Chloe is a Bay Area based Cloud Advocate for Microsoft. Previously, she worked at Sentry.io where she created the award winning Sentry Scouts program (a camp themed meet-up ft. patches, s’mores, giant squirrel costumes, and hot chocolate), and was featured in the Grace Hopper Conference 2018 gallery featuring 15 influential women in STEM by AnitaB.org. Her projects and work with Azure have ranged from fake boyfriend alerts to Mario Kart 'astrology', and have been featured in VICE, The New York Times, as well as SmashMouth's Twitter account. Chloe holds a BA in Drama from San Francisco State University and is a graduate of Hackbright Academy. She prides herself on being a non-traditional background engineer, and is likely one of the only engineers who has played an ogre, crayon, and the back-end of a cow on a professional stage. She hopes to bring more artists into tech, and more engineers into the arts.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by our friends at Vultr. Spelled V-U-L-T-R because they’re all about helping save money, including on things like, you know, vowels. So, what they do is they are a cloud provider that provides surprisingly high performance cloud compute at a price that—while sure they claim its better than AWS pricing—and when they say that they mean it is less money. Sure, I don’t dispute that but what I find interesting is that it’s predictable. They tell you in advance on a monthly basis what it’s going to going to cost. They have a bunch of advanced networking features. They have nineteen global locations and scale things elastically. Not to be confused with openly, because apparently elastic and open can mean the same thing sometimes. They have had over a million users. Deployments take less that sixty seconds across twelve pre-selected operating systems. Or, if you’re one of those nutters like me, you can bring your own ISO and install basically any operating system you want. Starting with pricing as low as $2.50 a month for Vultr cloud compute they have plans for developers and businesses of all sizes, except maybe Amazon, who stubbornly insists on having something to scale all on their own. Try Vultr today for free by visiting: vultr.com/screaming, and you’ll receive a $100 in credit. Thats v-u-l-t-r.com slash screaming.
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by Honeycomb. When production is running slow, it's hard to know where problems originate: is it your application code, users, or the underlying systems? I’ve got five bucks on DNS, personally. Why scroll through endless dashboards, while dealing with alert floods, going from tool to tool to tool that you employ, guessing at which puzzle pieces matter? Context switching and tool sprawl are slowly killing both your team and your business. You should care more about one of those than the other, which one is up to you. Drop the separate pillars and enter a world of getting one unified understanding of the one thing driving your business: production. With Honeycomb, you guess less and know more. Try it for free at Honeycomb.io/screaminginthecloud. Observability, it’s more than just hipster monitoring.
Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. Somehow in the years this show has been running, I’ve only had Chloe Condon on once. In that time, she’s over for dinner at my house way more frequently than that, but somehow the stars never align to get us together in front of microphones and have a conversation. First, welcome back to the show, Chloe. You’re a senior cloud advocate at Microsoft on the Next Generation Experiences Team. It is great to have you here.
Chloe: I’m back, baby. I’m so excited. This is one of my favorite shows to listen to, and it feels great to be a repeat guest, a friend of the pod. [laugh].
Corey: Oh, yes indeed. So, something-something cloud, something-something Microsoft, something-something Azure, I don’t particularly care, in light of what it is you have going on that you have just clued me in on, and we’re going to talk about that to start. You’re launching something new called Master Creep Theatre and I have a whole bunch of questions. First and foremost, is it theater or theatre? How is that spelled? Which—the E and the R, what direction does that go in?
Chloe: Ohh, I feel like it’s going to be the R-E because that makes it very fancy and almost British, you know?
Corey: Oh, yes. And the Harlequin mask direction it goes in, that entire aesthetic, I love it. Please tell me what it is. I want to know the story of how it came to be, the sheer joy I get from playing games with language alone guarantee I’m going to listen to whatever this is, but please tell me more.
Chloe: Oh, my goodness. Okay, so this is one of those creative projects that’s been on my back burner forever where I’m like, someday when I have time, I’m going to put all my time [laugh] and energy into this. So, this originally stemmed from—if you don’t follow me on Twitter, oftentimes when I’m not tweeting about ’90s nostalgia, or Clippy puns, or Microsoft silly throwback things to Windows 95, I get a lot of weird DMs. On every app, not just Twitter. On Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, oh my gosh, what else is there?
Corey: And I don’t want to be clear here just to make this absolutely crystal clear, “Hey, Chloe, do you want to come back on Screaming in the Cloud again?” Is not one of those weird DMs to which you’re referring?
Chloe: No, that is a good DM. So, people always ask me, “Why don’t you just close your DMs?” Because a lot of high profile people on the internet just won’t even have their DMs open.
