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Welcome Back Ali Spittel - Part Two

Published 4/29/2021

In today's episode, we welcome back to the show Ali Spittel! Ali is a developer advocate at AWS Amplify. So, naturally in this episode, we discuss topics around what it means to be a developer advocate! Ali has a passion for making code accessible and fun, and you'll hear that in this episode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
On the last episode of the show we answered the question, what exactly is a developer advocate? In today's episode we continue our interview with Ali Spittle, the senior developer advocate at AWS. AWS amplifies specifically, Ali has been on Developer Teabefore, she has done so much in her career. You might know her from dev.to. You may also know her from the podcast that she's a co-host of, the Ladybug Podcast. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. Let's jump into the second part of my interview with Ali Spittle. It's a hard industry and there's a reason why it's growing so fast because it's hard, it's complex, there's a lot to learn and there's a lot to do and that's not changing any time soon. Speaking of the industry and things that are difficult, I'm curious and this is a question I haven't asked anybody else since the pandemic began but I've started to talk about the pandemic on the show with some disclaimers that obviously I'm not a doctor or anything like that and I don't have any epidemiology degree or anything but I am curious since all of this, the pandemic experience has been something that's shared, what has been a really difficult moment and then here perhaps, not intuitively, what has been something that you've gained or something that has been good as a result of either being quarantined or some side effect being a part of this collective experience of a pandemic? Oh, that's such a great question. I actually got COVID in March of last year so right when it came to the United States, I started in person at a new job or a new role at an old job, the week that thing started shutting down and so in that three days that I was on campus, I caught COVID and it was so early on that nobody really had any idea what was going on and everybody was freaking out about it and it was just, I think the anxiety behind it was almost worth the COVID itself because I just didn't know what to expect and didn't know if this was going to escalate if I was going to end up in the hospital or if I was going to be fine and I feel really lucky that it ended up to be okay and that's just my experience. It's been definitely a challenge so that was definitely the scariest part of it and probably the hardest for me but something that I'm really excited about is how this has changed developer advocacy as a career because I pretty much used to live at conference days. I would go from one conference to the next one and would have so many speaking gigs back to back to back and it was really overwhelming. I think that a lot of big speakers flipped between complete burnout and not wanting to speak at anything and taking on too much and so I think that's a very lucky and rare position to be in so I feel very lucky for that but also it was unsustainable I think in a lot of ways the amount of in-person events that people were doing the number of conferences that were coming out the competition between them and so I'm really excited that online events and the rise of asynchronous content that is being focused on due to the pandemic I think that that's a pretty positive thing for our industry in a lot of ways because people don't need to have the huge budget to travel across the world they don't need to go to all these conferences they have it available to them wherever they live and I think before it really prioritized the people who live in big cities and now really anybody can partake in these communities and I think there's a lot of really exciting things coming out of that and I'm so excited to see people in person again but I do think it's going to be on a little bit of a less intense scale than it used to be. Yeah that was my next question is do you think that we will of course we probably say of course I don't know but theoretically we're not going to keep doing what we're doing right now everybody in quarantine and just kind of saying well I guess we're you know that phase of humanity is over where we no longer want to be around each other I don't think that's going to happen but I also you know it seems uncomfortable that we would go back to you know our pre-COVID behaviors entirely because there have been some kind of tangential benefits to us being forced there's this forcing function that puts us inside our homes and now suddenly we have these interesting we're confronted with these interesting value propositions that we previously were not confronted with so I'm curious you know how do you see us adapting over the next year or two years five years both in your specific world where okay we've got conferences now we're talking about maybe conferences are not going to be as much of a thing as maybe local meetups or maybe these virtual experiences are bringing like you said asynchronous content together and presenting it in new ways both in that regard and then also developer community and software engineering more generally do you see anything do you imagine anything happening in the next two to five years as you know as we read apps to whatever that you know new normal is yeah so I've said this in the past I have this blog post about how much remote work doesn't really work for me I personally work really well in a close-knit team and I really like interacting with people in person and working outside of my house and so I have historically been not the biggest proponent of remote work that being said on actually really glad that there's been this acceleration in remote work that's happened because of the pandemic and for a lot of reasons I think it's important for accessibility reasons that people who do better in a remote environment will more likely have that opportunity after this people with families people with disabilities that make it difficult for them to get into an office or work in an office people who live