The Sly Skill of the Subtle Tweet with Laurie Barth

Episode Summary

This week Corey is joined by Laurie Barth, Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, though most of us know Laurie by her Twitter handle: @laurieontech. While Laurie and Corey have bounced around each other in the digital sphere, now they’re finally sitting down to a conversation! Corey and Laurie talk Twitters tip jar, super follows, and Laurie’s cheeky debut of The Art of the Subtle Subtweet. Laurie offers her perspectives on how growing an audience on Twitter shifts the way people interact with you, how tweets shouldn’t always be taking seriously, and navigating that space with success. Tune in for Laurie’s tweeting tidbits!

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Laurie
Laurie is a Senior Software Engineer at Netflix. You can also find her creating content and educating the technology industry as an egghead instructor, member of the TC39 Educators committee, and technical blogger.


Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I’m joined this week by Laurie Barth, but no one really knows that’s her last name. In fact, @laurieontech is how most people think of her. She’s a senior software engineer at a company called Netflix, which primarily streams movies and gives conference talks—in the before times—about how you’re doing it wrong.

She also creates a lot of content and educates the technology industry as an instructor at Egghead. She’s a member of the TC39 Educator’s Committee, and of course, is a technical blogger. Laurie, thank you for suffering the slings and arrows I’m no doubt going to be hurtling your way.

Laurie: This is the most fun I’ve had all week. [laugh].

Corey: Well, it’s a pandemic on, so presumably that isn’t that high of a bar for the pony to stumble over.

Laurie: Yeah, unfortunately not. I think that’s maybe the problem.

Corey: So, you’re someone that I have been aware of for an awfully long time. You’re always sort of omnipresent in conversations. You are someone who has a lot of great opinions that present well; you talk about an awful lot of things that are germane to my interests, educating the next generation of engineers, for example. And of course, you recently started at Netflix, at which point, well, if you’re not familiar with what Netflix is doing in the cloud, have you ever even talked to an AWS employee for more than 35 seconds because they’ll go reference Netflix for a variety of wonderful reasons, both based on technical excellence, as well as because AWS is so bad at telling the story of what you can build out of their popsicle stick service collection that they just punt to companies like Netflix to demonstrate what you could do. So, you’re sort of this omnipresent force on Twitter, but we’ve never really had a conversation before, so it was long past time to rectify this.

Laurie: I mean, you sent me two cents. So… I think that was pretty—[laugh].

Corey: That’s what the Tip Jar is for. You just wind up hurling very small amounts of money at people along with insulting comments, and it’s a new form of social media. That is the micro-transaction way.

Laurie: I quite enjoyed that. So, for context, I was one of the first people to be part of the A/B testing for Tip Jar on Twitter and Corey was the first person to send me money with, of course, a very on-brand Corey message, which there’s a screenshot of on Twitter somewhere. And a couple of people followed, but it was great fun. And I think that’s the first time we had ever directly interacted in a message or something, other than obviously, in threads and that sort of thing.

Corey: Yeah, that’s an interesting point to lead into here because I’m also in the A/B test for Tip Jar and I’ve largely turned it off, except for when I’m doing something very small and very focused, usually aimed at some sort of charitable benefit or whatnot, and even then, it’s not the right way to do it. And it’s weird, there was a time I absolutely would have turned it on, but it doesn’t seem right for me to do it now and that’s partially due to the fact that—first, I don’t need tips from the audience in order to sustain myself. I’m not that kind of creator. I have a company that solves very expensive problems for large companies and that works out really well for, you know, keeping the lights on here.

I’m not trying to disparage creators in any way, folks who are in a position of needing that to cover their lifestyle a variety of different ways. And even if they’re well beyond that, I don’t begrudge that to them at all. I mean, from a very selfish capitalist perspective, I don’t want you to feel that you’ve paid your debt to me for entertaining you by sending me $5. I want you to repay that debt by signing a five-figure consulting agreement.

Laurie: Yeah, those aren’t really the same thing, are they?

Corey: No, no. Turns out signing authority caps out at different places for different folks.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: Who knew? But it was a fun experiment. I’m glad that they’re doing it. I’m glad to see Twitter coming out of its stasis for a long time and trying new things, even if we don’t like some of them.

