Twitter for Pets might not necessarily be the same constraints that I’m faced with.
I’m keenly appreciative folks who recognize that distinction and don’t try and turn it into something else. We see it with founders, too, “Oh, we’re a small scrappy startup and our founders used to work at Google.” And it’s, “Hmm, I’m wondering if the corporate culture at a small startup might be slightly different these days.” I get it. It does resonate and it carries weight. I just wonder if that’s one of those unexamined things that maybe it’s time to dive into a bit more.
Mark: Hmm. So, what’s funny about that is—so people will ask me, what do I do? And it really depends on context. And I’ll usually say, “Oh, I work for a company on the West Coast,” or, “For a tech company on the West Coast.” I’ll just say that first.
Because what I really want to do is turn the conversation back to the person I’m talking to, so here’s where that unrelenting positivity kind of comes in because I’m looking at ways, how can I help boost you up? So first, I want to hear more about you. So, I’ll kind of like—I won’t shrink myself, but I’ll just be kind of vague about things so I could hear more about you so we’re not focused on me. In this case, I guess we are because I’m the guest, but in a normal conversation, that’s what I would try to do.
Mark: All right, so let me be really upfront about this. This is not about toxic positivity. We got to get that out in the open first, before I say anything else because I think that people can hear that and start to immediately think, “Oh, this guy is just, you know, toxic positivity where no matter what’s happening, he’s going to be happy.” That is not the same thing. That is not the same thing at all.
So, here’s what I think is really interesting. Online, and as you know, as a person on Twitter, there’s so many people out there doing damage and saying hurtful things. And I’m not talking about responding to someone who’s being hurtful by being hurtful. I mean the people who are constantly harassing women online, or our non-binary friends, people who are constantly calling into question somebody’s credibility because of, oh, they went to a coding bootcamp or they came from self-taught. All these types of ways to be really just harmful on Twitter.
I wanted to start adding some other perspective of the positivity side of just being focused on value-add in our interactions. Can I craft this narrative, this world, where when we meet, we’re both better off because of it, right? You feel good, I feel good, and we had a really good time. If we meet and you’re having a bad time, at least you know that I care about you. I didn’t fix you. I didn’t, like, remove the issue, but you know that somebody cares about you. So, that’s what I think wholesome positivity comes into play is because I want to be that force online. Because we already have plenty of the other side.
Corey: It’s easy for folks who are casual observers of my Twitter nonsense to figure, “Oh, he’s snarky and he’s being clever and witty and making fun of big companies”—which I do–And they tend to shorthand that sometimes to, “Oh, great. He’s going to start dunking on people, too.” And I try mightily to avoid that it’s punch up, never down.
Corey: I understand there’s a school of thought that you should never be punching at all, which I get. I’m broken in many ways that apparently are entertaining, so we’re going to roll with that. But the thing that incenses me the most—on Twitter in my case—is when I’ll have something that I’ll put out there that’s ideally funny or engaging and people like it and it spreads beyond my circle, and then you just have the worst people on the internet see that and figure, “Oh, that’s snarky and incisive. Ah, I’m like that too. This is my people.”
I assure you, I am not your people when that is your approach to life. Get out of here. And curating the people who follow and engage with you on Twitter can be a full-time job. But oh man, if I wind up retweeting someone, and that act brings someone who’s basically a jackwagon into the conversation, it’s no. No-no-no.
I’m not on Twitter to actively make things worse unless you’re in charge of cloud pricing, in which case yes, I am very much there to make your day worse. But it’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and lifting people up is always more interesting to me than tearing people down.
Mark: A thousand percent. So, here’s what I want to say about that is, I think, punching up is fine. I don’t like to moderate other people’s behavior either, though. So, if you’d like punching up, I think it’d be funny. I laugh at jokes that people make.
Now, is it what I’ll do? Probably not because I haven’t figured out a good way for me to do it that still goes along my core values. But I will call out stuff. Like if there’s a big company that’s doing something that’s pretty messed up, I feel comfortable calling things out. Or when drama happens and people are attacking someone, I have no problem with just be like, “Listen, this person is a stand-up person.”
