We’re All AV Experts Now with Christina Warren

Episode Summary

For the last three years, Christina Warren has worked as a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft. Before joining Microsoft, Christina published bylines all over the place, working as a senior writer at Gizmodo and a senior tech correspondent at Mashable. She’s also appeared as a commentator practically everywhere, including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business. In her spare time, she co-hosts the Overtired and Rocket: Accelerated Geek Conversation podcasts. Join Corey and Christina as they discuss how a senior cloud advocate does more than say “I’m for the cloud,” the success of Microsoft’s virtual Build event and what it was like to pull it off, how Christina hopes that the current pandemic will improve the perception of virtual conferences moving forward, why Corey thinks the opportunity costs of attending conferences might hurt attendance whenever in-person events start back up, how giving a talk in front of an audience and giving a talk in from of a camera are different skill sets, the different things you need to consider for successful recorded vs. in-person talks, Christina’s tips for using a teleprompter, how everyone has been forced to become an AV experts overnight, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Christina Warren

Christina Warren is a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft, where she helps shape the overall video and broader content strategy for Channel 9, Docs.Microsoft.com, and the greater CA team. In this role, she hosts shows on Channel 9, Microsoft’s video channel for developer content, creates technical content snd demos, speaks at events, and interviews people within the developer community. Prior to joining Microsoft, Christina spent a decade in digital media as an editor, senior reporter, and commentator, with a focus on technology, business, and, entertainment. As a journalist, she appeared as an expert or commentator on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, Bloomberg, the BBC, Marketplace Radio, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and many more outlets. She also co-hosts Rocket, a popular tech news podcast, which has the distinction of being one of the only tech podcasts with an all-female hosting team.



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 Christina Warren for a second time. Christina, welcome to the show.

Christina: Hey Corey, it's great to be back with you again. I guess it's a little over a year later since we talked. Things have changed in the world a tiny bit.

Corey: Just a smidgen. Some things haven't though. You are still at Microsoft, and you remain a senior cloud advocate.

Christina: That is also true.

Corey: Whenever I hear someone say that they're a cloud advocate, senior or other appellation, I just tend to assume that that job basically entails people asking you, “So, what do you think about Cloud? And your response is, “Well, frankly, I'm for it.”

Christina: [laughs]. Yeah, I mean, you're not wrong. I mean, so I'm a part of Developer Relations, and we talked about this on the show that we did last year, and so I encourage listeners to go back and listen to that one if you want to know more about my career transition and things like that, but I think that, yeah, you're not wrong. Part of it is absolutely saying, “Why yes, I am for the Cloud.” But I think the bigger thing, the way I view my job is that I'm advocating for the users, and we kind of act as this bridge between the people in the product teams and people who are using our products, as well as the people who are marketing, kind of creating content for those things. So, we try to sit in that middle space where we're really advocating for the users and doing what we can to improve the products so that people will build more stuff on our platforms.

Corey: So, there's a lot to admire about this decade’s Microsoft, but one of the most admirable things I've seen recently, just in terms of achievement, not in terms of necessarily impact in the world was, with only a couple of months notice, you were able to turn Build not just into a digital event, but rather, sort of, the definition of what a lot of online events could aspire to one day become.

Christina: Yeah, I know. The team did an amazing, amazing job, and really, it came together in about five weeks because the decision was made in March to move it online, there were still some other things that had to be figured out, but it really was about a five or six week period where it all came together. And I'm with you; I mean, the team and there were so many people involved. They did just a tremendous job, not just from creating the content, and how do you move what the sessions look like, and what's the formatting, and how is that different when it's virtual versus when we do things in person? But then there were also a lot of technical things that had to be done with making sure that Microsoft Teams would work the right way and that we will be able to have an interface for people to be able to select the sessions that they would want to watch at different times, and working with people to make sure that their setups that they're using from home will be robust enough, and that they can deliver their content. What we also did for Microsoft Build this year, in addition to being completely virtual, is that we did a 48 hour live stream so it was across time zones, and that was a massive undertaking because traditionally we do it on the west coast time zone, you go, you start, maybe, at eight o'clock in the morning, you end at five, and then people have their side events, and stuff and certainly content is often streamed online and people can tune into those things, but it's not set up for people who are in different parts of the world to be able to experience in a real-time way. And in this case, it was, and so we had the key segments were available on a replay for the ideal morning time zones for different parts of the world, but what we also did is we had presenters who were often presenting three different times, sometimes other presenters helped out live for a specific time zone. Meaning that when—for instance, I was hosting a lot of the Build live content, and I was holding down the desk from Redmond, but we also had hosts in the UK because that was the time zone that my shift was on. And so it was midnight to 9 a.m. in the United States, but that would be the equivalent of [crosstalk]—

Corey: Oh, I saw that on twitter at one point. So, one of the nice things about the pandemic is it lets me replace some of my bad habits with better ones. For example, I took my bad habit of sleeping, and replaced it with a good habit of lying awake in the middle of the night and worrying—

Christina: Right.