Laurie: Well, they have this whole Super Follows thing now, and I got waitlisted for it the other day because they said they accepted too many people, whatever that means. I think—

Corey: Same here.

Laurie: Yeah, I think a bunch of us got that. And I’m interested, my sense is it's sort of like a Patreon hosted in Twitter sort of thing. And I’ve never had a Patreon; I have a mailing list that I made based on an April Fool’s joke this past year where I made an entire signup workflow for the pre-order of my new book, The Art of the Subtle Subtweet. I was very pleased with this joke.

This was, like, very elaborate: I had a whole website, I had a signup flow, and I now have a mailing list which I’ve done nothing with. So, I have all of these things, but that’s not really been my—there’s too many things to do as a content creator, and so I’ve sort of not explored most of those other avenues. And so, Super Follows, I was like, “This could be interesting. I could try doing it,” but, you know, alas, they don’t want me to. So, [laugh] I don’t know that it matters.

Corey: It’s an interesting problem, too, because at the start of the pandemic, I had a third of the Twitter followers that I do as of the time of this recording, which is something like 63,000. When I started what I do, five years ago, and I had just left a company which was highly regulated, so, “Don’t tweet,” was basically their social media policy, it was a, okay, I had something like 2000 followers at the time. I was—it had taken me seven years to get there, let’s be very clear here. And since then, my following has exploded, and yours has as well. You have, I think the last time we checked, was it something like 30,000 and change?

Laurie: Yeah, something like that.

Corey: And it changes the way that people interact with you. This is one of those things that there aren’t that many people that we can have this kind of honest conversation with because let’s be very clear here, for folks who have not established an audience like that it sounds absolutely like it’s either a humblebrag—which I’m not intending that to come across that way—or it’s one of those, “Wish I had those problems.” And in some ways, yeah, it’s a weird problem to have, and it’s also not a sympathetic problem to have, but something that has been very clear to me has been that the way that people perceive me and the way that they interact with me has shifted significantly as my Twitter notoriety has increased.

Laurie: Yeah.

Corey: I’m curious about how you have experienced that?

Laurie: Yeah, so I’m half your size and especially in the front-end universe, there’s plenty of people with between 100,000 to, you know, I think Dan Abramov is at, like, 400,000 at this point. Like—

Corey: Oh yeah, my Twitter following would explode if I either knew JavaScript or was funny. Either one would just absolutely kick me into the stratosphere, but we work with what we’ve got.

Laurie: I either don’t know JavaScript or I’m not funny or maybe both because apparently not. But yeah, there’s these huge, huge, huge, huge scales, and I’m sure by many people’s judgment, pretty, pretty large. But comparing to other people in my ecosystem, maybe not so much. And I didn’t understand it until I was living it. I actually had the opportunity to meet Emily Freeman at a conference in DC, probably… three years ago now, when I had less than a thousand followers. And I thought getting my first hundred was a big deal; I thought getting my first 500—and it is. Don’t get me wrong. Those things are very cool milestones. And I [crosstalk 00:07:18]—

Corey: I still celebrate the milestones, but I do it less publicly now.

Laurie: Yeah, exactly. And I had a whole conversation with her and she gave me some really, really helpful advice: sort of, don’t look at your follower count as it goes back and forth, five people, six people you’ll think people are unfollowing you; they’re probably not. It doesn’t matter. And recognize that the larger you get, the more careful you have to be, and try to keep me sane before I was ever there. And it’s all sort of come true.

There’s two things that have stuck out to me, I think, during the pandemic, especially. One is I can write the most nonsensical, silly tweet and people will like it because they think it says something insightful whether it does or it doesn’t. They’re projecting onto the tweet something funnier, or more relevant than the reason I wrote it in the first place. Which, okay, that’s cool. I’m not as smart as you’re giving me credit for, but sure.

The other thing which is the downside to that is, everyone assumes that if they’re having a conversation with me, they’re having a conversation with me. So one-on-one, back and forth. That’s not untrue, but I’m having a similar conversation in parallel with—if it’s a popular tweet—a hundred other people at the same time. And what that means is, if you’re being a little bit of a jerk, and a little bit troll-y, you’re not being a little bit troll-y, you’re being a little bit troll-y times the a hundred other little bit troll-y people. And so my reaction to you is not going to be necessarily equivalent to what you say, and that can get me in trouble. But there’s no mental, emotional spectrum that was designed to work with the scale of social media.

