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Cover image for Holding Truth – Sugar, Abstraction, and Certification with Renata Rocha

Holding Truth – Sugar, Abstraction, and Certification with Renata Rocha

Mandy Moore
Single Mom 👩‍👧 🐶😺😺😺😺 Owner/producer: Greater Than Code 💕 #DevRel 🥑 WiT/D&I 👩🏻‍💻 Podcast Production 🎙 #BlackLivesMatter #python 🐍 she/her
・22 min read

Jonan Scheffler interviews Senior Architect at Slalom Build, Renata Rocha about coaching customers as to why a certain technology such as Kubernetes may or may not be the best choice for what they're trying to achieve, being in the practice of educating yourself constantly, and how it’s easier to understand how to solve problems when you have the tools in your hands.

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome back to Observy McObservface, proudly brought to you by New Relic's developer relations team, The Relicans. Observy is about observability in something a bit more than the traditional sense. It's often about technology and tools that we use to gain visibility into our systems. But it is also about people because, fundamentally, software is about people. You can think of Observy as something of an observability variety show where we will apply systems thinking and think critically about challenges across our entire industry. And we very much look forward to having you join us. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so pleased to have you here this week. Enjoy the show.

Hello, and welcome back to Observy McObservface. I am Jonan Scheffler. I'm on the Developer Relations team here at New Relic. We are very shortly going to be having a conference, and I'm going to be speaking about that whole team, and you should come because it’s going to be really fun. Our whole track is actually a little bit weird, but I think you'll enjoy it. So if you would like to stop by and say hello to The Relicans, we would really appreciate having you. You can go to therelicans.com/futurestack and learn all about it. And with that, we get onto the actual business of this observability thing. I get to introduce you to my guest, Renata. How are you, Renata?

Renata Rocha: Hello. I'm good. Thanks for inviting me today.

Jonan: I’m so glad that you joined me. Frequently when I start these shows off, I just kick off a conversation ahead of time to get to know a person a little bit. And our conversation to get to know each other ended up taking most of our hour here, not most, but some of our hour just talking away. You are a fascinating human being, Renata. I'm actually really excited to talk to everyone about how it is that you came to be here. But maybe you could offer a little bit of background about yourself. Let's kick things off. Tell people who you are.

Renata: I am Renata. Actually, it’s pronounced Henata, but no one can say that. I am a solutions architect. I work at Slalom Build. I have been there for about a year and a half. I am originally from Brazil from Rio de Janeiro, which is a beautiful city but also very violent. And then I came to Toronto 11 years ago, a city that I love very much. I have been working with DevOps engineering since 2010. I absolutely love everything DevOps and cloud-related, and I can't stop talking about it.

Jonan: That’s a convenient place to be as someone who sometimes speaks on stages.

Renata: Absolutely.

Jonan: I'm grateful that you gave us the correct pronunciation of your name, and I want to try and use it. It's Henata.

Renata: Don't worry too much about it. I'm fine.

Jonan: This Brazilian r sound, though, is very common. We call that city Rio de Janeiro. You and I have an opportunity to educate many people on how to properly pronounce. So just give me the sound one more time, and I'll try and parrot it.

Renata: Hio de Janeiro

Jonan: Hio de Janeiro. So I would say Henata.

Renata: Henata.

Jonan: Henata. I think I'm making it a little too kr. Henata. Henata.

Renata: Henata. Yeah, that's fine.

Jonan: Okay, I do it all right.

Renata: Yeah. You're doing great. Like I said, Portuguese is not an easy language. It's probably like learning Erlang.

Jonan: [laughs] It's the Erlang of spoken languages. There's the diphthong sound that is also very difficult for Americans to make in the throat when you say no.

Renata: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like if you speak something like French, it’s probably going to be easier for you. It's not something that comes very naturally for English language speakers. And since I have been here in Toronto for 11 years, I just got used to people saying Renata, and I'm fine with it.