Corey: Oh, I understand that, but I’m the same boat. I would have a lot less nonsense, but at the same time, I want—at least in my case—I want people to be able to reach out to me because the only reason I am what I am is that a bunch of people who had no reason to do it did favors for me—
Corey: —and I can’t ever repay it, I can only ever pay it forward and that is the cost of doing favors. If I can help someone, I will, and that’s hard to do with, “My DMs are closed so hunt down my email address and send me an email,” and I’m bad at email.
Chloe: Right. I’m terrible at email as well, and I’m also terrible at DMs [laugh]. So, I think a lot of folks don’t understand the volume at which I get messages, which if you’re a good friend of mine, if you’re someone like Corey or a dear friend like Emily, I will tell you, “Hey, if you actually need to get ahold of me, text me.” And text me a couple times because I probably see it and then I have ADHD, so I won’t immediately respond. I think I respond in my head but I don’t.
But I get anywhere from, I would say, ohh, like, 30 on a low day to 100 on a day where I have a viral tweet about getting into tech with a non-traditional background or something like that. And these DMs that I get are really lovely messages like, “Thank you for the work you do,” or, “I decided to do a cute manicure because the [laugh] manicure you posted,” too, “How do I get into tech? How do I get a job at Microsoft?” All kinds of things. It runs the gamut between, “Where’s your shirt from?” Where—[laugh]—“What’s your mother’s maiden name?”
But a lot of the messages that I get—and if you’re a woman on the internet with any sort of presence, you know how there’s that, like—what’s it called in Twitter—the Other Messages feature that’s like, “Here’s the people you know. Here’s the people”—the message requests. For the longest time were just, “Hey,” “Hi,” “Hey dear,” “Hi pretty,” “Hi ma’am,” “Hello,” “Love you,” just really weird stuff. And of course, everyone gets these; these are bots or scammers or whatever they may be—or just creeps, like weird—and always the bio—not always but I [laugh] would say, like, these accounts range from either obviously a bot where it’s a million different numbers, an account that says, “Father, husband, lover of Jesus Christ and God.” Which is so [laugh] ironic… I’m like, “Why are you in my DMs?”
Corey: A man of God, which is why I’m in your DMs being creepy.
Chloe: Exactly. Or—
Corey: Just like Christ might have.
Chloe: And you would be shocked, Corey, at how many. The thing that I love to say is Twitter is not a dating site. Neither is LinkedIn. Neither is Instagram. I post about my boyfriend all the time, who you’ve met, and we adore Ty Smith, but I’ve never received any unsolicited images, knock on wood, but I’m always getting these very bait-y messages like, “Hey, beautiful. I want to take you out.” And you would be shocked at how many of these people are doing it from their professional business account. [laugh]. Like, works at AWS, works at Google; it’s like, oh my God. [laugh].
Corey: You get this under your name, right? It ties back to it. Meanwhile—again, this is one of those invisible areas of privilege that folks who look like me don’t have to deal with. My DM graveyard is usually things like random bot accounts, always starting with, “Hi,” or, “Hey.” If you want to guarantee I never respond to you, that is what you say. I just delete those out of hand because I don’t notice or care. It is either a bot, or a scam, or someone who can’t articulate what they’re actually trying to get from me—
Corey: —and I don’t have the time for it. Make your request upfront. Don’t ask to ask; just ask.
Chloe: I think it’s important to note, also, that I get a lot of… different kinds of these messages and they try to respond to everyone. I cannot. If I responded to everybody’s messages that I got, I just wouldn’t have any time to do my job. But the thing that I always say to people—you know, and managers have told me in the past, my boyfriend has encouraged me to do this, is when people say things like, “Close your DMs,” or, “Just ignore them,” I want to have the same experience that everybody else has on the internet. Now, it’s going to be a little different, of course, because I look and act and sound like I do, and of course, podcasts are historically a visual medium, so I’m a five-foot-two, white, bright orange-haired girl; I’m a very quirky individual.
Corey: Yes, if you look up ‘quirky,’ you’re right there under the dictionary definition. And every time—like, when we were first hanging out and you mentioned, “Oh yeah, I used to be in theater.” And it’s like, “You know, you didn’t even have to tell me that, on some level.” Which is not intended to be an insult. It’s just theater folks are a bit of a type, and you are more or less the archetype of what a theatre person is, at least to my frame of reference.
Chloe: And not only that, but I did musicals, so you can’t see the jazz hands now, but–yeah, my degree is in drama. I come from that space and I just, you know, whenever people say, “Just ignore it,” or, “Close your DMs,” I’m like, I want people to be able to reach out to me; I want to be able to message one-on-one with Corey and whoever, when—as needed, and—
Corey: Why should I close my DMs?
Corey: They’re the ones who suck. Yeah.