Corey: Oh, absolutely not. In fact, let’s do an experiment now, while we’re having this conversation. I am making a tweet as we speak. “Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps.” It’s not particularly insightful.

It’s not particularly deep, and before the end of this episode, we will check and see what that does in terms of engagement just because you can say anything, and there’s some folks who will wind up automatically engaging. And again, that’s fine; everyone engages with Twitter in a bunch of different ways. For me, what’s been very odd is I have talked to a couple of very large companies who I talk about on Twitter from time to time, and it turns out that they are reluctant to engage with me directly on Twitter or promote anything that I do or do retweets of me, not because of me, but because of an element of the audience, in some cases, of what people will chime in and say because it doesn’t align with corporate brands and a bunch of different perspectives. Which, again, I have some sympathy for this; it’s hard to deal with folks who are now suddenly given a soapbox and a platform that rewards clever insults better than it does meaningful heartfelt content, and that is something that I think everyone is still struggling with. Let’s also be very clear here. I’m a white dude in tech; my failure mode is a board seat and a book deal.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: When I post something about Git, for example—which I did a few days ago—and someone responds explaining the joke back to me, my response to them was, “Thank you for explaining Git to me.” And that was all I said, and it’s led to a mini-pile-on of this person because it’s like

Laurie: Oh, yeah.

Corey: “Don’t you know who Corey is?” Yet I have seen the same dynamic happen with women tweeting about these things and it’s not just one response that explains Git; it’s all of them. And when people say—like, Abby Fuller, for example—

Laurie: Yep.

Corey: —will tweet about password manager challenges and how annoying some of them are, and it leads to a cavalcade of people suggesting password managers to her. That is not why she’s tweeting it, and she explicitly says, “I do not want you to recommend password managers to me.” And people continue to do it. And I don’t for the life of me understand what goes on in some people’s heads.

Laurie: Yeah. I mean, I’ve watched that happen countless times. I think the frustration—there’s a point at which no matter how big of a following you have, you just want to be yourself. I think most people who get to that amount of interaction have been theirself most of the way, along the way. Or they’re just being totally fake for the sense of growth hacking, in which case, okay, you do you.

But most people, I think, are being themselves because it’s exhausting to spend that much time on a platform and pretend to be someone else or be fake the whole time. So, I’m pretty much myself. And that means that sometimes when someone’s being a total jerk, I really want to treat them and be like, “Yeah, you suck.” But the problem is when I say that, I’m siccing 30,000 other people on them to defend me. And I can’t do that.

So instead, I’ve become sort of famous for subtweeting. And I will wait a couple of days to do it, or I will totally change the framing of the situation so I can get out my same sort of frustration, and annoyance, and just needing to blow off steam, or venting, or whatever it is and not point at the person. Because if I point at the person, I discovered very, very quickly that there’s a whole crowd of people willing to take them down. If they’re being blatantly terrible, I will do it. There is a line here.

Someone recommending that I use a different tool because I decided to bitch about TypeScript, for example, or telling me I don’t understand TypeScript, okay, fine. Someone’s saying, “You only have followers because you’re a pretty girl.” Yeah, you’re an asshole. No, I’m not protecting you. Also, by the way, I tweeted two minutes ago, do all tweets deserve a ‘like,’ question mark, and we’ll see how much that—

Corey: Yeah.

Laurie: —interaction gets. [laugh].

Corey: I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out. It’s a responsibility, which sounds odd, but if I complain about a company, what I’m fundamentally doing is I have the potential to be calling out an airstrike on top of them. And not every customer service failure deserves that. I deleted all of my tweets prior to 2015 a while back. And the reason most people delete tweets, or the reason we hear about most people deleting tweets, there was nothing especially problematic in my tweets other than jokes that were mean in different ways and punching down in ways that I didn’t realize were at the time.