Corey: Which is also known as Tweeting. So, I saw it scroll past where suddenly I see a pic of you in a mask—good for you—in a car going somewhere. Well, that's not something we do these days. What's the story here? And you were going to do your segment at Build.

Christina: Exactly, exactly. So, we had hosts remotely, but we also wanted to tie things back to our studio, and also just frankly, in case there were technical problems and somebody’s internet went down, we didn't want the stream to go down. We didn't want dead air. But people were doing presentations live throughout the 48 hours, regardless of what timezone they were in, meaning that sometimes the presenters, it might have been three o'clock in the morning that they were doing a breakout session with people and we're taking Q&A and it was actually in real-time. 

So, it wasn't a situation where I think—it would be easy to think, okay, everything is pre-recorded, and you just make it available to people, maybe you hit a play button and people are able to interact with it that way. That's not what the experience was, and so there were a lot of moving parts. I am so proud of the team who did all the work. I had a small role but I was very, very proud to have had even any role in it because I really think that it was a terrific event, not just for virtual events, but I really feel like based on the feedback we heard from the community, people had a really good experience, and that was really gratifying.

Corey: It really was a, forgive the Amazonian language, but it really was a bar-raising experience for online conferences, in the sense of this is what they need to become. It was not just turning a typical event you'd see in person into now a bunch of videos you can go and watch. The talks have to change, the interaction model has to change. I know I mentioned it when I spoke to Jeff Sandquist on the show in a previous episode, but I'll say it again, one of the most impressive things I saw was Emily Freeman giving a talk that was obviously pre-recorded. And then at the end, she just starts answering live Q&A from the audience and, “Oh my god, it wasn't recorded at all. She did it live.” Which is, from my perspective, a little on the silly side because what is the value of that, but on the other, she did it so well, it was flawless. And that was the first time of three that she gave that talk during the conference.

Christina: No, you're exactly right. And you're dead on. Emily—and so many other people were pros—Emily did such a great job that yeah, you would think that it was pre-recorded. But when it is live, when you can answer those questions, that does add a little bit of a different dynamic. And what I'm hoping comes out of this is that when we are able to return to having in-person events because I'm actually still very pro in-person events. 

I think that there's a place for both. I personally get a lot of value from meeting people and being around people; I really like that. But what I'm hoping comes from this, and I've had this conversation with a number of people at Microsoft and other places too, is that what this will mean is that in the past the online component for various events, whether it's a developer conference, or something else is always been seen as an also-ran. You know, just been ad hoc.

Corey: It’s an afterthought. “Well, we have all the trouble of getting these people here. May as well slap a crappy camera and some bad audio in the back of the room, and we’ll put something up.”

Christina: Exactly. “Okay, we want to be able to have some on-demand stuff for later if you can't attend the sessions.” But it's an afterthought. It's not considered the same experience. And what I'm hoping comes from this is not that we get rid of in-person events because again, I think there's tremendous value there, but that we don't consider the virtual component a second class citizen, and that we start to see them as equals because they should be, just based on how our world works, and how our world is going to work going forward. I think that's really important. So, to me, I think that's what I'm most hopeful about is that we will not go all-in on one or the other, but we'll say, “No, these are both things we need to do, and we need to be thinking about both of these experiences, in whatever capacity we're doing them in.”

Corey: One of the hard parts for me looking at this is, I don't want to call any individual company out, and fortunately I've been to enough of these things where I don't have to. There are an awful lot of these online events that are frankly terrible, where you’ll have some people who are extremely good at giving talks and are used to working a crowd, and now you're going to put them in their home, you're not going to have any custom lighting setup, you're going to have them using their potato-quality webcam, and it looks bad. One thing that I found that I'm doing is instead of speaking engagements for some of the sponsor work that I do, we've switched to doing some of these online, and after the first couple it was, this isn't going to work. So, first, I upgraded all of my equipment—and we can get into an equipment rant in a minute—

Christina: Yes.

Corey: —on my end, so now things are effectively flawless from an AV quality perspective. And then the problem there was, “Okay, I look great and they look like a potato.” So, now I have a pelican case that I ship out to the other end when I do these webinars, and it’s, oh, now we both look good; everything's there, and then we can do a lot of editing of that work in post, because it almost never needs to be done live, and then you can fix any embarrassing bloopers, you can have smooth transitions, you can make the video work. And you can also avoid the trap of, yeah, for a 45-minute talk, no one is going to get up and leave from the front row, at least in large numbers because they feel it's rude. Closing the tab is way easier, too.