Jonan: Well, I go out of my way to try and say people's names as they are intended to be said because my name being Jonan, it's quite unusual actually in all cultures. No one is really named Jonan. It's convenient for SEO, but it's not as convenient when you could call Joanne or Jonah. And so I have to stop people and say, “It's like Conan, but with a J. It's Jonan.”

Renata: Jonan. I appreciate that.

Jonan: Yeah, it means a lot. People like the sound of their own names. They like to be seen and valued. And so I will try my very best, Renata. Anyway, without butchering any more Portuguese, I apologize to our Portuguese listeners.

Renata: [chuckles] It’s okay.

Jonan: You now live in Canada in Toronto. And you mentioned French. Do you speak any French?

Renata: No, I don't. Actually, I speak a little bit of French, but I don't speak every day because Toronto is an Anglophone city, and people don't speak French here. I learned a little bit of French in the past, but since I don't have anyone to practice my French with, I kind of lost it. I have a co-worker who is Quebecois, and therefore he is Francophone. But we don't speak too much French with each other. Hello, Pierre. And he's probably going to listen to this. But other than that, I don't have anyone who lives nearby who speaks French or anything like that. So I end up losing my everyday French.

Jonan: Pierre. Bonjour, Pierre.

Renata: Bien. Bonjour, Pierre. Ça va.

Jonan: Obrigado. Okay. So we have French and English and Portuguese, any other languages?

Renata: I can understand some Spanish. I cannot speak Spanish, but since Spanish and Portuguese are very close to each other, I understand when people speak Spanish to me, and I can read Spanish very well, but that's about it.

Jonan: I think it's very interesting to me that my friends overseas, outside of the United States, if I ask them, “What languages do you speak?” They'll list one. Well, I speak French very well and a little German and some Dutch. And I studied Spanish for eight or nine years, but I'm not great at Spanish. It's always like from the perspective of an American, very impressive, of course, because we speak English. And if we can order a beer in another language, we will profess to speak that language, you know? [laughs]

Renata: It's a thing about romance languages that they are very similar. So it's easy for you to start speaking another one, that's just like a fork of another language. So I speak Python very well. [laughs]

Jonan: I was going to say there are some really interesting parallels here in software languages because I think this is probably what had led to so much success with romance languages early on and the proliferation around the world. And then, in software, we very often see similar behaviors. You had been talking a little bit before the show to me about the respective age of Portuguese and Spanish. A lot of people are confused in believing that people who live in Brazil all speak Spanish. They speak Brazilian Portuguese, which is itself different from the Portuguese they speak in Portugal and, of course, from Spanish. But I need you actually to remind me which one you said was older.

Renata: I think Portuguese is actually an older language. So I have the story that I was telling you that when I was in Portugal, there was this family who spoke Spanish, and they couldn't understand what the Portuguese people were talking to them or speaking to them. But we could understand them because everyone who speaks Portuguese can understand Spanish. So we were just trying to speak a little bit of our very broken Spanish, and we could help them. But it was very interesting that they couldn't speak Portuguese or understand any Portuguese. And this is because if you look at the language trees, Spanish is actually a little bit younger than Portuguese. So Spanish has fewer sounds and is a little bit less complex than Portuguese. Portuguese is a more difficult language for you to learn. So, yeah, that's a little bit of how it works. It's fascinating. There is a YouTube channel about linguistics that I watch, and it's called NativLang. And they explained that very well, much better than I'm going to explain it here because the guy's a linguistic historian, and he goes very in-depth understanding how the language has evolved.

Jonan: These layers of abstraction.

Renata: Yeah, the layers of abstraction. It is exactly how you have a computer language, and one evolves from the other, and then you have languages that are closer to the hardware and languages that are closer to the software, then there are languages that are like Python that are better for you to write something for the web or something. And then you have C that are languages that are better for you to write something to the memory, and they are actually faster.

Jonan: And working with hardware devices, I guess, especially on a small scale if you have a very --

Renata: Yes. Like a driver, you are not going to write a computer driver in Python.

