AMA: Terrence Ryan

AMA: Pete Haas
August 11, 2017
AMA: Erin Layshock
September 1, 2017
The Terrence Ryan AMA is happening on Tuesday 17th of October at 10:00AM PST (1:00PM EST)
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Terrence (Terry) Ryan is a Developer Advocate for the Cloud Platform team. He has 15 years of experience working with the web, both front end and back. Before Google, he spent a decade working at the Wharton School of Business and six years at Adobe Systems.

He also wrote Driving Technical Change for Pragmatic Bookshelf, a book that arms technology professionals with the tools to convince reluctant co-workers to adopt new tools and technology.


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Terrence RyanDeveloper Advocate, Google – Transcript

Terrence Ryan holds the position of Developer Advocate at Google. The AMA with Terrence was held on October 17th, 2017. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

 

You’re in a marketing role for a very technical product/service offering – how much education do you need to do with prospects vs. more traditional marketing?

Depends on where we are in the product cycle. You start out needing visibility first. Then you ramp up education.So inspire people to use first, then once they are trying, education replaces inspiration.Then as a product matures, education – in the form of “Did you know it could do this?” takes over my work.

What are your main responsibilities, and what tech stack do you use to perform them?

My main responsibility is split into two halves: 1. Encourage usage of GCP by spreading the word among technical practitioners – mostly developers, but also sysadmins, data scientists, etc. 2. Make the products better, by taking information from those technical practitioners and using it to hammer the product teams to make user focused changes. I use a lot of different techs – they include Docker, Kubernetes, Google Container Engine, golang, PHP, Google App Engine and then the reset of GCP, including Firebase.

“Cloud” is still a small slice of the much larger enterprise and hosted markets (but hugely rapidly growing) – how much of the education is on the move to cloud vs. Google specifically?

We used to have to do a lot of cloud education; now it is mostly, “Why would I use Google vs. other providers?”

Following up on that, depending on what stage in the product cycle a particular product is, how do you structure your interviews and the questions you ask developers and product owners to get the best understanding of that product and the best understanding of how to market that product?

I don’t do a lot of traditional marketing in my role. I’m an engineer who can talk to people (on my good days), so while I do some messaging (I think this audience would be more receptive to this feature…), I don’t get that deep in those weeds.

What are some interesting facts about Google that most people don’t know?

Interesting facts about Google. 1. Every one of our food pantries has Cinnamon Toast Crunch in them. 2. While Google itself is a corp. and therefore amoral, the people inside Google care very deeply about “Do know evil.” It surprised me that it was a real thing, and not just corp. speak. [Editor’s note: “Don’t be evil” is the motto of Google’s corporate code of conduct, first introduced around 2000. In October of 2015, Google’s new parent company, Alphabet, dropped the mantra from its code of conduct.]

What is your approach for engaging with developers? What is the best way to find bigger numbers of developers? Do you depend on social media/events/meetups/marketing tools?

It depends on the community. Is this community big on using certain channels? Are they more likely to use Slack, or Twitter, or does most of what happens in it occur in meetups? You have to observe where people are, then choose the tool, not the other way around.

How do you persuade people to switch from AWS to GCP?

If someone is happy on AWS, I don’t encourage the switch. Switching has pain even in the best of circumstances – it needs to be motivated. We are often cheaper, and our default network is superior for most of our products. If those are pain points, I try and talk through them.

In your opinion and experience, what role do you see Ruby(on rails) for development in the present and future? Is JavaScript really “taking over?”

I think growth might be slowing down, if not stopped, so it’s on the plateau part of its lifecycle. I see it continuing to be used and maintained for a long time to come. People need to know JS no matter what, but I don’t see it wiping out every other choice.

Does Google favor sites that use golang or its products in general, like GCP?

We do not. I can’t prove it to you. But I have seen enough of our (Cloud’s) properties having SEO issues to believe otherwise.

How do you “hammer the product teams to make user focused changes” effectively? What’s your process/approach?

That might take longer than the time I have. But bug reports, friction logs, whining conversations for short.

We’re more of a digital marketing community, and I got a couple messages that people aren’t sure what a “Developer Advocate” is or does – so if you could describe your role and responsibilities some, I think people would find it very interesting.

I am first and foremost an engineer who works on top of our platform as a customer would. I then use the knowledge I gain from that to do outreach work that increases awareness, inspires usage, and makes the product better. I care about encouraging more people to use the platform, not necessarily getting people to spend more on the platform. To that end, I have a mandate to stay credible (don’t compromise myself by promoting techs I don’t believe in).

What are some Chrome extensions that you recommend?

Unfortunately, I run locked down version of Chrome, so I can’t run a lot of external Chrome extensions – they are security risks. That being said, I use Yslow and color dropper a lot. And some ones that make working with internal systems easier.

Does this mean you won’t install my new “Super Coupons Cutter!!! Chrome Extension?”

I will not install your Chrome Extension.

Are you excited about Google Cloud Functions? FAAS/Serverless in general?