Christina: It’s way easier. It's way easier. And if you have bad audio, or if it's hard to see, or if it's not keeping you engaged, you're not going to continue watching. We've all learned that. I mean, I think that was one of the reasons why we made a point where our segments that Build this year were 30 minutes because we were trying to be very intentional about how long can you expect people to focus in on something? And some people really like longer content, and there's definitely a place for that. But you have to be thoughtful about the fact that just because people are viewing this from home doesn't mean that you suddenly have unlimited time to be able to sit someplace, and doesn't mean that your attention is going to be the same.

Corey: I thought that Build worked for this masterfully. The longer form content, people appreciate that is great. I'm not one, personally, I have attention span issues, which is pretty obvious by anyone who knows me. I sometimes struggle to have the attention span to complete writing a tweet. But there's a lot of people for whom that is very much not true, and that is the way that they absorb things best. I love the fact that there are different sizes of content, different formats, and different ways of meeting people where they are. I agree with you, as far as what you said earlier, where there's tremendous value to me in going to in-person events and meeting people and forging connections. That's where we met a year ago at build.

Christina: Sure is.

Corey: The problem there is there has to be a business value that can be articulated to get that critical mass, and if we can say that an online event is 90 percent as good as being at an in-person event, then great. Is that extra 10 percent worth the additional expense to the business? And by expense, I’m not talking to the hotel and airfare. That's usually irrelevant. Now that I run a business and see the economics, I believe that more than ever. It's the opportunity cost of you're not going to get anything else done for one to three days while you’re at this event. So, is that cost worth bearing? For an awful lot of conferences I've been to, the answer that has been, not really.

Christina: Yeah, no, I mean I think it's a really good question. And that's going to, I think, really impact the event business going forward more than just the traditional, can people travel, and do people feel safe being in large groups, and what is the appropriate thing to do there? I think you're right, people have to evaluate the business benefits, and what the cost is. And in some cases, I think you can say there are certain conferences where, yes, it is worth it. It is worth whatever the cost is going to be, whether it's the hard costs, or if it's going to be something like the time and what goes into it, what you can potentially get out of it is going to be worth that. And for some things, that's maybe not. And so I think a lot of events are going to have to really start thinking about what is our value and how do we make sure that we can get that across, whether it's virtual or it's in person.

Corey: One of the things that people are getting wrong across the board right now, is this idea that whether your talk is good or not is going to depend on what kind of microphone you have, what kind of camera you're using, how well you wind up looking at the camera versus off to the side. And all of those things are definite value-adds, but the thing that's going to make or break it is, is the content good, or is it crap? Because people will suffer through an awful lot for good content. I would talk to you on this podcast over a rusty set of tin cans and a string if I need to. But it doesn't matter how good the production quality is if you're boring.

Christina: Yes, that's a very, very good point. And you'd mentioned something earlier that said people are used to giving talks in person, and now they have to do things online, and I do think that's actually something that's important to point out and it's something that changes a little bit in my job because historically I've done a lot of in-person talks, that's been a big part of my job. I'm fortunate in the sense that I have actually more experience, and in some ways, I'm more comfortable doing things either pre-recorded like a podcast or even live video to a camera. I have more experience that way than I do in person. And if I'm being honest about my own strengths, I’m probably better in front of a camera than I am in front of a crowd. I think I'm a very good public speaker in front of a crowd, but I think I’m better—

Corey: You are, in case you wondered.

Christina: —thank you, but I think I'm better in front of a camera. And the reality is, is that they are different skill sets. Now, that doesn't mean you can't achieve both, but you have to think about it a little bit differently because when you're giving a talk in person, you do have the immediate feedback loop of the audience. You can feel that energy, for better or for worse, you can see what the feedback is, and you can riff. a lot of people are built off of that, and it can really change the dynamic of what the presentation that they give can be when you see really fantastic live speakers, they are, in my opinion, usually people that are completely feeding off the energy of the audience, and then the audience in return is feeding off of their energy, too. 

And it's different when you're presenting virtually or to a camera. It's just a different concept because you don't have that feedback loop. And I think that a number of people who are really, really good public speakers aren't necessarily as comfortable on camera or on microphone because they don't have the experience. They watch themselves back, and they're like, “Do I sound like that? Does my voice really sound this way? Is my movements, are those things correct? What is my eyeline like?” People can become obsessed about little things, and that—maybe they feel more stilted—and that can affect the experience. 