It was not full of slurs; it was just things that weren’t particularly great. But that wasn’t the real reason I did it. The honest reason was is that I looked at my early tweets and they were cringy beyond belief. I was shilling for the company I worked for in many respects, and there were swaths which I didn’t engage with Twitter, and the only time I really did is I was out there complaining about various customer service failures, so it’s just this neverending stream of complaints about different companies that had wronged me in trivial ways.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: And, I don’t know at some point if somebody is going to build something where it’s easy to explore early tweets of a particular account. I don’t want them to do that and then figure out that this is how you get started being me. It’s like, I succeeded in spite of that nonsense, not because of it. And it’s not something good that I want to put out into the world.

Laurie: Yeah. So, I have, I think, only once added a company when I was having a customer service issue on a weekend, and we were in really dire straits. And I was just like, “Okay, it’s a weekend. I’m going to at.” And I’ve never gotten a response so fast.

And my husband looked at me and he was like, “Wait, what?” And I’d done this with an ol—I have this really ancient Twitter account that I got rid of because I was mostly just screaming about politics [laugh] and I didn’t want—I think I got @laurieontech in like, 2016, 2017—and I’d done that before. I’d been like, “Hey, you know”—I’m making something up—“At Spirit Airlines”—they seem like an easy one to—I’ve never flown Spirit, so—but I mean, I never got a response. And so there—realizing that you have power from a brand perspective is really weird.

But I almost want to go back to your point when you were talking about when you worked for a company and you had your account and, you know, they don’t want you to tweet, basically. Or companies are not going to tweet at you now, in your current state. I think it’s really hard to be a company on the internet in tech because you’re either going to make a joke that lands well, or everyone’s going to think that you’re shilling for yourself. There’s no in-between and so—this is a hot take and I might get in trouble for that—companies have realized that the best way to get around that is to hire people who have their own personal names and get your company name associated with them. And all of a sudden, it looks less disingenuous.

Corey: And even that’s a problem because I’ve talked to companies who are hiring folks with large followings for DevRel style jobs, and—I’ve interviewed for a few of those, once upon a time, about midway through when I was debating do I shut this consulting thing down and get a real job again because that’s always how I sort of assumed it would be for the first couple years. And then, “No, I’m going to get serious about it.” And I took on a business partner and got very serious, and here we are. But talking to folks, my question was, in the interview process, I would talk to my prospective manager and ask questions of the form, “So, what is your plan for when we eventually part ways? How are you 
structuring that?”

And they looked at me like that was a bizarre question. It’s, understand that, done right, my personal brand will, in some areas and some corners, eclipse that of the company, so as soon as I leave for whatever reason, the question is going to be, “Were you mistreated? Did someone wrong you there? We’ll drag them just preemptively on the off chance.” And you need to have a plan in place to mitigate some of that and have a structured exit for what that is going to look like. And they looked at me like I was coming from a different planet. But I still think I’m right.

Laurie: You are right. And, oh goodness, I’ve seen this in a lot of different places. I mean, I have left companies in the past and I have had to decide how I was going to position that publicly. And how much I was going to say or not say, how complimentary I was going to be or not because the thing is, when you leave a place, you’re not just leaving the company, you’re also leaving your colleagues. And what does that mean for their experience?

You’re gone. You don’t want to be saying, “Hey, this place is horrible, while your really close friends you were working with on Friday are still there.” At the same time, companies don’t think about this from the DevRel perspective and, I want to be very clear, I have friends who work in DevRel who are themselves brands. They are all fantastic people; they work incredibly hard; this is not a knock on them in any way—

Corey: It looks easy from the outside. I want to be very clear on that.

Laurie: [laugh]. It’s not easy. All this stuff is great, but part of the reason I decided to go to a place like Netflix is because I knew my brand had no bearing on them and so I could be myself and just do my own thing and they weren’t going to try and leverage me, or there was no hit to them based on who I was. Granted, did I go after someone the other day, sort of, in deep in a thread for being a jerk and did they try and at Netflix engineering and say, “Is this the kind of person you want representing your brand?” And at, “Is this the kind of person wanting your brand?” Yeah, they did.

So, that part’s still a problem, but that’s a problem for me rather than being a problem for my company, if I decide that, you know, I don’t always want to—like, no one cares if I talk about the new Marvel show. No one cares. I like Marvel; I’m allowed to like Marvel. I also love the stuff on Netflix, right, but when you’re at a company that isn’t like that, honestly, when I was at Gatsby, I couldn’t be tweeting about Next or Nuxt, or even Vue for that matter, because it just doesn’t look right. Because my brand had more of an impact in that smaller pond than it does now.