Putting myself kind of like… just kind of on the front line with that other person. Hey, look, this person is being attacked right now. That person is stand-up, so if you got a problem them, you got a problem with me. That’s not the same thing as being negative, though. That’s not the same thing as punching down or harming people.
And I think that’s where—like I say, people kind of get that part confused when they think that being kind to people is a sign of weakness, which is—it takes more strength for me to be kind to people who may or may not deserve it, by societal standards. That I’ll try to understand you, even though you’ve been a jerk right now.
Corey: Twitter excels at fomenting outrage, and it does it by distancing us from being able to easily remember there’s a person on the other side of these things. It is ways you’re going to yell at someone, even my business partner in a text message. Whenever we start having conversations that get a little heated—which it happens; business partnership is like a marriage—it’s oh, I should pick up the phone and call him rather than sending things that stick around forever, that don’t reflect the context of the time, and five years later when I see it, I feel ashamed." I’m not here to advocate for other people doing things on Twitter the way that I do because what I do is clever, but the failure mode of clever in my case is being a complete jerk, and I’ve made that mistake a lot when I was learning to do it when my audience was much
smaller, and I hurt people. And whenever I discovered that that is what happened, I went out of my way, and still do, to apologize profusely.
I’ve gotten relatively good at having to do less of those apologies on an ongoing basis, but very often people see what I’m doing and try to imitate what they’re seeing; it just comes off as mean. And that’s not acceptable. That’s not something that I want to see more of in the world. So, those are my failure modes. I have to imagine the only real failure mode that you would encounter with positivity is inadvertently lifting someone up who turns out to be a trash goblin.
Mark: [laugh]. That and I think coming off as insincere. Because if someone is always positive or a majority of the time, positive, if I say something to you, and you don’t know me that actually mean it, sincerity is incredibly hard to get over text. So, if I congratulate you on your job, you might be like, “Oh, he’s just saying that for attention for himself because now he’s being the nice guy again.” But sincerity is really, really hard to convey, so that’s one of the failure modes is like I said, being sincere.
And then lifting up people who don’t deserve to be lifted up, yeah, that’s happened before where I’ve engaged with people or shared some of their stuff in an effort to boost them, and find out, like you said, legit trash goblin, like, their home address is under a bridge because they’re a troll. Like, real bad stuff. And then you have back off of that endorsement that you didn’t know. And people will DM you, like, “Hey, I see that you follow this person. That person is a really bad person. Look at what they’re saying right now.” I’m like, “Well, damn, I didn’t know it was bad like that.”
Corey: I’ve had that on the podcast, too, where I’ll have a conversation with someone and then a year or so later, they’ll wind up doing something horrifying, or something comes to light and the rest, and occasionally people will ask, “So, why did you have that person on this show?” It’s yeah, it turns out that when we’re having a conversation, that somehow didn’t come up because as I’m getting background on people and understanding who they are and what they’re about in the intake questionnaire, there is not a separate field for, “Are you terrible to women?” Maybe there should be, but that’s something that it’s—you don’t see it. And that makes it easy to think that it’s not there until you start listening more than you speak, and start hearing other people’s stories about it. This is the challenge.
As much as I aspire at times to be more positive and lift folks up, this is the challenge of social media as it stands now. I had a tweet the other day about a service that AWS had released with the comment that this is fantastic and the team that built it should be proud. And yeah, that got a bit of engagement. People liked it. I’m sure it was passed around internally, “Yay, the jerk liked something.” Fine.
A month ago, they launched a different service, and my comment was just distilled down to, “This is molten garbage.” And that went around the tech internet three times. When you’re positive, it’s one of those, “Oh, great. Yeah, that’s awesome.” Whereas when I savage things, it’s, “Hey, he’s doing it again. Come and look at the bodies.” Effectively the rubbernecking thing. “There’s been a terrible accident, let’s go gawk at it.”
Corey: And I don’t quite know what to do with that because it leads to the mistaken and lopsided impression that I only ever hate things and I don’t think that a lot of stuff is done well. And that’s very much not the case. It doesn’t restrict itself to AWS either. I’m increasingly impressed by a lot of what I’m seeing out of Google Cloud. You want to talk about objectivity, I feel the same way about Oracle Cloud.