Jonan: Yeah. I will sometimes accidentally describe C as a simpler approach. In that case, you would not want to go all the way up to this high level of abstraction and then come back down to what is ultimately C again in the first place. But I have to be very clear that there's nothing simple about C or really any kind of software. Languages are hard. Programming is hard. So these layers of abstraction that we're talking about, you have a similar parallel, I think, in the kind of work that you do. You're a solutions architect, and you've been doing that for a long time. How long have you been doing this?

Renata: Actually, for almost two years now.

Jonan: Okay. And so, before you were doing solutions architect work, you were doing other kinds of consulting in systems and operations.

Renata: Yeah. I did consulting for DevOps engineering for six years which kind of relates to solutions architect work because since you are a consultant, you have to develop lots of architecture and things like that.

Jonan: I think that's a really fun role to play where you get to be in that position to give advice. But it's also very complicated sometimes when people, I think, are not inclined to take that advice. We were discussing the example of Kubernetes. I was reading through your website and noticed that you'd given some talks about Kubernetes. It's a mixed bag for people right now in the industry, and yet companies are all in. There are numbers out there; like 80% plus of corporations are now running Kubernetes in one form or another in production; whether that means that they have their entire infrastructure shifted over is another question. It's very unlikely that that's the case, but that's still really impressive for something relatively new. And yet, I bet you're in the position where you get to explain often to customers why Kubernetes may not be the best choice for what they're trying to achieve.

Renata: Yeah, absolutely. So it's very interesting because it is a very new thing. Like you said, for a technology, things are usually more established than Kubernetes. But people usually come to you saying, “I want Kubernetes,” and you have to ask them, “Why do you think this is right for you?” And as a solutions architect, it's very hard for me to tell a customer that “This is not good. This is not what you want.” The idea is that I have to present different scenarios and show the pros and cons of the solutions and including the thing that the client told me that this is what they want and prices and weigh different solutions. And something that I mentioned to you, which is a very interesting point, is as a woman, people usually say that they have to sugarcoat the things that they tell me. But I find myself usually in the other position that I have to sugarcoat the things that I tell people because I am a very direct, objective, and logical person. But I cannot be that person when I'm presenting something to stakeholders. So I have to be there and be kind and nice and say, “Hey, why don't you think of this in a certain way?” And present different scenarios and be more reasonable. So I find myself sugarcoating the things that I have to say, which is an interesting perspective; I like to say that.

Jonan: When you come into the meeting, and the executive says, “We're thinking about building this React app. We want to experiment with React, so we need to get Kubernetes to run it. So we're going to need you to set up Kubernetes so we can run React.” And then you have to explain. You're not allowed to just say like, “That's, one, a terrible idea but also entirely wrong.” You've got to actually slow it down, right?

Renata: I'm going to say something like, “Yeah, I'm going to do some research, and I'm going to come back at you with some possible solutions for what you just proposed.” And then I come back with probably a deck or some ideas. And I coach them on what would be the best decision and most reasonable and most cost-effective solution to the case.

Jonan: This ‘coach’ is a really good word there that you're there to coach the customer, and in a setting like that in boardrooms, there's a lot of coaching that goes on. You're trying to help people to understand, and you need to seek first to understand is the thing that I've heard often from coaches over my life that you try to understand the actual challenge that the customer is facing because they frequently don't know how to say their problems.

Renata: Absolutely. We go through a lengthy discovery phase where we gather all the possible information. And from what I see, everyone does the discovery in a different way. So what I do is that I have a lot of pen and paper with me, very old school way. And I take lots and lots of notes. Okay, it's usually notebooks. And I write everything that people say to me, even if it doesn't sound very important. And then I read everything that people told me. And from that amount of information, I try to make the decisions, and I prepare the solutions. I architect the solutions. You know, that's where the name comes from. I find it absolutely fascinating, and as you can see, I'm very passionate about what I do. I absolutely love this. I wake up every morning very excited to do my job. It's very rewarding.