Chloe: [laugh]. But over the years, to give people a little bit of context, I’ve been working in tech a long time—I’ve been working professionally in the DevRel space for about five or six years now—but I’ve worked in tech a long time, I worked as a recruiter, an office admin, executive assistant, like, I did all of the other areas of tech, but it wasn’t until I got a presence on Twitter—which I’ve only been on Twitter for I think five years; I haven’t been on there that long, actively. And to give some context on that, Twitter is not a social media platform used in the theater space. We just use Instagram and Facebook, really, back in the day, I’m not on Facebook at all these days. So, when I discovered Twitter was cool—and I should also mention my boyfriend, Ty, was working at Twitter at the time and I was like, “Twitter’s stupid. Who would go on this—[laugh] who uses this app?”
Fast-forward to now, I’m like—Ty’s like, “Can you please get off Twitter?” But yeah, I think I’ve just been saving these screenshots over the last five or so years from everything from my LinkedIn, from all the crazy stuff that I dealt with when people thought I was a Bitcoin influencer to people being creepy. One of the highlights that I recently found when I was going back and trying to find these for this series that I’m doing is there was a guy from Australia, DMed me something like, “Hey, beautiful,” or, “Hey, sexy,” something like that. And I called him out. And I started doing this thing where I would post it on Twitter.
I would usually hide their image with a clown emoji or something to make it anonymous, or not to call them out, but in this one I didn’t, and this guy was defending himself in the comments, and to me in my DM’s saying, “Oh, actually, this was a social experiment and I have all the screenshots of this,” right? So, imagine if you will—so I have conversations ranging from things like that where it’s like, “Actually I messaged a bunch of people about that because I’m doing a social experiment on how people respond to, ‘Hey beautiful. I’d love to take you out some time in Silicon Valley.’” just the weirdest stuff right? So, me being the professional performer that I am, was like, these are hilarious.
And I kept thinking to myself, anytime I would get these messages, I was like, “Does this work?” If you just go up to someone and say, “Hey”—do people meet this way? And of course, you get people on Twitter who when you tweet something like that, they’re like, “Actually, I met my boyfriend in Twitter DMs,” or like, “I met my boyfriend because he slid into my DMs on Instagram,” or whatever. But that’s not me. I have a boyfriend. I’m not interested. This is not the time or the place.
So, it’s been one of those things on the back burner for three or four years that I’ve just always been saving these images to a folder, thinking, “Okay, when I have the time when I have the space, the creative energy and the bandwidth to do this,” and thankfully for everyone I do now, I’m going to do dramatic readings of these DMs with other people in tech, and show—not even just to make fun of these people, but just to show, like, how would this work? What do you expect the [laugh] outcome to be? So Corey, for example, if you were to come on, like, here’s a great example. A year ago—this is 2018; we’re in 2021 right now—this guy messaged me in December of 2018, and was like, “Hey,” and then was like, “I would love to be your friend.” And I was like, “Nope,” and I responded, “Nope, nope, nope, nope.” There’s a thread of this on Twitter. And then randomly, three weeks ago, just sent me this video to the tune of Enrique Iglesias’ “Rhythm Divine” of just images of himself. [laugh]. So like, this comedy [crosstalk 00:10:45]—
Corey: Was at least wearing pants?
Chloe: He is wearing pants. It’s very confusing. It’s a picture—a lot of group photos, so I didn’t know who he was. But in my mind because, you know, I’m an engineer, I’m trying to think through the end-user experience. I’m like, “What was your plan here?”
With all these people I’m like, “So, your plan is just to slide into my DMs and woo me with ‘Hey’?” [laugh]. So, I think it’ll be really fun to not only just show and call out this behavior but also take submissions from other people in the industry, even beyond tech, really, because I know anytime I tweet an example of this, I get 20 different women going, “Oh, my gosh, you get these weird messages, too?” And I really want to show, like, A, to men how often this happens because like you said, I think a lot of men say, “Just ignore it.” Or, “I don’t get anything like that. You must be asking for it.”
And I’m like, “No. This comes to me. These people find us and me and whoever else out there gets these messages,” and I’m just really ready to have a laugh at their expense because I’ve been laughing for years. [laugh].
Corey: Back when I was a teenager, I was working in some fast food style job, and one of my co-workers saw customer, walked over to her, and said, “You’re beautiful.” And she smiled and blushed. He leaned in and kissed her.
Corey: And I’m sitting there going what on earth? And my other co-worker leaned over and is like, “You do know that’s his girlfriend, right?” And I have to feel like, on some level, that is what happened to an awful lot of these broken men out on the internet, only they didn’t have a co-worker to lean over and say, “Yeah, they actually know each other.” Which is why we see all this [unintelligible 00:12:16] behavior of yelling at people on the street as they walk past, or from a passing car. Because they saw someone do a stunt like that once and thought, “If it worked for them, it could work for me. It only has to work once.”