Dunking on Oracle was a sport for me for a long time, but a lot of what they’re doing on a technical and on a customer-approach basis in the cloud group is notable. I like it. I’ve been saying that for a couple of years. And I’m gratified the response from the audience seems to at least be that no one’s calling me a shill. They’re saying, “Oh, if you say it, it’s got to be true.” It’s, “Yes. Finally, I have a reputation for authenticity.” Which is great, but that’s the reason I do a lot of the stuff that I do.
Mark: That is a tough place to be in. So, Twitter itself is an anomaly in terms of what’s going to get engagement and what isn’t. Sometimes I’ll tweet something that at least I think is super clever, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. This is meaningful, sincere, clever, positive. This is about to go bananas.” And then it’ll go nowhere.
And then I’ll tweet that I was feeling a depression coming on and that’ll get a lot of engagement. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just, it’s never what I think. I thought that the depression tweet was not going to go anywhere. I thought that one was going to be like, kind of fade into the ether, and then that is the one that gets all the engagement.
And then the one about something great that I want to share, or lifting somebody else up, or celebrating somebody that doesn’t go anywhere. So, it’s just really hard to predict what people are going to really engage with and what’s going to ring true for them.
Corey: Oh, I never have any idea of how jokes are going to land on Twitter. And in the before times, I had the same type of challenge with jokes in conference talks, where there’s a joke that I’ll put in there that I think is going to go super well, and the audience just sits there and stares. That’s okay. My jokes are for me, but after the third time trying it with different audiences and no one laughs, okay, I should keep it to myself, then. Other times just a random throwaway comment, and I find it quoted in the newspaper almost. And it’s, “Oh, okay.”
Corey: You can never tell what’s going to hit and what isn’t.
Mark: Can we talk about that though? Like—
Corey: Oh, sure.
Mark: Conference talking?
Corey: Oh, my God, no.
Mark: Conference speaking, and just how, like—I remember one time I was keynoting—well I was emceeing and I had the opening monologue. And so [crosstalk 00:17:45]—
Corey: We call that a keynote. It’s fine. It is—I absolutely upgrade it because people know what you’re talking about when you say, “I keynoted the thing.” Do it. Own it.
Corey: It’s yours.
Corey: So, I was emcee and then I did the keynote. And so during the keynote rehearsals—and this is for all the academia, right, so all these different university deans, et cetera. So, in the practice, I’m telling this joke, and it is landing, everybody’s laughing, blah, blah, blah. And then I get in there, and it was crickets. And in that moment, you want to panic because you’re like, “Holy crap, what do I do because I was expecting to be able to ride the wave of the laughter into my next segment,” and now it’s dead silent. And then just that ability to have to be quick on your feet and not let it slow you down is just really hard.
Corey: This episode is sponsored by our friends at Oracle HeatWave
is a new high-performance accelerator for the Oracle MySQL Database Service. Although I insist on calling it “my squirrel.” While MySQL has long been the worlds most popular open source database, shifting from transacting to analytics required way too much overhead and, ya know, work. With HeatWave you can run your OLTP and OLAP, don’t ask me to ever say those acronyms again, workloads directly from your MySQL database and eliminate the time consuming data movement and integration work, while also performing 1100X faster than Amazon Aurora, and 2.5X faster than Amazon Redshift, at a third of the cost. My thanks again to Oracle Cloud for sponsoring this ridiculous nonsense.
Corey: It’s a challenge. It turns out that there are a number of skills that are aligned but are not the same when it comes to conference talks, and I think that is something that is not super well understood. There’s the idea of, “I can get on stage in front of a bunch of people with a few loose talking points, and just riff,” that sort of an improv approach. There’s the idea of, “Oh, I can get on stage with prepared slides and have presenter notes and have a whole direction and theme of what I’m doing,” that’s something else entirely. But now we’re doing video and the energy is completely different.