Jonan: I think I have a similar reward in the work that I do in that I really enjoy getting to a place with someone where you can see them start to understand. It's like a switch turning on in someone's eyes where you can see that knowledge come. It's a very exciting thing for me to be able to teach someone to take them to that point. And being able to explain in your circumstance how this technology will benefit their goals than whatever they had proposed initially or help them understand those pieces, especially when you're working on a scale where that could be multimillions of dollars of bad decision.

Renata: Multimillion dollars, and I can just help you save money here or there or prevent you from wasting money in the future and solving big, complex issues. It's just so fascinating for me. And the fact that I have to do research and the decisions are not something that I do on the spot that I have to dig deeper is very rewarding, and it's not easy. There are days that I struggle; not every day is simple. But in the end, I feel like I've won the marathon of the Olympics or something like this.

Jonan: I like that feeling of being mentally exhausted like that. I have used all of the brain that I had to use today. Well done.

Renata: And then you feel like you have grown so much as a person and as a profession at the end of a project because every project is different from each other, so you get so much.

Jonan: Yeah, that's a really good point, actually, for people who are thinking about becoming solutions architects, there's this whole growth curve that is accelerated where you settle into a shop in some roles, and you're just going to be working with a similar stack each time. But you have an opportunity to learn a whole new selection of technologies on any given project.

Renata: Yeah, you are exposed to new things every time, and the chance that you have, the opportunity you have to learn new things every time, is endless.

Jonan: That's fascinating.

Renata: It's fascinating, yeah.

Jonan: So on that subject, you go into a shop, and you have to learn their new system, and you're educating yourself constantly. When you're not learning about a thing for work, I guess, any particular project that you’re on, are you out there achieving certifications and things and studying other technologies? What are you doing in your other time to learn?

Renata: The industry places a lot of emphasis on certifications these days. And like I just said, the work is about doing discoveries and doing research and trying to present the best case scenario after you have done your considerations and everything. And then there's this thing about the certifications, the certifications they're usually you read a lot of white papers and then you have a screen in front of you where you cannot read anything. And then you have to press buttons where you have five answers, and you pick the best answer. So it's very different from real life. So I'm really not convinced that certifications relate to the real world. I got a couple of certifications like the AWS architect Pro, the Associate, I have a ScrumMaster certification as well, and I even have a completely useless certification that I am a certified Yoga teacher. You can laugh at that. But anyway, none of these certifications have anything to do with what I learn in my real life or what I do in my real job. They are just things that I click on a screen. I remember from a textbook from what I read on a piece of paper, and then I click, and it says, “Yay, you passed.” Is this real? Does this reflect who I am or what I do? Does this reflect my job? Does this mean anything? I don't know. I am not convinced. It might mean something to other people, but it doesn't mean anything to me. I might get other certifications because people have said I need them. I'm not really sure.

Jonan: I think it's a really good way to sell more certifications, is what it is.

Renata: Yes, it’s an industry, and they are making a lot of money because you have to renew them every couple of years. So yeah, they are making a lot of money.

Jonan: The certification thing never really made very much sense to me. I agree with you that it is rote memorization and what you're memorizing is often a product surface area that will be quite different by the time you actually go to use the product anyway. So I imagine that having them is enabling for someone in your line of work, especially solutions architecture. I could see me offering that advice to someone who really aspires to be a solutions architect. You should maybe consider getting some of these certifications because they may speed you into the industry early on. They can open some doors for you, maybe.

Renata: They open doors, yes, because the industry would like to see that badge. You know that “Oh my God, you got a certification.” But do they represent the reality?

Jonan: Yeah. I think from a perspective of a developer, an engineer, an architect; I say developers to mean all of these things to listeners at home who haven't noticed this yet. If you feel like developer does not fit you as an umbrella term for a human who writes code, please attribute your own moniker. I particularly like developer. So I think that developers in their own communities don't actually put that much weight behind these kinds of things. But when you're working to get a job, of course, it's nice to fill up a resume. So if you're considering the certification racket, we both seem to agree it's a mixed bag.