And they’re trying to turn this into a one day telling the grandkids how they met their grandmother. And, “Yeah, I yelled at her from a construction site, and it was love at first ‘Hey, baby.’” That is what I feel is what’s going on. I have never understood it. I look back at my dating history in my early 20s, I look back now I’m like, “Ohh, I was not a great person,” but compared to these stories, I was a goddamn prince.
Corey: It’s awful.
Chloe: It’s really wild. And actually, I have a very vivid memory, this was right bef—uh, not right before the pandemic, but probably in 2019. I was speaking on a lot of conferences and events, and I was at this event in San Jose, and there were not a lot of women there. And somehow this other lovely woman—I can’t remember her name right now—found me afterwards, and we were talking and she said, “Oh, my God. I had—this is such a weird event, right?”
And I was like, “Yeah, it is kind of a weird vibe here.” And she said, “Ugh, so the weirdest thing happened to me. This guy”—it was her first tech conference ever, first of all, so you know—or I think it was her first tech conference in the Bay Area—and she was like, “Yeah, this guy came to my booth. I’ve been working this booth over here for this startup that I work at, and he told me he wanted to talk business. And then I ended up meeting him, stupidly, in my hotel lobby bar, and it’s a date. Like, this guy is taking me out on a date all of a sudden,” and she was like, “And it took me about two minutes to just to be like, you know what? This is inappropriate. I thought this is going to be a business meeting. I want to go.”
And then she shows me her hands, Corey, and she has a wedding ring. And she goes, “I’m not married. I have bought five or six different types of rings on Wish App”—or wish.com, which if you’ve never purchased from Wish before, it’s very, kind of, low priced jewelry and toys and stuff of that nature. And she said, “I have a different wedding ring for every occasion. I’ve got my beach fake wedding ring. I’ve got my, we-got-married-with-a-bunch-of-mason-jars-in-the-woods fake wedding ring.”
And she said she started wearing these because when she did, she got less creepy guys coming up to her at these events. And I think it’s important to note, also, I’m not putting it out there at all that I’m interested in men. If anything, you know, I’ve been [laugh] with my boyfriend for six years never putting out these signals, and time and time again, when I would travel, I was very, very careful about sharing my location because oftentimes I would be on stage giving a keynote and getting messages while I delivered a technical keynote saying, “I’d love to take you out to dinner later. How long are you in town?” Just really weird, yucky, nasty stuff that—you know, and everyone’s like, “You should be flattered.”
And I’m like, “No. You don’t have to deal with this. It’s not like a bunch of women are wolf-whistling you during your keynote and asking what your boob size is.” But that’s happening to me, and that’s an extra layer that a lot of folks in this industry don’t talk about but is happening and it adds up. And as my boyfriend loves to remind me, he’s like, “I mean, you could stop tweeting at any time,” which I’m not going to do. But the more followers you get, the more inbound you get. So—
Corey: Right. And the hell of it is, it’s not a great answer because it’s closing off paths of opportunity. Twitter has—
Corey: —introduced me to clients, introduced me to friends, introduced me to certainly an awful lot of podcast guests, and it informs and shapes a lot of the opinions that I hold on these things. And this is an example of what people mean when they talk about privilege. Where, yeah, “Look at Corey”—I’ve heard someone say once, and, “Nothing was handed to him.” And you’re right, to be clear, I did not—like, no one handed me a microphone and said, “We’re going to give you a podcast, now.” I had to build this myself.
But let’s be clear, I had no headwinds of working against me while I did it. There’s the, you still have to do things, but you don’t have an entire cacophony of shit heels telling you that you’re not good enough in a variety of different ways, to subtly reinforcing your only value is the way that you look. There isn’t this whole, whenever you get something wrong and it’s a, “Oh, well, that’s okay. We all get things wrong.” It’s not the, “Girls suck at computers,” trope that we see so often.
There’s a litany of things that are either supportive that work in my favor, or are absent working against me that is privilege that is invisible until you start looking around and seeing it, and then it becomes impossible not to. I know I’ve talked about this before on the show, but no one listens to everything and I just want to subtly reinforce that if you’re one of those folks who will say things like, “Oh, privilege isn’t real,” or, “You can have bigotry against white people, too.” I want to be clear, we are not the same. You are not on my side on any of this, and to be very direct, I don’t really care what you have to say.
Chloe: Yeah. And I mean, this even comes into play in office culture and dynamics as well because I am always the squeaky wheel in the room on these kind of things, but a great example that I’ll give is I know several women in this industry who have had issues when they used to travel for conferences of being stalked, people showing up at their hotel rooms, just really inappropriate stuff, and for that reason, a lot of folks—including myself—wouldn’t pick the conference event—like, typically they’ll be like, “This is the hotel everyone’s staying at.” I would very intentionally stay at a different hotel because I didn’t want people knowing where I was staying. But I started to notice once a friend of mine, who had an issue with this [unintelligible 00:17:26], I really like to be private about where I’m staying, and sometimes if you’re working at a startup or larger company, they’ll say, “Hey, everyone put in this Excel spreadsheet or this Google Doc where everyone’s staying and how to contact them, and all this stuff.” And I think it’s really important to be mindful of these things.