I’ve presented live on video, I’ve done pre-recorded video, but in either case, you’re effectively talking to the camera and there is no crowd feedback. So, especially if you’d lean on jokes like I tend to, you can’t do a cheesy laugh track as an insert, other than maybe once as its own joke. You have to make sure that you can resonate and engage with folks, but there are no subtle cues from the audience like half the front row getting up and walking out. You have to figure out what it is that resonates, what it is that doesn’t, why people should care. And of course, distinguishing and differentiating between this video that you’re watching now and the last five Zoom meetings that you’ve been on that look an awful lot the same; why should you care about this talk?
Mark: The hardest thing to do. I think speaking remotely became such a big challenge. So, over time it became a little easier because I found some of the value in it, but it was still much harder because of all the things that you said. What became easier was that I didn’t have to go to a place. That was easier.
So, I could take three different conference talks in a day for three different organizations. So, that was easier. But what was harder, just like you said, not being able to have that energy of the crowd to know when you’re on point because you look for that person in the audience who’s nodding in agreement, or the person who’s shaking their head furiously, like, “Oh, this is all wrong.” So, you might need to clarify or slow down or—you lose all your cues, and that’s just really, really hard. And I really don’t like doing video pre-recorded talks because those take more energy for me than they do the even live virtual because I have to edit it and I have to make sure that take was right because I can’t say, “Oh, excuse me. Well, I meant to say this.”
And I guess I could leave that in there, but I’m too much of a—I love public speaking, so I put so much pressure on myself to be the best version of myself at every opportunity when I’m doing public speaking. And I think that’s what makes it hard.
Corey: Oh, yeah. Then you add podcasts into the mix, like this one, and it changes the entire approach. If I stumble over my words in the middle of a sentence that I’ve done a couple of times already, on this very show, I will stop and repeat myself because it’s easier to just cut that out in post, and it sounds much more natural. They’ll take out ums, ahs, stutters, and the rest. Live, you have to respond to that very differently, but pre-recorded video has something of the same problem because, okay, the audio you can cut super easily.
With video, you have to sort of a smear, and it’s obvious when people know what they’re looking at. And, “Wait, what was that? That was odd. They blew a take.” You can cheat, which is what I tend to do, and oh, I wind up doing a bunch of slides in some of my talks because every slide transition is an excuse to cut because suddenly for a split second I’m not on the camera and we can do all kinds of fun things.
But it’s all these little things, and part of the problem, too, with the pandemic was, we suddenly had to learn how to be A/V folks when previously we had the good fortune slash good sense to work with people who are specialist experts in this space. Now it’s, “Well, I guess I am the best boy grip today,” whate—I’m learning what that means [laugh] as we—
Mark: That’s right.
Corey: —continue onward. Ugh. I never signed up for this, but it’s the thing that happens to you instead of what you plan on. I think that’s called life.
Mark: Feels right. Feels right, yeah. It’s just one of those things. And I’m looking forward to the time after this, when we do get back to in-person talks, and we do get to do some things. So, I have a lot of hot takes around speaking. So, I came up in Toastmasters. Are you familiar
with Toastmasters at all?
Corey: I very much am.
Mark: Oh, yeah. Okay, so I came up in Toastmasters, and for people at home who don’t know, it’s kind of like a meetup where you go and you
actually practice public speaking, based on these props, et cetera. For me, I learned to do things like not say ‘um’ and ‘ah’ on stage because there’s someone in the room counting every time you do it, and then when you get that review at the end when they give you your feedback, they’ll call that out. Or when you say ‘like you know,’ or too many ‘and so’, all these little—I think the word is disfluencies that you use that people say make you sound more natural, those are things that were coached out with me for public speaking. I just don’t do those things anymore, and I feel like there are ways for you not to do it.
And I tweeted that before, that you shouldn’t say ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and have someone tell me, “Oh, no, they're a natural part of language.” And then, “It’s not natural and it could freak people out.” And I was like, “Okay. I mean, you have your opinion about that.” Like, that’s fine, but it’s just a hot take that I had about speaking.