Renata: Yeah, absolutely. What I like to do in my free time to learn about new things is to do silly pet projects involving some new technology that I want to learn more about. So when I did my personal website, like last year, I used Terraform, GitHub Actions, things like that because I wanted to do things that I thought were cool. Recently, literally yesterday, I built a bot because I thought that was cool and things like that. These things teach me new technologies. But I think that is way more effective than studying for a certification. That's my personal opinion. And I'm okay if people disagree with me; I don't think I am the holder of truth over anything.

Jonan: Well, there's actually a certification. There's the holder of truth AWS certification.

Renata: [laughs]

Jonan: You have to get that one.

Renata: I have to get it.

Jonan: Yeah. I agree with you that I will frequently choose technologies because I just want to play with them. And I learned so much more about them when I'm just playing. I'm there to engage with software or hardware in a spirit of play, and suddenly, it's very motivating for me. I am putting a Raspberry Pi inside of a baby Yoda doll or something.

Renata: Oh my God. I installed Gentoo on a Raspberry Pi over Christmas. It was very painful, but it was very fun.

Jonan: Yeah. And it's all painful, right? Technology is painful, but that motivation to actually achieve the thing and that spike of joy that comes when you get over there, that's what drives you. But you're not going to do it if you're just doing it to get over an arbitrary hurdle that someone else invented, very often. Of course, many people do and embrace certifications, but I don't claim to be the holder of truth yet either.

Renata: You have got to get that AWS holder of truth.

Jonan: I got to do it. We can study together. We'll start a study group.

Renata: [chuckles] Yeah.

Jonan: So when I have people on the show, I often like to ask them to make a prediction about where things are headed as an industry, maybe in the observability space or in architecture technologies that are emerging. I think it's safe to say right now that Kubernetes is going to continue growing as a layer of abstraction, and much like the Spanish and Portuguese situation, maybe we have more layers on top of it, or another thing comes along that changes the way those work. What do you see as emerging over the next year, or what do you think will change? Let's make a prediction.

Renata: I find that Kubernetes is becoming increasingly easier, and that is making the adoption more likely but more reasonable for people who want to, I don't know, run their blogs on Kubernetes because back in the day, you didn't have things like EKS or things like that. So I think in the future, since people just desperately want to run Kubernetes because it's cool, not because they need it, the industry is starting to provide easy ways to run Kubernetes. So you're going to have more services that are like abstraction layer for you to run Kubernetes in an easy way, just because. So you are going to have something like Glitch for Kubernetes. You just click a button, and you just have your own Kubernetes cluster that runs a blog. You don't have to do anything. So my neighbor can run her blog about, I don't know, she's a gardener, so she can run a blog about her garden, and it actually runs on Kubernetes. So I think this is going to happen within a couple of years, two years. I'm not saying even five years, two years. I think we're going to see things like that. And this is going to happen just because people think it's cool, which is an important part of the industry. People do things because of the cool.

Jonan: That’s actually a really good point because I think that people discount that sometimes technology is about momentum like with VHS and Beta, for example.

Renata: Oh my God, don't get me started. [chuckles]

Jonan: Right? But I think most people know that Beta was clearly superior technology, but it lost because of momentum. And in the case of Kubernetes, yes, you may continue to advocate for whatever container orchestration technology you prefer, but Kubernetes has probably already sailed. That's probably where we're headed and what we do now moving forward is actually the next decision point. What layers of abstraction do we build? Do we run your neighbor's blog for gardening on Kubernetes? It would certainly have more uptime potential, maybe, I don't know, depending on what the blog is running on today, I suppose. [laughs] It's hard to say. So if you were starting out in your career again or I guess better stated if you had a friend who was coming in and they wanted to be where you are today, they want to be a solutions architect like you are with your approximate career track, what advice would you have for that friend about how to -- I don’t want to say that any of us regret the mistakes we made along the way. They make us who we are. But there are certainly choices that you might add to your friend's experience. What would you advise them to do?