I always say to my friends—I’m not going out too much these days because it’s a pandemic—and I’ve done Twitter threads on this before where I never post my location; you will never see me. I got rid of Swarm a couple [laugh] years ago because people started showing up where I was. I posted photos before, you know, “Hey, at the lake right now.” And people have shown up. Dinners, people have recognized me when I’ve been out.
So, I have an espresso machine right over here that my lovely boyfriend got me for my birthday, and someone commented, “Oh, we’re just going to act like we don’t see someone’s reflection in the”—like, people Zoom in on images. I’ve read stories from cosplayers online who, they look into the reflection of a woman’s glasses and can figure out where they are. So, I think there’s this whole level. I’m constantly on alert, especially as a woman in tech. And I have friends here in the Bay Area, who have tweeted a photo at a barbecue, and then someone was like, “Hey, I live in the neighborhood, and I recognize the tree.”
First of all, don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. Even if you think you’re a nice, unassuming guy or girl or whatever, don’t ever [laugh] do that. But I very intentionally—people get really confused, my friends specifically. They’re like, “Wait a second, you’re in Hawaii right now? I thought you were in Hawaii three weeks ago.” And I’m like, “I was. I don’t want anyone even knowing what island or continent I’m on.”
And that’s something that I think about a lot. When I post photo—I never post any photos from my window. I don’t want people knowing what my view is. People have figured out what neighborhood I live in based on, like, “I know where that graffiti is.” I’m very strategic about all this stuff, and I think there’s a lot of stuff that I want to share that I don’t share because of privacy issues and concerns about my safety. And also want to say and this is in my thread on online safety as well is, don’t call out people’s locations if you do recognize the image because then you’re doxxing them to everyone like, “Oh”—
Corey: I’ve had a few people do that in response to pictures I’ve posted before on a house, like, “Oh, I can look at this and see this other thing and then intuit where you are.” And first, I don’t have that sense of heightened awareness on this because I still have this perception of myself as no one cares enough to bother, and on the other side, by calling that out in public. It’s like, you do not present yourself well at all. In fact, you make yourself look an awful lot like the people that we’re warned about. And I just don’t get that.
I have some of these concerns, especially as my audience has grown, and let’s be very clear here, I antagonize trillion-dollar companies for a living. So, first if someone’s going to have me killed, they can find where I am. That’s pretty easy. It turns out that having me whacked is not even a rounding error on most of these companies' budgets, unfortunately. But also I don’t have that level of, I guess, deranged superfan. Yet.
But it happens in the fullness of time, as people’s audiences continue to grow. It just seems an awful lot like it happens at much lower audience scale for folks who don’t look like me. I want to be clear, this is not a request for anyone listening to this, to try and become that person for me, you will get hosed, at minimum. And yes, we press charges here.
Chloe: AWSfan89, sliding into your DMs right after this. Yeah, it’s also just like—I mean, I don’t want to necessarily call out what company this was at, but personally, I’ve been in situations where I’ve thrown an event, like a meetup, and I’m like, “Hey, everyone. I’m going to be doing ‘Intro to blah, blah, blah’ at this time, at this place.” And three or four guys would show up, none of them with computers. It was a freaking workshop on how to do or deploy something, or work with an API.
And when I said, “Great, so why’d you guys come to this session today?” And maybe two have iPads, one just has a notepad, they’re like, “Oh, I just wanted to meet you from Twitter.” And it’s like, okay, that’s a little disrespectful to me because I am taking time out to do this workshop on a very technical thing that I thought people were coming here to learn. And this isn’t the Q&A. This is not your meet-and-greet opportunity to meet Chloe Condon, and I don’t know why you would, like, I put so much of my life online [laugh] anyway.
But yeah, it’s very unsettling, and it’s happened to me enough. Guys have shown up to my events and given me gifts. I mean, I’m always down for a free shirt or something, but it’s one of those things that I’m constantly aware of and I hate that I have to be constantly aware of, but at the end of the day, my safety is the number one priority, and I don’t want to get murdered. And I’ve tweeted this out before, our friend Emily, who’s similarly a lady on the internet, who works with my boyfriend Ty over at Uber, we have this joke that’s not a joke, where we say, “Hey if I’m murdered, this is who it was.” And we’ll just send each other screenshots of creepy things that people either tag us in, or give us feedback on, or people asking what size shirt we are. Just, wiki feed stuff, just really some of the yucky of the yuck out there.