I think that you should do lots of things when you speak. The rate that you walk back and forth, or should you be static? How much should be on your slides? People put a lot of stuff on slides, I’m like, “I don’t want to read your slides. I’d rather listen to you use your slides.” I mean, I can go on and on. We should have another podcast called, “Hey, Mark talks about public speaking,” because that is one of my jams. That and supporting people who come from different paths. Those two things, I can go on for hours about.
Corey: And they’re aligned in a lot of respects. I agree with you on the public speaking. Focusing on the things that make you a better speaker are not that hard in most cases, but it’s being aware of what you’re doing. I thought I was a pretty good speaker when I had a coach for a little while, and she would stand there, “Give just the first minute of your talk.” And she’s there and writing down notes; I get a minute in and it’s like, “Okay, I can’t wait to see what she doesn’t like once I get started.” She’s like, “Nope. I have plenty. That will cover us for the next six weeks.” Like, “O…kay? I guess she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
Spoiler she did, in fact, know what she was doing and was very good at it and my talks are better for it as a result. But it comes down to practicing. I didn’t have a thing like Toastmasters when I was learning to speak to other folks. I just did it by getting it wrong a lot of times. I would speak to small groups repeatedly, and I’d get better at it in time.
And I would put time-bound on it because people would sit there and listen to me talk and then the elevator would arrive at our floor and they could escape and okay, they don’t listen to me publicly speaking anymore, but you find time to practice in front of other folks. I am kidding, to be clear. Don’t harass strangers with public speaking talks. That was in fact a joke. I know there’s at least one person in the audience who’s going to hear that and take notes and think, “Ah, I’m going to do that because he said it’s a good idea.” This is the challenge with being a quote-unquote, “Role model” sometimes. My role model approach is to give people guidance by providing a horrible warning of what not to do.
Corey: You’ve gone the other direction and that’s kind of awesome. So, one of the recurring themes of this show has been, where does the next generation come from? Where do we find the next generation of engineer, of person working in cloud in various ways? Because the paths that a lot of us walked who’ve been in this space for a decade or more have been closed. And standing here, it sounds an awful lot like, “Oh, go in and apply for jobs with a firm handshake and a printed copy of your resume and ask to see the manager and you’ll have a job before dark.”
Yeah, what worked for us doesn’t work for people entering the workforce today, and there have to be different paths. Bootcamps are often the subject of, I think, a deserved level of scrutiny because quality differs wildly, and from the outside if you don’t know the space, a well-respected bootcamp that knows exactly what it’s doing and has established long-term relationships with a number of admirable hiring entities in the space and grifter who threw together a website look identical. It’s a hard problem to solve. How do you view teaching the next generation and getting them into this space, assuming that that isn’t something that is morally reprehensible? And some days, I wonder if exposing this industry to folks who are new to it isn’t a problem.
Mark: No, good question. So, I think in general—so I am pro bootcamp. I am pro self-taught. I was not always. And that’s because of personal insecurity. Let’s dive into that a little bit.
So, I’ve been writing code since I was probably around 14 because I was lucky enough to go to a high school to had a computer science program on the south side of Chicago, one school. And then when I say I was lucky, I was really lucky because the school that I went to wasn’t a high resource school; I didn’t go to a private school. I went to a public school that just happened that one of the professors from IIT, also worked on staff a few days a week at my school, and we could take programming classes with this guy. Total luck. And so I get into computer science that way, take AP Computer Science in high school—which is, like, the pre-college level—then I go into undergrad, then I go into grad school for computer science.
So, like, as traditional of a path that you can get. So, in my mind, it was all about my sweat equity that I had put in that disqualified everybody else. So, Corey, if you come from a bootcamp, you haven’t spent the time that I spent learning to code; you haven’t sweat, you haven’t had to bleed, you haven’t tried to write a two’s complement algorithm on top of your other five classes for that semester. You haven’t done it, definitely you don’t deserve to be here. So, that was so much of my attitude, until—until—I got the opportunity to have my mind completely blown when I got asked to teach.
Because when I got to asked to teach, I thought, “Yeah, I’m going to have my way of going in there and I’m going to show them how to do it right. This is my chance to correct these coding bootcampers and show them how it goes.” And then I find these people who were born for this life. So, some of us are natural talents, some of us are people who can just acquire the talent later. And both are totally valid.