Corey: People have said, “Oh, well, what if AWS acquires you so you can work on their behalf?” Or, “What if Google acquires you?” Or something like that, and it’s—what people don’t get is that my persona—again, to be clear, I am genuine on Twitter. I emphasize aspects of my personality, but I don’t get up there and say things I don’t necessarily believe. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

But what I do as a small company, making fun of trillion-dollar publicly traded entities is funny and it works, but if suddenly I work at a different publicly-traded company, it just looks like I work for my employer, bagging on a competitor. And even if I’m speaking in ‘an opinions my own’ sense, which is apparently Amazon’s corporate motto, based on how often I see it in their employee’s Twitter bios—

Laurie: Oh, yeah. [laugh].

Corey: —is going to be perceived as me smacking at a competitor regardless. Further, I will not be the person that craps on my own employer on Twitter because that sends terrible signal in many respects. I won’t even crap on previous employers who frankly kind of deserve it because when you do that, it does not look good to people who are not familiar with the situation, and no one’s as familiar with it as you are. It just looks like sour grapes, regardless of how legitimate your grievance was. To be very clear, I’m not saying don’t call out abuse when you encounter it—

Laurie: Yeah.

Corey: —that’s fine. I’m not going down that path—

Laurie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Corey: —let’s clear here. But, “Yeah, they have a terrible management culture, and they don’t promote internally, and I hate those people,” it just makes you look bad, and it doesn’t help anything.

Laurie: Yeah. I had always made a commitment to never talk about a former employer in any way that was easily identifiable. I’ve changed that policy a little bit. There’s a story I shared a couple of times where my CEO didn’t want to give me a pay raise because he thought it was my parents’ and boyfriend at the time’s job to take care of me financially. Like, that kind of stuff, I will say publicly.

No one’s going to know who it is; you’d have to go back and figure it out and, like, you don’t have enough context so how would you know? But it’s stuff like that, that I’m like, okay. I don’t want to hide stories like that because that’s not protecting anybody.

Corey: No, I’m not talking about covering up for misbehavior. I’m talking run-of-the-mill just bad management, poor company culture, terrible technical decisions, et cetera. Yeah, if it’s like, yeah, they sexually harassed every woman on the team, out. Yeah, tell that story. I—thank you, I should absolutely clarify my stance. Heaven forbid I get letters.

Laurie: But yeah, it’s the problem is that you can’t—and everyone has a slightly different experience with this, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t matter if you say their management is shitty and they didn’t promote versus there was a ton of sexual harassment. If you’re one person saying it—if it’s the Blizzard situation where there’s tons of receipts and it’s made it into national media, then that’s a little bit different. But if you’re one person saying it about one company, people are going to think it’s sour grapes. And unfortunately, it doesn’t reflect on the company; it reflects on you. So, unless there’s a sort of like, where there’s smoke, there’s fire situation where a bunch of people are doing it at once, you have to weigh stuff really carefully.

Especially because your next employer doesn’t want you out there talking about your previous employer because then their fear is what are you going to say about them when you leave? There’s lots of nuance and it gets—if you are screaming into the void—we’re screaming into the cloud here—

Corey: Ahhhh. Yes.

Laurie: Ahhhh. [laugh]. If you’re screaming into the void, it doesn’t matter if you’re you. And I mean… [sigh] I hate saying, “If you’re me,” right? 
That’s such an obnoxious statement to make, but at 30,000, they probably care.

Corey: There are inflection points. I started seeing—around 40,000 is when I started seeing a couple of brands reaching out to me to, “Hey, you want to promote some nonsense.” And I’ve never sold any social media promotion for anything. I sell sponsorships for newsletters, this podcast, I do webinars stuff, I do paid speaking engagements. My Twitter account is mine.

It is not the company’s and that is by design. It’s me; that’s what it comes down to. That does lead to challenges in some arenas because I talk to companies about their AWS bill and these companies do not have much of a sense of humor about spending tens of millions of dollars, in some cases a month, on a cloud provider. These are serious problems and they’re a little worried, in some cases, the first time we have conversations that they’re dealing with some kind of internet clown.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: And often with talking to folks to convince them to come on this podcast, it’s, “Look, this is not me dragging you and making you look awful because if I do that, I’ll never get another guest again.” And if I do it in the context of a consulting project it’s, “That was a hilarious entertaining intro here. Get out and never come back.” It is not useful. People have generally taken a risk personally on bringing the Duckbill Group in.