more rural I grew up like in the middle of absolute nowhere and so the idea of being able to bring more people into the tech community because work is more decentralized I think that's really exciting I also think that it's exciting that most likely the jobs will move out of only being in San Francisco and New York City where so many jobs were and hopefully that will become a little bit less of a hub I guess I think that there will be more like little hubs distributed across the country instead of you having to live in one of these cities and I think that that's great for affordability I think that's great for people to be able to live where they want to live instead of being forced to live places for their jobs so even though I'm not necessarily the biggest remote work person I do think that there are a lot of positives to this yeah it's interesting I think we fall on so you don't seem extremely against it and I'm not extremely for it but I would probably be equally for it as you are against it so I'm like on the other side of the spectrum but not extreme and the the benefit you know for me remote work is it makes the option of living you know for example my family is here right I have my it's taken many years for us all to kind of end up in the same geographical location but it turns out that we're all within about 20 miles of each other and that's a hugely valuable thing if remote work was not possible I would be confronted with the question do you leave your family for your job or not right and that's a really hard question to answer and everybody has different answers because everybody has different family lives and but what's interesting about it is it means that there's this implicit selection for those for those like you said the bigger the bigger cities while who was going to go to those bigger cities not people like me right so so companies would not have people like me working for them very generally speaking because it creates this selection I won't call it a bias necessarily but it's like a filter I guess right a natural filter you're not going to attract people who don't want to leave their families for their jobs and in some ways maybe that is what you want to attract I don't know it depends on who you are as a company I suppose but as a result of COVID potentially but also just more generally the kind of continued rise in remote work I think like you said it is making mobility in all of its forms or lack of mobility in all of its forms rather less of a barrier and I think that's important right maybe my reason is just a convenience reason but for some people it's not about convenience it's about affordability or it's about some people stay around their families because their caretakers for them and they can't leave they they would be abandoning them and potentially the most important phase of their relationship well what do you do right and I think that's a really hard question to solve but as remote empowers that I think you're you're spot on that this is a good thing but shouldn't necessarily be the only thing yeah yeah I think I'm super pro the remote work movement I think just personally working with other people a little bit more closely is more beneficial for me personally but overall I'm very pro the remote work movement and I've actually been kind of a digital nomad for the last couple years while working remote and so I feel really lucky to have had that ability while things were or while I was remote before COVID now that COVID happened I'm kind of settled down but yeah yeah I also believe that there is some possible positive empathy at least short-term positive empathy for people who are remote incomeities that have mixed remote and non-remote employees where hey you know what now you understand what it feels like to be on a zoom call and not be able to hear anybody right we're previously you know if you had never had a remote job certainly if you had never worked remote for an extended period it may be hard to understand why it has unique challenges because you've never experienced those challenges you've never not been able to hear somebody hearing the standoff you know what I mean definitely we'll get right back to our interview with Ali Spittle right after we talked about today's sponsor Linne. 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Well so this is of course this is a very interesting topic for a lot of people because it's a challenge to get through a collective you know pandemic but I do want to continue down the road of you know where do you see the the roles of engineers going and this is unrelated to the pandemic right because you work with a lot of engineers you see a lot of the kind of higher level trends happening I imagine you know what is changing about the industry that people need to be paying attention to oh that's a really great question I personally am excited about a lot of things coming out of the industry right now I think the one of the things that I'm most excited about and work at work on is low-code solutions I think that people think of like something like square space or a form that you drag and drop or something like that but I don't think that that's really necessarily the future I just think that tools that make you able to do more with less code are going to be the future and I think that we've already had that in a lot of ways like the progression from writing everything from scratch to having something like Ruby on Rails where you can generate certain things I think that that was kind of a low-code movement in a lot of ways and then I think that we're going to go even further with that and making it so that you can have like code as a service and have the ability to have some sort of general project that is scaffolded for you but then you can extend it in any way with your own code and I think that there's a lot of power to that because a code is expensive hiring developers is expensive maintaining code is expensive updating that code is expensive fixing security issues that's a lot of work as well and so the less code that you can have in a lot of ways the better and but there's a lot of danger with that in they're it not being flexible and so I'm really excited about these products that