And I do think that unless you have a partner, or a family member, or someone close enough to you to let you know about these things—because I don’t talk about these things a lot other than my close friends, and maybe calling out a weirdo here and there in public, but I don’t share the really yucky stuff. I don’t share the people who are asking what neighborhood I live in. I’m not sharing the people who are tagging me, like, [unintelligible 00:22:33], really tagging me in some nasty TikToks, along with some other women out there. There are some really bad actors in this community and it is to the point where Emily and I will be like, “Hey, when you inevitably have to solve my murder, here’s the [laugh] five prime suspects.” And that sucks. That’s [unintelligible 00:22:48] joke; that isn’t a joke, right? I suspect I will either die in an elevator accident or one of my stalkers will find me. [laugh].
Corey: It’s easy for folks to think, oh, well, this is a Chloe problem because she’s loud, she’s visible, she’s quirky, she’s different than most folks, and she brings it all on herself, and this is provably not true. Because if you talk to, effectively, any woman in the world in-depth about this, they all have stories that look awfully similar to this. And let me forestall some of the awful responses I know I’m going to get. And, “Well, none of the women I know have had experiences like this,” let me be very clear, they absolutely have, but for one reason or another, they either don’t see the need, or don’t see the value, or don’t feel safe talking to you about it.
Chloe: Yeah, absolutely. And I feel a lot of privilege, I’m very lucky that my boyfriend is a staff engineer at Uber, and I have lots of friends in high places at some of these companies like Reddit that work with safety and security and stuff, but oftentimes, a lot of the stories or insights or even just anecdotes that I will give people on their products are invaluable insights to a lot of these security and safety teams. Like, who amongst us, you know, [laugh] has used a feature and been like, “Wait a second. This is really, really bad, and I don’t want to tweet about this because I don’t want people to know that they can abuse this feature to stalk or harass or whatever that may be,” but I think a lot about the people who don’t have the platform that I have because I have 50k-something followers on Twitter, I have a pretty big online following in general, and I have the platform that I do working at Microsoft, and I can tweet and scream and be loud as I can about this. But I think about the folks who don’t have my audience, the people who are constantly getting harassed and bombarded, and I get these DMs all the time from women who say, “Thank you so much for doing a thread on this,” or, “Thank you for talking about this,” because people don’t believe them.
They’re just like, “Oh, just ignore it,” or just, “Oh, it’s just one weirdo in his basement, like, in his mom’s basement.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but imagine that but times 40 in a week, and think about how that would make you rethink your place and your position in tech and even outside of tech.” Let’s think of the people who don’t know how this technology works. If you’re on Instagram at all, you may notice that literally not only every post, but every Instagram story that has the word COVID in it, has the word vaccine, has anything, and they must be using some sort of cognitive scanning type thing or scanning the images themselves because this is a feature that basically says, hey, this post mentioned COVID in some way. I think if you even use the word mask, it alerts this.
And while this is a great feature because we all want accurate information coming out about the pandemic, I’m like, “Wait a minute. So, you’re telling me this whole time you could have been doing this for all the weird things that I get into my DMs, and people post?” And, like, it just shows you, yes, this is a global pandemic. Yes, this is something that affects everyone. Yes, it’s important we get information out about this, but we can be using these features in much [laugh] more impactful ways that protects people’s safety, that protects people’s ability to feel safe on a platform.
And I think the biggest one for me, and I make a lot of bots; I make a lot of Twitter bots and chatbots, and I’ve done entire series on this about ethical bot creation, but it’s so easy—and I know this firsthand—to make a Twitter account. You can have more than one number, you can do with different emails. And with Instagram, they have this really lovely new feature that if you block someone, it instantly says, “You just blocked so and so. Would you like to block any other future accounts they make?” I mean, seems simple enough, right?
Like, anything related—maybe they’re doing it by email, or phone number, or maybe it’s by IP, but like, that’s not being done on a lot of these platforms, and it should be. I think someone mentioned in one of my threads on safety recently that Peloton doesn’t have a block user feature. [laugh]. They’re probably like, “Well, who’s going to harass someone on Peloton?” It would happen to me. If I had a Peloton, [laugh] I assure you someone would find a way to harass me on there.
So, I always tell people, if you’re working at a company and you’re not thinking about safety and harassment tools, you probably don’t have anybody LGBTQ+ women, non-binary on your team, first of all, and you need to be thinking about these things, and you need to be making them a priority because if users can interact in some way, they will stalk, harass, they will find some way to misuse it. It seems like one of those weird edge cases where it’s like, “Oh, we don’t need to put a test in for that feature because no one’s ever going to submit, like, just 25 emojis.” But it’s the same thing with safety. You’re like, who would harass someone on an app about bubblegum? One of my followers were. [laugh].
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: The biggest question that doesn’t get asked that needs to be in almost every case is, “Okay. We’re building a thing, and it’s awesome. And I know it’s hard to think like this, but pivot around. Theoretically, what could a jerk do with it?”