Renata: First things first, run every type of Linux that you can find because it's very important to understand Linux and not simply run the images on AWS. You have to understand how things work. From there, create an account on some cloud provider, Google, Azure (I don’t know how to say that; I never got it), or AWS. And learn some infrastructure as code too. I strongly recommend Terraform because I find it very readable and very easy to go from 0 to 100 using Terraform. It is so easy and so powerful. So just understand how Linux works, create an account on some cloud provider and learn infrastructure as code. I think that is the triangle that will give you power to get into DevOps engineering. And from there, you can understand how to solve problems because you have the tools in your hands.

Jonan: This is really good advice. And you'll come to know the Linux file structures of the various distributions better than I do. And you'll stop just storing everything in your home directory. Don't just put everything in the home directory. There are file directories that are pre-named for reasons you can use var or www, but no, I'll just put it all at home.

Renata: Actually, you probably need to learn some programming language. You can choose something like -- I don't like JavaScript. I like Python, but you can choose anything you want.

Jonan: I like Ruby, and we are friends.

Renata: Okay. You like Ruby. Ruby is okay. Ruby is quite okay. I don't mind.

Jonan: I like Ruby, too. I don't think it's good for this kind of language, or I don't think JavaScript is a good language for this kind of work either. I think that some kind of dynamic language early on certainly. But for doing systems and Ops work, I would tend to agree with you that maybe JavaScript is not a great choice. It's maybe a little over-complicated conceptually for a learner.

Renata: A lot of people these days are learning Go.

Jonan: Oh, yeah.

Renata: And I’ve played a little bit with Go because I was toying around with the source code of some HashiCorp tools, and they're all based in Go. And I found it was very readable. But I won't say that I can code in Go; I'm not at that point yet. I can read it. But yeah, Go is interesting. Take a look at it.

Jonan: I would suggest actually that it might be a good starting point. If your goal really was to just stay in the systems world and in infrastructure, Go would not be a terrible place to start because it will continue to be valuable.

Renata: Yeah. Go is valuable. So yeah, choose a programming language like Ruby, Go, Python, something like that, and Linux, and infrastructure as code, and create an account on a cloud provider. You're good to go.

Jonan: That's a good bit of advice, and you got a pun in there. See, there you go.

Renata: I make terrible jokes.

Jonan: They are excellent jokes. This is how you can tell a programmer; it's all the puns. Well done. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I appreciate all of the advice that we are passing on to the next generation. I hope we didn't guide anyone astray. I do want to point out on the language conversation that all of it is nonsense as compared to understanding the actual concepts behind it. Once you learn a language or another language, the kind of advice that we offer in these circumstances is not because JavaScript is the way or Go is the way; it's because those languages maybe will set you up for success as far as models in your head. They’ll teach you how to think in code, and then it'll be trivial for you to learn another language much like it would be for Renata here. I'm sure you have to learn a lot of new technologies every day. That's the best part of your job, I imagine.

Renata: Yeah, absolutely. I like to think that everything in the world is a language. I actually have a background in mathematics, and mathematics is also a language. Mathematics is not about numbers; it's just a language for understanding the world around us. So yeah, everything is a language. Nothing is like a mystery.

Jonan: A case I had to make to my children one time who were both less interested in mathematics than they were in art is that mathematics is art.

Renata: Mathematics is art. I love art. We don't have enough time to talk, but I love art. I dance. And everything is connected. I could go on about this for ages.

Jonan: Well, we’ll have to go on for another episode. You can come back for a mathematics, and yoga, and dance episode.

Renata: Absolutely. I'm all about this.

Jonan: [chuckles] This is fantastic. All right. Thank you so much. Obrigado. I really appreciate you coming on the show, and we'll see you again soon, I hope.

Renata: De nada. My pleasure.

Jonan: I want to remind you all that New Relic and the Relicans are going to be at our upcoming user conference, FutureStack coming up on May 24th. You can stop by therelicans.com/futurestack and read about it. We would love to have you there. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.

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