But I met this one student. She was a math teacher for years in Chicago Public Schools. She’s like, “I want a career change.” Comes to the program that I taught at Northwestern, does so freaking well that she ends up getting a job at Airbnb. Now, if you have to make her go back four years at university, is that window still open for her? Maybe not.
Then I meet this other woman, she was a paralegal for ten years. Ten years as a paralegal was the best engineer in the program when I taught, she was the best developer we had. Before the bootcamp was over, she had already gotten the job offer. She was meant for this. You see what I’m saying?
So, that’s why I’m so excited because it’s like, I have all these stories of people who are meant for this. I taught, and I met people that changed the way I even saw the rest of the world. I had some non-binary trans students; I didn’t even know what pronouns were. I had no idea that people didn’t go by he/him, she/her. And then I had to learn about they and them and still teach you code without misgendering you at the same time, right because you’re in a classroom and you’re rapid-fire, all right, you—you know, how about this person? How about that person? And so you have to like, it’s hard to take—
Corey: —users feel that, “Wow, this guy has no idea how to code.” You’re right, I don’t.
Mark: Yeah, so as I’m on my soapbox, I’ll just say this. I think coding bootcamps and self-taught programs where you can go online, I think this is where the door is the widest open for people to enter the industry because there is no requirement of a degree behind this. I just think that has just really opened the door for a lot of people to do things that is life-changing. So, when you meet somebody who’s only making—because we’re all engineers and we do all this stuff, we make a lot of money. And we’re all comfortable. When you meet somebody where they go from 40,000 to 80,000, that is not the same story for—as it is for us.
Corey: Exactly. And there’s an entire school of thought out there that, “Oh, you should do this for the love because it is who you are, it is who you were meant to be.” And for some people, that’s right, and I celebrate and cherish those folks. And there are other folks for whom, “I got into tech because of the money.” And you know what?
I celebrate and cherish those folks because that is not inherently wrong. It says nothing negative about you whatsoever to want to improve your quality of life and wanting to support your family in varying ways. I have zero shade to throw at either one of those people. And when it comes to which of those two people do I want to hire, I have no preference in either direction because both are valid and both have directions that they can think in that the other one may not necessarily see for a variety of reasons. It’s fine.
Mark: I wanted to be an engineering manager. You know why? Not because I loved leadership; because I wanted more money.
Mark: So, I’ve been in the industry for quite a long time. I’m a little bit on the older side of the story, right? I’m a little bit older. You know, for me, before we got ‘staff’ and ‘principal’ and all this kind of stuff, it was senior software engineer and then you topped out in terms of your earning potential. But if you wanted more, you became a manager, director, et cetera.
So, that’s why I wanted to be a manager for a while; I wanted more money, so why is my choice to be a manager more valuable than those people who want to make more money by coming into engineering or software development? I don’t think it is.
Corey: So, we’ve talked about positivity, we’ve talked about dealing with unpleasant people, we’ve talked about technology, and then, of course, we’ve talked about getting up on soapboxes. Let’s tie all of that together for one last topic. What is your position on open-source in cloud?
Mark: I think open-source software allows us to do a lot of incredible things. And I know that’s a very light, fluffy, politically correct answer, but it is true, right? So, we get to take advantage of the brains of so many different people, all the ideas and contributions of so many different people so that we can do incredible things. And I think cloud really makes the world more accessible in general because—so when I used to do websites, I had to have a physical server that I would have to, like, try to talk to my ISP to be able to host things. And so, there was a lot of barriers to entry to do things that way.
Now, with cloud and open-source, I could literally pick up a tool and deploy some software to the cloud. And the tool could you open-source so I can actually see what’s happening and I could pick up other tools to help build out my vision for whatever I’m creating. So, I think open-source just gives a lot of opportunity.
Corey: Oh, my stars, yes. It’s even far more so than when I entered the field, and even back then there were challenges. One of the most democratizing aspects of cloud is that you can work with the same technologies that giant companies are using. When I entered the workforce, it’s, “Wow, you’re really good with Apache, but it seems like you don’t really know a whole lot about the world of enterprise storage. What’s going on with that?”