And so I think this is something that a lot of people are going to have to start playing around with and getting more comfortable with on their own about how they can do the right things and make that content, to your point, interesting. So that it, regardless of the quality of your camera or your microphone—obviously those things can help—people want to continue to engage and stay tuned because you're right: we will pull up with a lot, if the content is good enough. But the minute that the content is anything other than just exceptional, those other things, in my opinion, like the audio quality and video quality, that then starts to really just become a bigger and bigger issue, and makes you just that much closer to [crosstalk]—

Corey: [crosstalk] sound like a jerk, so that's going to be a problem.

Christina: Yeah.

Corey: I, fortunately, wound up doing a little bit of video work a couple years ago when I took over some of the release review segments for the A Cloud Guru video training series. And that was, again, doing video right, to some extent. They had a production studio there, or they would have a video crew that would come in and do the recording here, so I had people dealing with things. Remember back we could have people working on video, and—

Christina: Yeah.

Corey: —[crosstalk] ourselves?

Christina: I miss that.

Corey: And it's a very different experience because I spent a lot of time on stage, and I flatter myself perhaps, but I believe I give good talks. And the reason I give good talks is because I gave a lot of terrible talks for a while, first. That is sort of the progression that it takes. But it's a completely different skill set. I normally will have a few bullet points on a slide, and the presenter notes at most, and I'll get up on stage and riff off of it. That doesn't work; there's nothing to riff off; there's no energy; it's you and the camera. So, I started using a teleprompter and writing these things out. It helps that I write the way that I speak, so that makes it easier, but using a teleprompter is its own skill.

Christina: It is. It is. I use a teleprompter for the show that I do, This Week on Channel 9 and I'm really good on a teleprompter. I was fortunate that I had teleprompter experience before I joined Microsoft, but it's interesting because I've worked with a lot of colleagues who they've never used teleprompters before, and then they do for the first time and you think it'll be easier than it is. And it's not. It takes time to get the timing and to get the other things down and even writing how you write your script for the teleprompter and making sure things are spaced out enough and that you've got things moving at the right speeds. 

That all takes work, and you've got to figure it out. But to your point, I'm the same way: when I give live speeches, I tend to speak more extemporaneously, and I tend to riff more because you can. But if you were doing something in a recorded scenario, you don't have that same luxury because you have to stay consistent and on track, and it's one thing if we're having a conversation like you and I are right now. You can have your outline of your notes, and we can note things we want to say, but it actually works better if we’re not scripted.

Corey: You can use notes? That would make this way easier?

Christina: Well, you have notes but, you know, you have [crosstalk]—

Corey: Well, I would hope I do, but you’d be surprised how unprepared I am these days.

Christina: But what I mean. You have kind of an idea. You don't have anything scripted out, but you maybe have an idea of what you want to talk about. That works for this sort of scenario, and for these sorts of conversations. It doesn't work if I'm presenting how to do something if I'm going to talk about how to create an Azure static web app. I need to actually—this is going to be a recorded thing. I need to have it as scripted as well as possible so that I know that I'm not missing anything because people are going to be consuming it in a different context.

Corey: Right. I'd be curious to hear your teleprompter story because my experience has been that there are traditional, extremely expensive, professional teleprompters, yada, yada. What I use are these metal and glass things that sit on a tripod, you put the camera inside of it, and then it has a holder at the front where you can put a tablet or a phone there. I [unintelligible] for a dedicated, cheap iPad that has a teleprompter app off the store.

Christina: Same.

Corey: And that sounded great. Now, the first version of the app that I looked at, great. It could hear what I was saying and automatically scroll to match where I was in the script. It's sucked. It was terrible. There was no good way to do it. How did you solve that problem?

Christina: Yeah, so I use an app called Teleprompter Premium, I believe is what it's called from JoeAllenPro. This is for iOS, and they actually have an Apple Watch app, too. I believe it might be able to do that thing where it can hear you, but I don't do that. Instead what I do is I set the way that it scrolls, and then I set that to a cadence that I can keep up with and talk to. And so it took a lot of testing and training to know this is the right speed of scrolling for me. 

Really a big part of it was me learning to write my scripts the right way and knowing that I need to space things out in certain sections and not have really long blocks of text, to be able to have things that I can get through. And that was the big thing, knowing how to write the scripts correctly so that when it's scrolling, I don't have to worry about it adjusting based on me talking. That would be great, and some of the professional teleprompters can do that, but most broadcasters, how most of their work works is that the teleprompter is controlled by an actual technician. So, they are actually manually adjusting the script based on how the anchor is speaking, and they can either speed things up or slow it down, or go to a completely different section if that's what they need to do. So, that's how it works in broadcast. 

So, to approximate when you're doing it yourself, I do like the app that I use because it has an Apple Watch app, meaning I can stop, or speed up, or pause, or whatever, if something is going too fast because what'll happen occasionally is I'll be recording something, I'll be like, “Oh, I've gotten ahead of myself here,” or, “This is going too fast, I need to go back,” And rather than having to stop, go to the camera, scroll back, I can just use my Apple Watch to do that, which is useful.

