Women in Technology Day Panel on Cloud Technologies

ROI Training invited me to speak on a panel for their Women in Technology Day along with Rochana Golani from Google Cloud Learning and Kate Kustermann Rivera from the Deloitte Cloud Institute. Their free, day-long training workshop, called “Journey to the Cloud,” hosted over 400 tech women attendees from around the world. One of ROI’s trainers, Kelly Kermode, facilitated a great conversation about the drivers for cloud adoption, challenges we face, staying up on technology, and advice for those just getting started. The event wasn’t recorded but I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I prepared for our Q&A session. (Note this is not a transcript.)

Q: What is driving cloud adoption? 

There are many drivers, but I’ll just mention a couple:

  • Our platform organization sees engineer demand for specific native cloud offerings: e.g. GCP’s Big Query, Dataflow for streaming analytics, AWS Lambdas and ElasticCache, and so on.  
  • Competition for talent: in a talent environment where there just aren’t enough engineers, we need to ensure the engineers we have are always focused on work that is of highest value to our core business. In some cases, this means it makes more sense to buy vs. build. 

Q: What are some of the challenges you see your clients/customers facing as they adopt the cloud? 

We have teams providing services both on-prem and in the cloud, and there are different skill sets for engineers working between environments, different build systems, different observability systems. It’s important to control the proliferation of tools and technologies. Adopting hybrid solutions like Kubernetes helps us stay consistent.

Q: How do you stay up on technology? The cloud?

My learning is built into my job. I’m reviewing, on average, a dozen technical docs a week related to Kubernetes, cloud storage platforms, and infrastructure as code. Outside of work, I follow the Cloud Computing and Cloud Platforms Topics on Twitter, and I’m a member of the Kubernetes community on Twitter (formed by my colleague Vic Iglesias @vicnastea in October).

One concept I think is key to continuous learning is “spiral learning.” Julia Evans talks about it in context of teaching in her article, Teaching by filling in knowledge gaps, but I think this idea of immersing yourself into a new area, trying things out and filling in gaps as you go, is a powerful one. No one understands a concept completely the first time they encounter it.

Q: In the last 3-5 years, what was the most critical decision you’ve had to make in your career?

Three years ago, I was asked to lead a group of teams in our platform engineering organization that were focused on building tools and services for our server, network, and public cloud infrastructure layer. My background as an individual contributor and manager had always been at the application level, so I was going to face a steep learning curve plunging much deeper into the stack. I asked, why me? What do I bring to the table for this new role? The answer was that they needed a leader who could improve cross functional collaboration, and someone who could learn quickly. It felt risky at the time, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to learn so much so fast, so I took a chance. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’ve been able to work with the best, most senior engineers at the company solving really challenging technical problems. 

Q: When/what was your entry point into cloud technologies?

My official entry point was an AWS migration we did at my last company (Our Director of Engineering on the New WIRED.com | WIRED). I started working with cloud technologies more in depth three years ago when Twitter was investing more in our hybrid cloud strategy. That’s the first time I took Google cloud training from ROI Training, and later I earned certification and became a Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect.

Q: What personal skills/strengths helped you succeed thus far?

I’ve always believed I can do hard, challenging things. I love learning so I tend to keep challenging myself. I also know how important it is for the women coming up behind me to see a woman at the leadership table, and this pushes me to hold that space. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely felt intimidated, but at some point I had a kind of a breakthrough where I realized no one, not even the smartest engineer, knows everything. And sometimes the people who appear the most confident don’t actually know very much, they just know how to project confidence and say a lot of buzzwords. Sometimes confidence means not being afraid to admit what you don’t know, and asking lots of questions because you have a right to learn. 

Q: What do you look for in interviews? What skills/traits are most important to you as part of your organization?  

  • Two-way fit: I tell candidates that I’m looking for a great two-way fit. It’s not just our team filling a position; it’s confirming whether the position I have matches what this person is looking for in their next role. If the scope is significantly bigger or smaller than what is next for them, it will be hard for them to succeed and be satisfied. 
  • Rubrics: We really encourage our hiring teams to have thorough rubrics for technical skills that are objective so that all candidates are treated equally and fairly, and given the same chance to perform well. If the candidate meets the minimum level of competency we’ve established for the role, we should move forward. 
  • Humility: I’m definitely looking for humility. We’re solving new ambiguous problems, so you need to have a growth mindset where you can try, fail, and adjust to try the next thing. Experiment, iterate, learn along the way. It’s hard to do this if you have a big ego or need to always be right.

Q: What is your personal tech passion? What do you love to study or spend time on?

  • I still help people with their websites (shhh don’t tell anyone). I just converted one to a new host a couple of weeks ago. 
  • I also enjoy projects with my kids – for example, my son and I played with the Google Cloud Vision API one afternoon. I’ve also hosted coding workshops for kids at my house as part of school fundraisers. 
  • I like graphic representations of data and system architectures. I’m always asking the team for visuals to go with deep technical explanations and designs. I like to draw things to understand the relationship between services, or the layers of the stack and how our strategy fits. I’m kind of a graphic design hack. 

Q: How do you balance tech? (What are some of your other hobbies?)

My partner and I run together, up to half marathon distances on the weekends. I also love being outside and walking through various SF neighborhoods, biking, hiking, and camping. I love to cook and bake and host dinner parties with friends. And I read. A lot.

Q: Who are your top three tech leaders you follow?

  • Twitter: I tweeted a question to help crowdsource some good follows for you all in your cloud learning journey, so if you look at my profile @kathleencodes you’ll see some suggestions like @mipsytipsy, @lizthegrey, @alicegoldfuss and others. You can follow @kelseyhightower on Kubernetes (his live demos at Kubecon and other conferences are incredible by the way), and @QuinnyPig on cloud costs. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of Julia Evans (@b0rk) – she has these great zines, wizardzines.com, you might want to check out the one about How Containers Work. There are a million other good follows, too bad we don’t have all day!
  • Conferences: A great way to find people to follow is by participating in tech conferences. Right now Google Next is free, and it’s October 12-14, 2021. AWS Re:Invent is Nov 29-Dec 3 and also has free virtual passes. And for conferences that you can attend IRL, I always recommend workshops. There’s nothing like hands-on labs to help build mental models for how things fit together. I did a fun one at re:invent with DeepComposer where we combined programming with a piano keyboard to generate harmonies with AI and ML. GCP has lots of hands-on training using QwikLabs.

Q: How have you supported those coming up in your organization?

I participate in panels like this to try to break down barriers and broaden opportunities. Outside of my immediate team at work, I focus my time mentoring on women, non binary folks, and people of color. I want tech opportunities and leadership to be open to all. At Twitter, I have helped build a community of engineering managers. Engineering management can be lonely, and it helps to have colleagues to lean on when you’re dealing with tough situations. I also have led the group of managers and directors who are developing and teaching our engineering manager training programs.

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