If we can’t deliver and cannot present professionally, then they have some serious damage control to do, for a variety of excellent reasons. And we’ve never put someone in that position and we won’t. I talked to brands who sponsor all of these things, and the ones that are the best sponsors intrinsically understand it, that [unintelligible 00:23:56] once I start getting after some serious maleficence style stuff—no one is going to not do business with you because I make fun of your company on Twitter—

Laurie: Yeah.

Corey: —but an awful lot of people are going to hear about you for the first time and advertising in the newsletter and having fun with that, or I talk about you in the podcast ads, it winds up being engaging in many cases depending how far I can stretch it. And it works. I did a tour at re:Invent last year—virtual re:Invent—where I led a Twitch tour for an hour around the virtual expo hall into a bunch of different sponsored virtual booths and made fun of them all, and I got thank you notes from the sponsors because that led to a bunch of leads because people cared about the—oh, people paying attention because Amazon did a crap job of advertising the Sponsor Expo. And it was something that people could grasp, and have fun with, and get attention for. It’s top-of-funnel work and that’s fine, but I just don’t do it with the boring stodgy stuff. I like to have fun with it. Bring a personality or don’t bother.

Laurie: Yeah. And you can’t take yourself too seriously. I’m not the stand-up comedian that you are. I like to fashion myself as a little bit funny but not that funny. I’m not a stand-up comedian and I don’t have a consultancy to represent anymore.

There was a time where I did; I was not the owner of it but I worked there. So, now it’s sort of, I represent me, which is good in the way that you say it. Like, it’s clearly you. It’s not Duckbill Group; it’s your account. But at the same time, it freaks me out when in real life people know that it’s me.

So, in my brain, Twitter is the internet and I have my actual real day-to-day life, and never the two shall cross. [laugh]. And my—one of my—I had this popular tweet where I talked about all the companies I’d been rejected from, and it turned into a bit of a retweet situation with everyone sharing all these companies that they’d been rejected from. And the screenshots made it onto LinkedIn and made it into my cousin’s feed, and she sent me a text message with a screenshot. And she’s like, “You’re on my LinkedIn.”

And I was like, “No, no, this is not okay. This is not”—I have my little circle of the world and it should not expand beyond that. I go to a conference, even a tech conference, and someone’s like, “Oh, you’re blue shirt, crossed arms.” I’m like, “No, this is not okay.” Like, [laugh] I only exist on the internet.

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: My business partner was, a week or so ago, at a cafe and someone came by and saw his Last Week in AWS sticker on his laptop. It’s like, “Oh, you read that, too? I love Corey’s work.” Turns out the guy works at IBM Cloud. And yes, you should hear the air quotes around the word, ‘cloud’ in there. But still.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: It’s—I haven’t been out in the world since I really started focusing on this, and now it’s—like, I wear a mask so it’s fine, but I’m starting to wonder, am I going to get stopped on the street when I go back into the universe out there? And it’s weird because you can’t really unring that bell?

Laurie: No.

Corey: It’s a weird transition, and on some level, it’s constraining in some ways. Like, at some point of celebrity—I don’t know if I’m there yet or not—there’s going to become a day where I can’t just unload on a waiter for crappy service at a restaurant—not that that’s how I—

Laurie: I mean, you shouldn’t do that anyway. [laugh].

Corey: —operate anyway—without it potentially going viral, and, “Oh, he’s a jerk when you actually get to know him.” And everyone has this 
idea of you and this impression of who you are, based upon the curated selection of what it is you put out into the world. I’ve tried to be as true to life as I can on this. In conversations, I generally don’t drop nothing but one-liners, but I think I’m pretty true to life as far as how I present on the internet versus how I present in person.

Laurie: More than I expected, to be honest.

Corey: Yeah. That also does surprise people. Like, they think there’s some sort of writing team behind me. And it’s, if you look at the timing of some of my tweets where I will respond with a witty, snarky thing in less than a minute, it’s, I wish I had a writing team with that kind of latency. I think that’d be terrific.