Corey: In what you might be forgiven for mistaking for a blast from the past, today I want to talk about New Relic. They seem to be a relatively legacy monitoring company, and I would have agreed with that assessment up until relatively recently. But they did something a little out there: they reworked everything. They went open source, they made it so you can monitor your whole stack in one place and, most notably from my perspective, they simplified their pricing into something that is much more affordable for almost everyone. There's even a free tier with one user and 100 gigs per month, totally free. Check it out at newrelic.com.

Corey: On of the ways that I got around that particular problem myself because I was already learning a bunch of new skills and didn't really want to have to learn script writing and being able to plan the cadence of what I was going to say in that way is, I put a little thought into this, and because I've used apps that have the remote control with something you hold, an iPhone, for example, but then you have to make sure it stays on, make sure you're tapping it in the right way, sometimes it's not as responsive. So, what I did next was I wound up spending 100 bucks on Amazon, which sells pretty much everything, and most of them useless, but this was pretty great. It's a pair of foot pedals that wind up acting as a—you can remap it in their app to a bunch of different keystrokes whatever makes sense, so I can either have it control the speed, go back, go forward, I could have it advanced line by line, or page by page—

Christina: Oh, that’s genius.

Corey: —because I'm not doing videos where anything in my lower half is exposed, so it's not noticeable when I'm tapping something with my foot.

Christina: Right, right.

Corey: I’m sitting here smiling, looking calm and composed, meanwhile, I’m frantically tap dancing underneath the table.

Christina: Okay, that is a brilliant idea. Okay, I'm going to steal that because that's even better than my Apple Watch solution, honestly.

Corey: It also lets me to have my hands on camera, and not look like I'm sitting there scrolling.

Christina: Yeah, I mean, well, usually what I would do is I would have it scroll, and I have my hands, and then if I needed to stop and go back, that's when I would use the Apple Watch to scroll back if I needed to. But I really like the foot pedal idea. That's brilliant.

Corey: Yeah, these are these little things I've iterated on, again. Normally—please learn from my mistakes so that you don't have to wind up making the same—

Christina: No, this is great.

Corey: —sort of path that I do. I spent extortionate amounts of money on equipment that is sitting unplugged in the closet, because, “Well, that was generation three. I'm now on generation six of my podcast setup,” and it's ridiculous, but it works, and it iterates forward. The problem is everyone has an opinion on this stuff, and opinions are terrible unless they're your own.

Christina: [laughs]. Yeah, no, I mean, that's true. I mean, we were joking before we started talking that we can kind of—and I think this is regardless of what field you're in, and I know this isn't as cloud-centric, but I think that whether you're an implementer or a developer or whatever, we're all now in this space where we've had to become AV experts overnight because it's become a crucial part of our job, and of course, Amazon sells everything except they don't have capture cards, and certain equipment in stock. To try to find a webcam these days is still over to kill us challenge because all of a sudden, we have to have these really high tech setups at home if you want things to be as good as possible. And you can fall down a rabbit hole in that way, too, where maybe you go too far. 

Like for what you're doing, I think that it makes sense for you to iterate and to continue to find the best solution possible. I do think that sometimes, you know, regular people, if you're just in Zoom calls, you might not need to be spending $1,000 on the camera and getting the pro microphone and whatnot. You could do much, much better at a fraction of the cost and still improve your quality significantly. But it does change things if you're now going to be connecting with people and creating content online, it’s—I've kind of been joking with people, it's like, we're all YouTubers now, and we're all having to set up these home studios, and learn these tricks, like setting up pedals to control a teleprompter, or using a stream deck to have macros that will control the front parts of your screen as you're capturing things and sharing code that you're working on. These are components that are different from what would be the case normally if you could go into a studio and work with professionals who would handle a lot of that for you, or if you're presenting something in a live setting, which is just different.

Corey: One of the things that surprises me a bit is when I talked to people about what I've done, they said, “Oh yeah, after this pandemic, you're going to just stay home and do all this in your AV studio, right?: Hell no. I'm going to go back to doing what I should be doing now, and having the sense to hire professionals to do these things. Because it would be great if I didn't have to advance the teleprompter, for example, or someone else could work on the light balance. Or I don't do what happened once already, where I sit there and record a 20-minute video and then send it off for editing, and the response I got back for my video was, “That's great. But let's try one more take, and this time, maybe don't mute the microphone.” It's the, going through the iterative, dumb mistakes that everyone does. Having a team of professionals who are good at things is absolutely worth pursuing. It is worth paying for expertise, full stop because there's never enough time in the day to do everything, so being able to delegate to subject matter experts is absolutely worth doing. Sort of the whole premise is, I would argue, very directly aligned with Cloud.