Corey: When you’re designing it, it’s all right, how do you account for people that are complete jerks?
Corey: Even the cloud providers, all of them, when the whole Parler thing hit, everyone’s like, “Oh, Amazon is censoring people for freedom of speech.” No, they’re actually not. What they’re doing is enforcing their terms of service, the same terms of service that every provider that is not trash has. It is not a problem that one company decided they didn’t want hate speech on their platform. It was all the companies decided that, except for some very fringe elements. And that’s the sort of thing you have to figure out is, it’s easy in theory to figure out, oh, anything goes; freedom of speech. Great, well, some forms of speech violate federal law.
Corey: So, what do you do then? Where do you draw the line? And it’s always nuanced and it’s always tricky, and the worst people are the folks that love to rules-lawyer around these things. It gets worse than that where these are the same people that will then sit there and make bad faith arguments all the time. And lawyers have a saying that hard cases make bad law.
When you have these very nuanced thing, and, “Well, we can’t just do it off the cuff. We have to build a policy around this.” This is the problem with most corporate policies across the board. It’s like, you don’t need a policy that says you’re not allowed to harass your colleagues with a stick. What you need to do is fire the jackwagon that made you think you might need a policy that said that.
But at scale, that becomes a super-hard thing to do when every enforcement action appears to be bespoke. Because there are elements on the gray areas and the margins where reasonable people can disagree. And that is what sets the policy and that’s where the precedent hits, and then you have these giant loopholes where people can basically be given free rein to be the worst humanity has to offer to some of the
most vulnerable members of our society.
Chloe: And I used to give this talk, I gave it at DockerCon one year and I gave it a couple other places, that was literally called “Diversity is not
Equal to Stock Images of Hands.” And the reason I say this is if you Google image search ‘diversity’ it’s like all of those clip arts of, like, Rainbow hands, things that you would see at Kaiser Permanente where it’s like, “We’re all in this together,” like, the pandemic, it’s all just hands on hands, hands as a Earth, hands as trees, hands as different colors. And people get really annoyed with people like me who are like, “Let’s shut up about diversity. Let’s just hire who’s best for the role.” Here’s the thing.
My favorite example of this—RIP—is Fleets—remember Fleets? [laugh]—on Twitter, so if they had one gay man in the room for that marketing, engineering—anything—decision, one of them I know would have piped up and said, “Hey, did you know ‘fleets’ is a commonly used term for douching enima in the gay community?” Now, I know that because I watch a lot of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and I have worked with the gay community quite a bit in my time in theater. But this is what I mean about making sure. My friend Becca who works in security at safety and things, as well as Andy Tuba over at Reddit, I have a lot of conversations with my friend Becca Rosenthal about this, and that, not to quote Hamilton, but if I must, “We need people in the room where it happens.”
So, if you don’t have these people in the room if you’re a white man being like, “How will our products be abused?” Your guesses may be a little bit accurate but it was probably best to, at minimum, get some test case people in there from different genders, races, backgrounds, like, oh my goodness, get people in that room because what I tend to see is building safety tools, building even product features, or naming things, or designing things that could either be offensive, misused, whatever. So, when people have these arguments about like, “Diversity doesn’t matter. We’re hiring the best people.” I’m like, “Yeah, but your product’s going to be better, and more inclusive, and represent the people who use it at the end of the day because not everybody is you.”
And great examples of this include so many apps out there that exists that have one work location, one home location. How many people in the world have more than one job? That’s such a privileged view for us, as people in tech, that we can afford to just have one job. Or divorced parents or whatever that may be, for home location, and thinking through these edge cases and thinking through ways that your product can support everyone, if anything, by making your staff or the people that you work with more diverse, you’re going to be opening up your product to a much bigger marketable audience. So, I think people will look at me and be like, “Oh, Chloe’s a social justice warrior, she’s this feminist whatever,” but truly, I’m here saying, “You’re missing out on money, dude.” It would behoove you to do this at the end of the day because your users aren’t just a copy-paste of some dude in a Patagonia jacket with big headphones on. [laugh]. There are people beyond one demographic using your products and applications.
Corey: A consistent drag against Clubhouse since its inception was that it’s not an accessible app for a variety of reasons that were—
Chloe: It’s not an Android. [laugh].
Corey: Well, even ignoring the platform stuff, which I get—technical reasons, et cetera, yadda, yadda, great—there is no captioning option. And a lot of their abuse stuff in the early days was horrific, where you would get notifications that a lot of people had this person blocked, but… that’s not a helpful dynamic. “Did you talk to anyone? No, of course not. You Hacker News’ed it from first principles and thought this might be a good direction to go in.” This stuff is hard.