Laurie: I always assumed it was you, but I figured there was like a persona that you turn on and turn off and I realize now that it’s an always on sort of thing. [laugh].

Corey: One thing I did experiment with for a little bit was having my team write tweets for my approval to promote episodes of this podcast, for example, because I am not the sort of person going to sit there and build the thing out correctly and schedule at the right time. And I have people who can do things like that, but it’s the sort of thing that led to a situation of never getting much engagement and those tweets never did very well, so why even bother? We have a dedicated Twitter feed for that stuff and everyone’s happier. Especially since I don’t have to share access to this thing through anyone. Speaking of, let’s see her tweets did.

Laurie: Oh, yeah. Okay, hold on. How’d we do? All right. So, I have, “Do all tweets deserve a like?” Was posted 19 minutes ago. It has 12 comments, 1 retweet, and 22 likes.

Corey: My, “Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps.” Was posted at a similar timeframe has 10 likes and 3 replies. Someone said that, “Organic, eh? Probably better than nylon.” Someone said, “Is this an NDA subtweet?” And someone said—with a GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio, saying, “You had my curiosity. Now, you have my attention.” That’s it. So yeah, not exactly a smash-it-out-of-the-park success.

Laurie: Yeah, but I got to say, “Do all tweets deserve a like?” Is pretty mundane. For that amount of response.

Corey: You included a question mark, which is an open invitation—

Laurie: Oh, right.

Corey: —to the internet randos to engage, so there is—

Laurie: Oh, yeah.

Corey: —a potential there.

Laurie: I going to have to retweet this and say that I’m not grifting and it was done for this podcast [laugh] and they should all listen to it. [laugh].

Corey: Oh, of course. By all means. I am thrilled in any point to wind up helping people learn more things about the environment.

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I have to honestly say that I wasn’t quite sure what was coming, but of all the things you could have asked me to predict about this episode, not talking about how Netflix works in cloud was absolutely not one of them. So wow, are you sure you work at Netflix? That’s one of those odd moment things.

Laurie: Yeah, I got to say I’m pretty abstracted from the cloud these days, so that—maybe that means that I don’t know enough to talk about it intelligently.

Corey: I would argue that extends to lots of folks. To be clear, Netflix has a lot of really neat thing.

Laurie: That never stopped anyone before? Bu-dum-shh.

Corey: Oh, yeah. It’s like, I like to get up there, sometimes I’ll talk about how we do things at Netflix, periodically, on conference stages even though I’ve never worked there, but people don’t correct me because why not? I’m a white man in tech. And I say something, of course, it’s right. It’s just—if you don’t want them to get right, you just don’t have enough context. That’s the rule.

Laurie: Corey, I’m going to need you to take the last minute or so of this episode, and please explain your feelings on how to optimize your use of JavaScript on the front-end, please.

Corey: Oh, wonderful; you pay smart people who know what they’re doing to look deep into the JavaScript side of it—

Laurie: [laugh].

Corey: —because honestly, every time I’ve tried to get into JavaScript, I go back at it and I feel even more foolish than when I started. Async stuff just completely blows my mind, especially by default. How in God’s flat earth is that supposed to work? And—

Laurie: You work in cloud. [laugh].

Corey: It doesn’t make sense to me, in a clear sense. At least with Python, which is the—I would say it’s the language I know best, but it’s not. Crappy Python is. And I can at least do things top to bottom and it works about like I would expect unless explicitly instructed otherwise. But the JavaScript world is just a big question mark and doesn’t work the way that I would expect to. To be clear, the failure here is entirely mine.

Laurie: ‘JavaScript is a big question mark and doesn’t work the way I would expect it to’ should be JavaScript’s tagline.

Corey: That’s fair because I have this ridiculous belief from the Dark Ages—because I spent 20 years as a systems admin—that computer behavior should be deterministic and if there’s one thing that we learned about the internet, it’s not.

Laurie: Yeah, no. There’s that whole user thing, and then that whole browser thing, and then that whole device thing. It’s a whole bunch of non-deterministic behaviors. Just stick to the cloud, and there’s one consumer and one producer, and you’re good.