Christina: I completely agree. Actually, that's a perfect analogy, you're right. It's about figuring out, focus on what you're good at and what you want to do, and letting other people handle the rest of it because doing all of it, as we're learning, is a lot. I mean, my background, I studied film and video production in college. I spent a number of years—my career before Microsoft—doing tons of stuff on camera and actually creating content. 

I have a tremendous amount of video experience. I still would much rather have a professional camera people having their lighting setup, having their infrastructure, do what I'm doing because yes, I can set it up and I can probably do a pretty good job of making things work the way I want, but it takes a lot of effort, and it takes time away from doing things that I would really like to be focusing on. I would like to do some of the other things, you know? And what we've actually been doing as we've been recording things for Channel 9 or Microsoft Developer, our YouTube and online video presence for various things, is we've actually been working with remote producers, which has been really nice, where we’ll connect with somebody over Skype, and then they'll use a tool called OBS, or the Open Broadcast System, to capture and composite things, and the producer will do a lot of the compositing, and the graphical work, and then some of the editing so that the content creator doesn't have to do that, which is really nice. But there's still elements you have to do to kind of make sure okay, what does my camera framing look like? How does my audio sound? [crosstalk]—

Corey: Great video. Your fly was undone the entire time. [crosstalk]—

Christina: Yeah, which that's a mistake I've made, too. We were doing some of our free content, kind of our teaser content for Microsoft Build, and I recorded these videos and then realized that I wasn't recording audio. I mean, this was a case where I had a remote producer who was listening and was watching—so basically, they were almost in real-time, they were watching me as I was looking into my camera, and they were saying, “Okay, let's try this again.” They were giving me prompts, and they were listening. And we did this, we had two hours and thankfully it was in the first hour, it's after the first hour ended, I realized I wasn't recording my audio.

Corey: One thing I do want to call out is that before this sounds like we are just incredibly overprivileged, which we are—

Christina: Yes.

Corey: —but that's beside the point, I want to call out that in both of our cases, these are business expenses that are aimed at a goal. I mean, this podcast, for example, is sponsored. I make money by doing these podcasts. If you're trying to build a personal brand, and no one is paying you for, and you're doing it for the love of it, whatever you've got is fine. You can do this on your phone, start out and see if it's viable first. 

When I started this podcast, I had a series of checkpoints—same with a newsletter and the rest—that if I hadn't hit certain goals with them, I was going to wind them down. I didn't want to be someone where I’d been running this podcast for seven years and had almost 60 whole subscribers. At that point, why bother? There needs to be at least a critical mass of audience members, and it has to resonate, it has to be something that catches on. The other podcast I do, the AWS Morning Brief for example, back before they got acquired by Cisco, ThousandEyes sponsored a twelve-week miniseries on that called, “Networking in the Cloud.” And it was more or less a network primer introduction in the time of Cloud. I thought that would be great. I'll turn to an ongoing running series. Yeah, after episode eight, I was running pretty low on the list of ideas, and at this point, I don't want to talk about it ever again because it turns out it's not interesting enough. It's not a broad enough topic from my perspective, to come up with interesting and creative conversational topics every week. So, that didn't pan out. But always have a plan. Start small, iterate forward. My first newsletter was written in Google Docs. Now I have a whole production system, but I didn't start that way.

Christina: No, I think you're exactly right. And I think, as engineers, a lot of times are impulse, I know—maybe I'm just speaking for myself, maybe I'm projecting, but I think a lot of times our impulse is to just buy the best. We read all the reviews, and we just want to go immediately to the top to the high end: I'm going to get all these things. And certainly, when I was starting out when I was making movies when I was a kid, that was the thing. Saved all this money for a Mini DV camera, and I got the best one that I could get, and I was more focused on the equipment than I was on the actual skills itself. 

And the camera was great, but it doesn't matter if what you're doing with it either isn't done correctly or, to your point, if people aren't seeing it. And so, I mean, yeah, I think that if this is something that is a business expense and something you can iterate over time, you can invest more, but you're right people's phones at this point, the front-facing camera on your iPhone is better than any webcam you can get first of all, but it's also going to be in many cases, the video quality is better than a lot of DSLRs that are a couple of years old if you haven't spent a tremendous amount of money on them. And so for me, the advice I always give to people is that audio is the thing that you should look at upgrading first. Getting something like a $100 Blue Yeti USB mic for your computer can do a tremendous amount of work. If you don't have $100, spending $30 or $50 on a quality headset, or even looking at—there are some other USB condenser mics that you can get that will really improve your sound quality. That's going to help tremendously because, my perspective, video quality matters a lot, but I think audio quality is more important because a lot of us—and look I'm ADHD as well, so maybe—I don't know if you are, but I'm ADHD—

Corey: Extensively.