allow you to have something that you can extend completely with your own code you can customize it yourself but there's something there for you to start with and I think that we've already really moved in that direction and like even if you work with something like next JS or Gatsby or any of these you're probably starting with a starter and that's not necessarily something that was true at a different era in development and so I think no or low-code gets a bad wrap but I think in a way that's already the way that the industry has moved and so I think that that's just going to keep progressing. I agree I have I'm really interested in this discussion because I think there's something there's a psychological effect happening here and I want to hear your input on it. So there's two things that come to mind as to why you know immediately in my developer early developer brain if I would have seen a low-code no-code solution especially the ones that I did see like my mental model is dreamweaver for example or you know even the early square space this is in my head the kinds of things that as a front-end engineer there's somebody said hey oh you don't have to learn code to be you know to make a website and all of the kind of resistance things started firing because for a couple of reasons I think there's three factors and I'm curious about what your perspective is on these three things the first one is probably just the idea that hey you know what this is a threat to me so we'll set that one aside because hopefully we can all say well if it's a threat then it eventually will be a threat no matter what you do so you know if you can't beat them join them kind of thing. The second was oh wait a second no this is actually a quality thing right this the quality of the code coming out of dream weaver is bad and I knew that because I know how to write good code and so only I would know that this is bad but trust me because I'm you know I'm the expert with the expert hat on and I've been doing this a long time right and then the third thing is so this quality and then the third thing is trust maybe this thing looks fine maybe the code looks fine but because I haven't kind of grown you know I haven't done it myself and it's almost like having to trust somebody else to cook to cook your food for you you don't know what ingredients they're putting in there right you you don't know what's behind the curtain so how can I trust it and I think that's particularly important for new products because I can trust AWS I don't know that I can trust this startup with that really critical function that I need to perform right I can I can trust Ruby on Rails because there's this big community lots of tests but I don't know that I can trust some you know off brand framework that just popped up last week even you know even if it seems really cool I'm afraid of it so what do you think about each of those dimensions when it comes to the no code movement? yeah yeah for sure so I think to the first point that taking my jobs like the developers are still going to be the people that are writing these tools right with each level of abstraction the developers are just writing that higher level of abstraction than they were before and I think we've seen that with things like WordPress and Squarespace like there are still people behind the scenes writing the code that goes into that so I don't think it's a threat to our job and I think that actually it probably broadens our field a lot as well like the Donna Ruby on Rails made it so that there was higher demand for developers and there have been so many jobs with it with that and so then the next piece is quality and I think that that's something that's still being worked on for sure but I think that we're moving in a good direction with that like tools like Webflow are really exciting to me because they write React code and so you can extend that code yourself and make it so that this thing does exactly what you want to do but visually you can use it like a design tool so I think that's really awesome but quality is still definitely something that is being worked on and then trust I think with anything you have to build up that trust with your user base and your audience and making it so that things are breaking and I think code solutions are going to have to go through that and low code solutions are going to have to go through that as well so I've been working on the Amplify Admin UI is one of my main projects recently and what this allows you to do is visually create a backend schema so when you're creating a backend you have to or a database you have to essentially decide what tables are going to be there what fields what data types they are and this allows you to do that visually and then the backend is generated for you and then you can add authentication and change that down the road and then all of that is there for you to extend with your own code you can use the command line interface to work with it and all that too so really thinking about developers first and I think that that's something that maybe has been lacking in previous low code or no code solutions is that the developers are kind of this second party to all of this they're the people who may extend it someday but aren't necessarily who is thought of first but I think that there's a real power in the future where we're thinking of tools that make developers as fast as possible and again I already see things like Ruby on Rails or Gatsby templates or any of these types of movements as already going in that direction even though they are developer first I think that those are really great prototypes for what this might look like in the future. I agree I agree I you know I present those because they are kind of the the hard problems to solve they're human problems right it's yeah yeah there's some kind of these deep psychological issues but you're right that we have these approaches that are basically we have abstractions that we are responsible for as engineers and I think that it's important that we understand that the abstractions don't make it so that anybody at all can do these things and it's not because we you know we want to lower that bar we want more people to be able to do this stuff