Corey: One thing I will say—in the moment of pure seriousness here—is that if I were looking at getting into tech today, the first language I would learn would be JavaScript. It is clearly the way of the future. It is a first-class citizen on every platform out there. It is the lingua franca of, effectively, everyone coming out of a boot camp. And it is going to be the way that computers are built.

I say this not from a position of being an advocate for JavaScript. I don’t know it; I can’t stand it personally, but it is clear as day to me that is the direction the world is moving in, so if you’re debating what language to pick up, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me not to recommend JavaScript as the first one.

Laurie: And do you want me to be my serious self, and you’re going to laugh at what I’m about to say?

Corey: Hit me with it.

Laurie: If you’re looking to get into technology because of boot camps and some other things, we have an oversaturation of newbie front-end developers and they’re all way more talented than I was at that point in my career, and yet there aren’t nearly the front-door opportunities for being a—I hate the term junior, but newbie. And where there is the opportunity, it’s cloud. And security.

Corey: I will absolutely point out further that I understand this runs the risk of being ‘boomer gives career advice’—

Laurie: Yeah, right? [laugh].

Corey: —but let’s be clear here. I think that if you are going to enter the front-end space—and this does speak to cloud and it speaks to security as well—distinguish slash differentiate yourself by having another discipline or area of intense interest that you can bring into it as well because when you have a company that’s looking to hire from a sea of new boot camp grads that generally tend to look more or less identical from a resume perspective, the one that will stand out is the one that can bring in another discipline and especially if that niche winds up aligning with a company’s business, or at least an intense interest in something that is directly germane to the company, that will distinguish you. And everyone has something like that; no one is one-dimensional. So, find the thing that is the in-between space, and focus on finding jobs in companies that do those things. And if you’re a mid-career switcher, let me be very clear here.

It is not a go back to entry-level roles-style story. I’ve never understood that philosophy. I do have steps from thing I’m doing now toward thing I want to go to. Well, is there a job I can find to do next that blends the two of them together in different ways, and then once I’m there, then make a further transition. And of course, find someone who’s—in any career, in any path you’re on, find someone who is five years ahead of you, and ask them for their advice.

“What would you do in my shoes?” If the answer is, “Go to a boot camp,” okay. Talk to a few people who’ve done this and make sure it validates it. If it’s, “Get a degree,” okay, but make sure you’re not doing it because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’ll very rarely find me recommending six figures of debt in order to advance your career, but there are occasions.

By and large, they’ll find someone who’s been there before who knows what’s going on, you can have a conversation with and give them context appropriate to your situation and then see what’s right. We turned this into last-minute career advice and I’m not even—I don’t even [unintelligible 00:34:45] have a problem with that.

Laurie: Well, I was about to say that it’s 2020. 21 2020—wow, I—you knew what I meant—it’s 2021, and I guess I need to start taking my half-steps towards becoming a Lego master before I retire. [laugh].

Corey: Oh, yes, the Lego world is vast and deep, and they have gotten no worse since I was a child at separating parents from money to buy LEGO sets. My daughter’s four and his way into them already. So, it’s great. It’s something that we can bond over.

Laurie: If I ever have kids, we’re going to need separate sets because they’re not touching mine. [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, I’m looking at stuff like, oh, well, I’d love to buy that awesome big Star Destroyer—wait, it’s how much money? And it turns into this—yeah. It’s wow, on some level, I never ever thought I would find a hobby that was more expensive than my mechanical keyboards hobby, but here we are.

Laurie: Oh, yeah, I blame Cassidy Williams for getting me into that one, too. I have a shiny one beneath me. And that’s my first.

Corey: She is a treasure and a delight.

Laurie: She’s a treasure, a delight, and dangerous if you want to save money because she will draw you into the mechanical keyboards, and there’s just, there’s no resisting. I tried for a very long time. I failed, ultimately.

Corey: One of these days, she and I are going to have a keyboard-off at some point, once it’s no longer a deadly risk to do so. It’ll be fun.

Laurie: Do it.

Corey: I’m looking forward to it. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.

Laurie: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Corey: Of course. Laurie Barth, senior software engineer at Netflix, also instructor at Egghead, also a member of the TC39 Educator Committee, and prolific blogger. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with a horrifying comment explaining anything we just talked about, back to us.

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 to get started.

Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
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