Christina: —I multitask all the time. I listen to things more frequently than I'm watching. You know, if I'm watching, maybe it's in a smaller window, or it's on my iPad, I've got six other things open. So, video quality is important; it's more important if I can see if you're, like, showing a screencast, okay, capture that in as high of a resolution as you can, but what that person looks like, it's good, if there's good lighting, and other stuff that makes it more compelling, but really I need to be able to hear them. So, I always say to people, yeah focus on getting the Blue Yeti mic is great, or there are some options that are even less expensive than that, or even if you're just doing regular conversations with people in meetings, business meetings, just a proper headset will go a long way. And if things become—

Corey: AirPods are terrific these days for that sort of thing.

Christina: Yeah, AirPods, I love my AirPods. I use a different microphone, but I often use my AirPods to listen to. So, I have a microphone that I might talk through, but my AirPods are fine. But you know what, when I was able to go into an office, I would often, on conference calls, use my AirPods. They're fantastic. That's a tremendous solution. 

So, oftentimes you can reuse stuff you might use in other areas. But yeah, your phone is a great start. I mean, the cameras on smartphones these days are really, really good. And including the front-facing cameras. And so you don't have to spend a ton of money and go down that rabbit hole. You can, if it's something that's part of your business, and if you think that there can be value in it, and if you enjoy it, then iterate over time. 

But it's not something where—I mean, this is something that I have to tell people on my team, I have to caution against them because I see [unintelligible] the company’s massive equipment list, and, like, “What do you think of all this stuff?” And I'm like, “Well, it's great, but what are you doing, and do you really need all this, and couldn't we do this for 20 percent of the cost?” And in most cases, you could. And then it's like, okay, if this becomes something you enjoy, that's when you can look at—as you have, upgrading your setup, where you’re on, now, like, version six.

Corey: One of the things that we'll do periodically is ship out a USB microphone to people.

Christina: Yeah, we do that, too.

Corey: They cost 60 bucks a pop, and it's great. It works super well. There are a few different models in that price range, depending on what's in stock right now, it's a bit harder than other times, and that works super well. But the next year is the tier that I'm recording in now, which is about 400 bucks a microphone, and it makes sense. There's another tier as well beyond this, that's around $4,000. And I have no interest in getting that because, at this point, it wouldn't make any meaningful difference until I—

Christina: No. If you’re not recording music, if you're doing voice, and you've got to think that for the sort of content that we're doing—okay, for you, it's a podcast, meaning that it's going to be compressed down to, like, 64 kilobits, maybe 32, more than likely mono. It's going to be an MP3 file that someone listens to. You do not need a $4,000 microphone. You don't because you're not recording instruments, you're not recording vocals, you don't need it. So—

Corey: And it's worse than that because before you get any of the benefit from that microphone, you have to effectively turn the room you’re recording in into a sound studio with sound deadening and very specific acoustic things. I have room noise here that I've done a fair bit of work to muffle, but this is my home office as well as my podcast recording studio, and I've always wanted to have it be comfortable to work in. I will admit now it's getting less comfortable to work in, just because of the video equipment. There are portions of the office that are no longer open for my use in pacing. I have to thread my way through microphone booms, and lighting racks, and the rest.

Christina: God, I know. Welcome to my life. I got a green screen, and I got one of the Elgatos and we had one that—

Corey: I had two screens because the first one, it turns out I now know how tall 10 feet is.

Christina: [laughs]. Oh no. Oh no. Well, see, this was a similar case for me where I had to actually—I mounted mine on the wall because my ceilings are too high, but it's one that I can pull down from rather than raise up, but I wanted to get one of those because it was like, okay, I could get the muslin, and the stands and set it up, but that's the whole thing. And I just don't have the room, frankly, to be able to tear that down and put it back up when it's needed. 

You know, another point, yeah, you bring out, you have to have the right room connections, the right dampening or whatever the case may be, but you also need the right amps, and configuration and equipment to actually be able to use that. That $4,000 microphone is going to need a really expensive amp, and you're going to need to have somebody who can really understand those levels so that they can get the best out of it. And also, if you were to go into any radio station in the world, like the top tier radio stations, you usually see them on probably a $400 mic maybe—

Corey: Yeah, Joe Rogan is constantly on, I think SM7B in pictures I’ve seen.

Christina: Yeah. But I've been in iHeartRadio, I've been in the place where Ryan Seacrest does his show. He was not there, but I was interviewing Bob Pittman, and we were in Ryan's space. And I felt kind of good about myself because I looked at the microphone he was using. I don't remember the model, but it wasn't that much better than the HEiL that I have that I don't even use. And then the headphones that they use—and this is true. Any recording studio that you will go to, you just see those 7506 Sony's that have been around for 30 years. That's the standard. So, to me, if people who are doing radio and are doing these things professionally, if they're not spending $4,000 on a microphone, then you at home, absolutely have no reason to, unless you are actually doing musical recording, and that’s a completely different thing.