that's a whole point right yeah the more complexity we can kill than more likely we're able but the interesting thing is what it means for software engineers is not that you're going to stop doing this it's just that you're going to be able to do more with less and that is a critical component of building efficient teams as a critical component of you know adding new value with it previously wasn't any so I think that's a you know that's kind of a an entry level point to make when when these discussions are had that you know the no code movement is not about replacing developers it's not about saying oh we need to save some money so we're going to get the same you know fundamental thing done with less money it's we want to do more right we can build more with the same with the same resources that's not to say that companies will take advantage of that but it's rather that that's not the whole point right it's we're going to be able to do produce more value per dollar or per per developer hour definitely definitely and I also want to call out the difference between the no code movement and the low code movement because I think that they are a little bit different the no code from what I have seen as mostly a community of people who are like indie makers people who are building solo founded startups who are trying to scale quickly might not be technical themselves there's like a group called maker pad who really focuses on this I think it's a really cool community to watch but they use tools like air table or Google sheets or like Squarespace to build products and I think that's a really really cool movement as well but I think the low code movement at least to me is what I am most excited about because it's this kind of hybrid of we're making super developer friendly products but you don't have to write all the code yourself it's kind of taking that convention over configuration to the next level yeah yeah absolutely and that will help me increase my trust right it's kind of the idea that I don't want you to build the house for me I want you to provide the materials for me right it's give me the components and I will build the house don't give me the pre-build house right and I think knowing okay this is how this component kind of the inputs and outputs were a core and we're we have to talk very generally about this stuff but it gets very specific right it's oh I'm passing this x y and z I can even go and look at this component and see how it works if I want to but I don't have to do yeah but but I don't want you doing everything and also I don't want to do everything right let's share the load a little bit and I've strapped on top of these things definitely and I think one of the best examples of this is authentication like if you've ever done your own authentication system from scratch it's a nightmare even working with things like passport like which I think makes the the process easier I still think that the logic involved in that is really heavy and getting a new developer able to build that authentication themselves is is a really tough process and it leaves all sorts of possibilities for security risks and all of that as well and so I think that that's a place where you've already seen products like Cognito or Authorsero that you can set it up and plug in some components or a service on the back end but you don't have to do very much yourself in order to get all this working and it's going to be more secure because there's actually experts writing this for you instead of you rolling it yourself and you're going to have something that is going to have a lot less bugs than writing it from scratch as well so that's what I kind of think of when I think of low code is these services that you can use to scale faster yeah absolutely absolutely uh Ali thank you so much for joining me uh for this interview for the I guess it'll be two parts by the time that we that we edit this together uh I have one more question for you I think we probably covered our you know the two final questions in the last episode but I have one more question for you what do you now wish more people would ask you about oh that's such a great question and I think you got me with this last time too um I think it's how do we enable Developer To be better and how do we enable them to enable their lives to be a little bit easier and so I think this is really the conversation that we just had over the last few minutes and no matter what we call it um that's kind of what we've been talking about is how do we make the next generation of development even better making it so that products are more accessible that are more performant more um and easier to build and so I think that's the conversation that I'm really excited about yeah so if anybody encounters you that's what they should that's the kind of question that you would like to be asked and maybe that would spark a good conversation yeah for sure awesome Ali thank you so much for joining me and uh where can people go to learn more about what you're doing or learn more of your thoughts oh I'm a spittle pretty much everywhere Twitter's kind of feels like my hub of where I talk about all the other things that I'm doing but my blog is we learn code.com and I have YouTube and Twitch and clubhouse and all those things as well awesome thanks so much for joining thank you another huge thank you to Ali Spittle for joining me on today's episode of Developer Teaou can find her all over the internet at at a spittle thank you so much for listening to this show the show wouldn't happen without you of course and our wonderful sponsors today's episode was sponsored by Linode head over to linode.com slash Developer Teathat's linode.com slash Developer Teaclick on the create free account button you can get a hundred dollars worth of free credit Linode is just handing out a lot of money to Developer Tealisteners and you can be one of those people you can use that credit on virtually anything that Linode has to offer thank you so much for listening to this episode if you want to join the Developer Tea Discord community where we can discuss things like the things we talked about on this episode at over to developertea.com slash discord until next time enjoy your tea