People specialize in this stuff, and I’ve always been an advocate of when you’re not sure what to do in an area, pay an expert for advice. All these stories about how people reach out to, “Their black friend”—and yes, it’s a singular person in many cases—and their black friend gets very tired of doing all the unpaid emotional labor of all of this stuff. Suddenly, it’s not that at all if you reach out to someone who is an expert in this and pay them for their expertise. I don’t sit here complaining that my clients pay me to solve AWS billing problems. In fact, I actively encourage that behavior. Same model.
There are businesses that specialize in this, they know the area, they know the risks, they know the ins and outs of this, and consults with these folks are not break the bank expensive compared to building the damn thing in the first place.
Chloe: And here’s a great example that literally drove me bananas a couple weeks ago. So, I don’t know if you’ve participated in Twitter Spaces before, but I’ve done a couple of my first ones recently. Have you done one yet—
Corey: Oh yes—
Corey: —extensively. I love that. And again, that’s a better answer for me than Clubhouse because I already have the Twitter audience. I don’t have to build one from scratch on another platform.
Chloe: So, I learned something really fascinating through my boyfriend. And remember, I mentioned earlier, my boyfriend is a staff engineer at Uber. He’s been coding since he’s been out of the womb, much more experienced than me. And I like to think a lot about, this is accessible to
me but how is this accessible to a non-technical person? So, Ty finished up the Twitter Space that he did and he wanted to export the file.
Now currently, as the time of this podcast is being recorded, the process to export a Twitter Spaces audio file is a nightmare. And remember, staff engineer at Uber. He had to export his entire Twitter profile, navigate through a file structure that wasn’t clearly marked, find the recording out of the multiple Spaces that he had hosted—and I don’t think you get these for ones that you’ve participated in, only ones that you’ve hosted—download the file, but the file was not a normal WAV file or anything; he had to download an open-source converter to play the file. And in total, it took him about an hour to just get that file for the purposes of having that recording. Now, where my mind goes to is what about some woman who runs a nonprofit in the middle of, you know, Sacramento, and she does a community Twitter Spaces about her flower shop and she wants a recording of that.
What’s she going to do, hire some third-party? And she wouldn’t even know where to go; before I was in tech, I certainly would have just given up and been like, “Well, this is a nightmare. What do I do with this GitHub repo of information?” But these are the kinds of problems that you need to think about. And I think a lot of us and folks who listen to this show probably build APIs or developer tools, but a lot of us do work on products that muggles, non-technical people, work on.
And I see these issues happen constantly. I come from this space of being an admin, being someone who wasn’t quote-unquote, “A techie,” and a lot of products are just not being thought through from the perspective—like, there would be so much value gained if just one person came in and tested your product who wasn’t you. So yeah, there’s all of these things that I think we have a very privileged view of, as technical folks, that we don’t realize are huge. Not even just barrier to entry; you should just be able to download—and maybe this is a feature that’s coming down the pipeline soon, who knows, but the fact that in order for someone to get a recording of their Twitter Spaces is like a multi-hour process for a very, very senior engineer, that’s the problem. I’m not really sure how we solve this.
I think we just call it out when we see it and try to help different companies make change, which of course, myself and my boyfriend did. We reached out to people at Twitter, and we’re like, “This is really difficult and it shouldn’t be.” But I have that privilege. I know people at these companies; most people do not.
Corey: And in some cases, even when you do, it doesn’t move the needle as much as you might wish that it would.
Chloe: If it did, I wouldn’t be getting DMs anymore from creeps right? [laugh].
Corey: Right. Chloe, thank you so much for coming back and talk to me about your latest project. If people want to pay attention to it and see what you’re up to. Where can they go? Where can they find you? Where can they learn more? And where can they pointedly not audition to be
featured on one of the episodes of Master Creep Theatre?
Chloe: [laugh]. So, that’s the one caveat, right? I have to kind of close submissions of my own DMs now because now people are just going to be trolling me and sending me weird stuff. You can find me on Twitter—my name—at @chloecondon, C-H-L-O-E-C-O-N-D-O-N. I am on Instagram as @getforked, G-I-T-F-O-R-K-E-D. That’s a Good Placepun if you’re non-technical; it is an engineering pun if you are. And yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of fun series with Microsoft Reactor, lots of how to get a career in tech stuff for students, building a lot of really fun AI/ML stuff on there. So, come say hi on one of my many platforms. YouTube, too. That’s probably where—Master Creep Theatre is going to be, on YouTube, so definitely follow me on YouTube. And yeah.
Corey: And we will, of course, put links to that in the [show notes 00:37:57]. Chloe, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it, as always.
Chloe: Thank you. I’ll be back for episode three soon, I’m sure. [laugh].
Corey: Let’s not make it another couple of years until then. Chloe Condon, senior cloud advocate at Microsoft on the Next Generation Experiences Team, also chlo-host of the Master Creep Theatre podcast. 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 comment saying simply, “Hey.”
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com to get started.
Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.