Corey: Yeah, Taylor Swift probably has a $4,000 microphone.

Christina: Oh, I’m sure she does. [crosstalk] does.

Corey: And you can always throw money at this. Some of the RED cameras I was looking into, it's like, “Oh, what if I just buy the best?” Well, it turns out the best starts at $25,000, and I have a lot of other things I'll buy first.

Christina: Right. And it turns out that to get the best out of that, you need to have a lot of experience. A guy that we've worked with before at Microsoft is a guy who has a RED, and is really good with it, and does a lot of work, and actually paid it off because he's really good at operating his RED, and so will do work for people using it. But if you don't know how to use that, if you don't know how to get the most out of that, that RED camera that you've spent all that money on, is not going to be of any benefit to you. It's like, look if you're MKBHD, Marques Brownlee, and your brand is to have these beautifully shot and composed kind of tech porn videos of gadget reviews, awesome, right? 

But most people, that's not the case. And again, you have to think about how are people viewing this? It's going to be in a small window, maybe on a phone, maybe on an iPad, maybe just listening to the audio, and so you think about there are things you can do with your content that is better. I feel like lighting and audio are the two things that are the least expensive to really significantly improve, but are the things that have the biggest impact on keeping people engaged, making you feel comfortable because has a quality experience coming out of it. Get some sort of key light, or some sort of other major light source, and step up your microphone.

To your point, when we have guests on Rocket, a podcast that I do, we send people USB mics. We started doing that a couple of years ago because the quality otherwise just wasn't reliable, and it was such a small expense, assuming you can find things in stock, and it was such a small expense, considering how good the output could be otherwise. So, I mean, we would even do some certain Plantronics headsets if we needed to. We were really trying to budget for people and turns out great. It's a great investment to make to really improve the final product.

Corey: I would agree with everything you've said. It's strange how if someone had told me six months ago that, well I spent a lot of time this next year thinking about audio equipment, “Oh, am I going to be famous on YouTube?” No.

Christina: No. I’m just going to be on calls.

Corey: —I am not going to famous on YouTube. We're going to be trapped indoors for a year. It's like someone wished on a monkey's paw, and here we are.

Christina: Yeah, yeah. And it's so weird for me because I'm somebody who I've spent the majority of my career doing podcasts, doing video, and even for me, it's different. Doing it from home and doing it yourself, and in just the times that we're living in, so many people have made this comment that this is not normal times; this isn't normal working from home; this isn’t normal production from home. Things aren't available as much, and so we all have to adapt to the different changes. But it is very weird. You know, a year ago, I fully expected that you and I would be hanging out at Microsoft Build in person again. I'm so glad that I'm back on the podcast. I'm so glad that you are able to enjoy the event virtually, but—

Corey: You're welcome back anytime. And for some reason, apparently, people didn't take a lesson last time and invited me back to Build. I'll be in digital format this year. I imagine they'll fix that for next year. But if they don’t, I’m thrilled.

Christina: Yeah, no, I think we like having you there. You give it to us honest. You give us the good feedback that we need to hear, frankly. And I would say that for anybody who's listening, we didn't get into a lot of technical things in this conversation, but if you have feedback for us, positive or negative, let us know, or at least let me know and I can do what I can to get the feedback to the right people. I have no problem tracking people down and yelling at the right people. And we're listening. I mean, I think that's the biggest thing that all of us can take from this, is just, at least for me, it's reaffirmed how important it is to listen to people. Do a lot of talking, but it's really really important to listen.

Corey: Yes, funny thing, we talk so much about microphones and never about headphones.

Christina: Well, headphones are a whole other thing. Like I said, for audio stuff, I stick with my Sony 7506s, but when it comes to music fidelity, I have many many other opinions. But, yeah.

Corey: Yes. Which is fodder for another time.

Christina: It is. It is. Well, we could turn this into kind of an offshoot of Accidental Tech Podcast.

Corey: There we go. Yeah, no, see, I'm not cool enough to hang out with famous people. That's still you. I mean, basically, you sometimes decide to go slumming and hang out on other, lesser podcasts like this one.

Christina: No, no, no, no. And look, those guys—look, they're way more famous than me, but they're also the biggest nerds, which I say in the best way. So.

Corey: Of course. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me once again.

Christina: Thank you, Corey, I really, really appreciate it.

Corey: Christina Warren, senior cloud advocate at Microsoft. I am Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, whereas if you've hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts and a comment telling me why my audio setup is garbage.

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.

This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.

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