And the honest answer was, “Well, it turns out that on my laptop, I can compile Apache super easily, but I’m finding it hard, given that I’m new to the workforce, to afford a $300,000 SAN in my garage, so maybe we can wind up figuring out that there are other ways to do it.” That doesn’t happen today. Now, you can spin something up in the cloud, use it for a little bit. You’re done, turn it off, and then never again have to worry about it except over in AWS land where you get charged 22 cents a month in perpetuity for some godforsaken reason you can’t be bothered to track down and certainly no one can understand because, you know, cloud billing.
Corey: But if that’s the tax versus the SAN tax, I’ll take it.
Mark: So, what I think is really interesting what cloud does, I like the word democratization because I think about going back to—just as a lateral reference to the bootcamp thing—I couldn’t get my parents to see my software when I was in college when I made stuff because it was on my laptop. But when I was teaching these bootcamp students, they all deployed to Heroku. So, in their first couple of months, the cloud was allowing them to do something super cool that was not possible in the early days when I was coming up, learning how to code. And so they could deploy to Heroku, they could use GitHub Pages, you know like, open-source still coming into play. They can use all these tools and it’s available to them, and I still think to me that is mind-blowing that I would have to bring my physical laptop or desktop home and say, “Mom, look at this terminal window that’s doing this algorithm that I just did,” versus what these new people can do with the cloud. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, I want to build a website. I want to publish it today. Publish right now.” Like, during our conversation, we both could have probably spent up a Hello World in the cloud with very little.
Corey: Well, you could have. I could have done it in some horrifying way by using my favorite database: DNS. But that’s a separate problem.
Mark: [laugh]. Yeah, but I go to Firebase deploy and create a quick app real quick; Firebase deploy. Boom, I’m in the cloud. And I just think that the power behind that is just outstanding.
Corey: If I had to pick a single cloud provider for someone new to the field to work with, it would be Google Cloud, and it’s not particularly close. Just because the developer experience for someone who has not spent ten years marinating in cloud is worlds apart from what you’re going to see in almost every other provider. I take it back, it is close. Neck-and-neck in different ways is also DigitalOcean, just because it explains things; their documentation is amazing and it lets people get started. My challenge with DigitalOcean is that it’s not thought of, commonly, as a tier-one cloud provider in a lot of different directions, so the utility of learning how that platform works for someone who’s planning to be in the industry for a while might potentially not get them as far.
But again, there’s no wrong answer. Whatever interests you, whenever you have to work on, do it. The obvious question of, “What technology should I learn,” it’s, “Well, the ones that the companies you know are working with,” [laugh] so you can, ideally, turn it into something that throws off money, rather than doing it in your spare time for the love of it and not reaping any rewards from it.
Mark: Yeah. If people ask me what should they use it to build something? And I think about what they want to do. And I also will say, “What will get you to ship the fastest? How can you ship?”
Because that’s what’s really important for most people because people don’t finish things. You know, as an engineer, how many side projects you probably have in the closet that never saw the light of day because you never shipped. I always say to people, “Well, what’s going to get you to ship?” If it’s View, use View and pair that with DigitalOcean, if that’s going to get you to ship, right? Or use Angular plus Google Cloud Platform if that’s going to get you to ship.
Use what’s going to get you to ship because—if it’s just your project you’re trying to run on. Now, if it’s a company asking me, that’s a consulting question which is a different answer. We do a much more in-detail analysis.
Corey: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about, honestly, a very wide-ranging group of topics. If people want to learn more about who you are, how you think, what you’re up to, where can they find you?
Mark: You can always find me spreading the love, being positive, hanging out. Look, if you want to feel better about yourself, come find me on Twitter at @marktechson
—M-A-R-K-T-E-C-H-S-O-N. I’m out there waiting for you, so just come on and have a good time.
Corey: And we will, of course, throw links to that in the [show notes 00:36:45]. Thank you so much for your time today.
Mark: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Corey: Mark Thompson, developer relations engineer at Google. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry, deranged comment that you spent several weeks rehearsing in the elevator.
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com
to get started.
Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.