How serverless is breaking down barriers in tech

Anyone willing to challenge the status quo and embrace serverless is somewhat open-minded and forward-thinking

Welcome to “Serverless Superheroes”!
In this space, I chat with the toolmakers, innovators, and developers who are navigating the brave new world of “serverless” cloud applications.

In this edition, I chatted with Farrah Campbell, ecosystems manager at Stackery. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Forrest Brazeal: Farrah, we met for the first time at ServerlessConf in San Francisco. You wrote after that event about how much you appreciated the inclusive spirit of the serverless community. How have things been going since then?

Farrah Campbell: Things have been going so well. After ServerlessConf, we had a ServerlessDays event in Portland, and somebody said it was the least “bro-ey” tech gathering of people that they’d ever witnessed. I feel like we’re pioneering a whole new world here.

What do you think is driving the diversity in this community? Is it something unique about serverless that draws all kinds of people, or is it a manifestation of something happening in tech as a whole?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because it does require a cultural mind shift. If there’s a negative culture around servers and infrastructure, what happens when you remove that infrastructure? What happens when the responsibilities of teams change significantly?

I don’t think that we know exactly how that’s all playing out, but it definitely seems that there’s an opportunity to do things differently — and an opportunity to do things better.

Here’s the thing: anyone willing to do away with the status quo and embrace serverless is at least somewhat open-minded and forward-thinking. They are willing to consider new ways of doing their job (which can be surprisingly rare in tech) and are therefore receptive to new ideas in general.

I believe that this flexibility creates cultural openness as well, ushering in all kinds of new people to start building things. A front-end developer can become a full-stack developer, for instance. People are coming through code school who are able to quickly set up projects and not focus on infrastructure.

Moreover, everyone involved in serverless is starting from square one. It’s not just some pleasant, circumstantial thing that we are freely sharing information — it’s intrinsic to the ecosystem.

That’s kind of your story, right? I know you didn’t have a lot of previous background in tech before joining Stackery.

Well, I’d say that my path to serverless has been unique, but that’s the case for most people who are active in this space! I took a leap in 2015 and quit my full-time job as an account manager at an employee benefits consultancy to work as a part-time office administrator.

The energy of it excited me and I knew I would want more than four hours a week. I asked if I could do more administrative things around the office: cleaning, organizing… whatever they needed.

To my surprise, they said no. Instead, the CEO wanted to find more useful things to do with my time. The following week I was invited to do some QA, and and then I got to file JIRA tickets and bug reports.

And then I decided that I could copy our terms and privacy over to our WordPress website. They said: “Are you sure you can do this?” Everything was going live the next morning. I said absolutely!

I quickly learned that evening that copy and paste from the Google Doc does not work! So I started Googling, I got on StackOverflow, and I learned to write HTML that night.

I mean, it was totally crappy and clunky, but I did it, and the site was ready the next morning. My coworkers were like, “Did you know how to write code?” I said nope, I did not, but I learned the basics last night! I felt awesome and knew that I needed and wanted to learn more.

From there, I started learning Python, doing weekly lunch-and-learns with our CTO, learning everything I could about all the different pieces to our stack and feeling like an essential member of the team early on. I didn’t feel different from anybody else; I was completely engaged at work. They gave me challenges no other company was willing to, and the outcome has been pretty amazing.

And you’ve seen that same inclusive spirit in the broader serverless community?

For sure. I’ve been welcomed from the very start. Even going to the hackathon at ServerlessConf and being completely welcome to join a team, when I’d never had that experience before (in fact, I’d been turned away at other conferences).

Having these opportunities “happen” to me feels like luck, but really it’s not. It’s a combination of hard work, curiosity, raising my hand to help, and being given a chance by the community.

I love my job and working in tech every single day, and it saddens me that other women don’t feel the same, but I really believe that serverless can change this tired and inefficient aspect of tech.

Unfortunately, I think some engineers use their specific technical experiences as a gatekeeping mechanism. They might give off the attitude of, “I don’t consider someone to be ‘legit’ unless they’ve collected all the same stamps in their passport that I’ve had on my technological journey.” Do you ever encounter that attitude, and how do you deal with it?

Definitely. I deal with that on a daily basis, because I’m a woman in tech. My strategy is not to focus on people who aren’t willing to have conversations. If they’ve figured that their way is the only way of doing things, that’s not worth my time. I prefer effective conversations where people are seeking first to understand, then to be understood.

As an ecosystems manager, are you targeting any specific goals with regards to diversity and inclusion in the serverless community?

If we could get, like, half the engineering teams out there to look like Stackery, which is about fifty percent women, that would be amazing. We have representation from a number of communities here, and the more companies we see doing that, the better.

Now, how do we get there? We have to stop assuming a certain person can’t do something, and take on the task of saying ‘Let me help you figure out how to solve this problem, so that it doesn’t stop you and become a blocker.’

And really, that’s the power of serverless, isn’t it? People are trying to solve problems and get past all the the crap that maybe we don’t need. Because we have actual work to do.

So if I’m building an engineering team, what are some concrete steps I can take to become more inclusive and to take advantage of this explosion of opportunity that’s out there?

I’ve been successful in my interactions with all sorts of people because I try hard to come from a place of understanding. I don’t have any preconceived ideas about anyone. But it is true, for example, that women and men tend to communicate differently. So recognizing that, in the middle of an interaction, can be really helpful.

And inclusion goes both ways, too. For example, I don’t automatically assume that anything that is said to me is “mansplaining”. Sometimes I think they’re over-explaining, but I try to operate with giving people the benefit of the doubt. In my experience, they’re often coming from a good place and trying to be helpful, and I can work with that!

Overall, it’s important that people know that they will feel embraced by serverless folks. Personally, I have never felt more welcomed in my career. Before joining this community, I was never entirely comfortable walking up and talking to anybody in a room of tech experts or emailing them with a question or invitation to connect. I do now, which feels really good.

It’s a community that’s entirely eager to learn from its emerging participants. I want more women to feel welcomed in this way. I want that feeling for everybody.

Forrest Brazeal is an AWS Serverless Hero and a cloud architect at Trek10. He writes the ACG Serverless Superheroes series and draws the ‘FaaS and Furious’ cartoon series at A Cloud Guru. If you have a serverless story to tell, please let him know at @forrestbrazeal.

How serverless is breaking down barriers in tech was originally published in A Cloud Guru on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.