I am dubious about any tech trend – will it eat the world like Docker? Or will it fizzle or rebrand like countless other fads? So, I approach the “Serverless” marketing term with skepticism. But the idea of metered services for which I pay just what I use, and that I can make very small code bases in response to events, like GCF or Lambda? I think they will get lots of usage. I don’t buy that everything will be Functions as a Service in the future.

If you can say…did the James Damore incident have any significant impact on the vibe or culture within Google?

Boy, James Damore, I just don’t know… So, it hasn’t had a huge impact internally, other than to cause management to pick one side on this sort of thing and stick to it. It’s been communicated to us that you can’t behave that way. I’m cool with that. I thought the manifesto was lame and quite frankly “scientifish” – like truthiness but for scientific content. And the basic assertions were not things I agree with. But the take away I got was not that you couldn’t ask the types of questions he asked – but that you can’t hear from a large contingent of your co-workers that you offended them, and respond essentially, “I care more about my questions, than your feelings.” Which again, I’m cool with us taking that stand.

As a competitor with Amazon in many different markets these days, is there more emphasis on “getting there first” with various products in the Google Cloud environment, or on improving on your competition’s existing tools (“building it better”)?

I think we’ve always (sometimes frustratingly) had a “build it better” approach. I think Amazon’s customer focus is an advantage to them here, they very much see what their customer base needs right now and build it. (Not that they don’t also anticipate, but I think they do current needs meeting better.) On the other hand, we try very much to release products that are what you will need three years from now. (Not that we don’t have products that meet your current need.)The problem being that now often beats later. But long term – we’ll see.

What was your favorite acquisition done by Google?

Favorite Google acquisition: Firebase. Fantastic company, great co-workers, and a fantastic product.

Can you give any insights on the Google/Marketo Partnership?

¯\_()_/¯

Not really too involved with Marketo.

Does Google give you dental insurance?

Google Dental. Yes, why, is there something wrong with my teeth?

What’s Google’s general sentiment with regard to cryptocurrencies and decentralized software systems?

No really officialstance that I know of, other than that mining is forbidden by our TOS.

Any recommended resources for the above (working better with product teams as a marketer)?

When I find them I’ll let you know. I can give you a couple hints. First – assume “good intent” and the other team is made of experts in their domain. So, don’t come from a place of “Are you so dumb you can’t see that the product needs X?” At least at Google, someone will have a stack of data that says “We don’t need X.” So, if it is subjective you have to persuade and not try to overwhelm.

One more thought, you can always take the worst thing a customer has said about the product and print it out on foamboard and hand it to the product team. That works too.

What has been the most rewarding experience that you have had while at Google?

There have been a few. My favorite was giving a talk, followed up by a gift of credits to an individual. That individual is now running a self-sustaining business as a result. I’ve had that happen a couple of times, and I’m happy every time.

More of a general curiosity, is GCP infrastructure associated with AMP pages in any way? (Or rather, do AMP pages run on GCP?)

The technical components around AMP tends to live in the application code. So, while we don’t have anything that does just AMP on GCP, you certainly can run AMP on it. And I assume the general Google SDK for AMP runs really well on GCP – in general all of the other product SDK (maps, ads) have a few things in them to make them a little easier on GCP, like default credentials which pass your GCP identity to the other product to make auth a lot easier.

I know it varies by career and department, but is the hiring process for a job at Google still like 7-8 interviews long? Also, I’m coming down to Bay Area next week, I hear the lunch menu at the Embarcadero St. campus are legit…

Yep. Interviews are still intensive. Now being on the other side of them. I can just say – we prefer false negatives (don’t hire the right person) then false positives (hire the wrong person). So we tend to be a bit fastidious about interviews. Doesn’t make it easier, but it is the way it is. Lunch – I’ll be in Germany next week so no can do. But I’m always up when I’m in town.

What was your background before Google?

I worked for Adobe in a similar role for six years before Google. Before that I worked for the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia in several technical roles.

As someone who is straddling the lines of developer + marketer, do you recommend that more marketers pick up some dev skills, and if so, any suggestions as to what?

I think in roles that blur lines, it is always important to be more that familiar with adjacent disciplines.So marketers sure code. But I think data analysis is even better. Learn SQL, because that will actually help you more directly in your field. Then as you make discoveries in your analysis and want to share them, learn to code to do that. It will keep you motivated and getting value out of the work. Or don’t – I could be crazy wrong.

An interesting theme of this AMA is that everybody thinks that Google is more connected (GCP + GoLang + AMP + Search) than it actually appears to be.

Yeah, it depends – we’re a big company, and all of them fall into this trap of having multiple hands that don’t always keep track of multiple other hands.

Do you work with Google Assistant and Actions? I have specific questions around that. When is the python SDK coming out?

¯\_()_/¯

I dunno.

Speaking of SQL, what happens when you put poorly written queries into Cloud SQL that would hang a normal server? Are there any safeguards, or do you actually get the results of your broken query, since there’s way more processing power?

Google Cloud SQL is just MySQL or Postgress that we run. So you can peg it just like you would your own server.

Are you self-taught in development? If so, what do you think your biggest struggle was in terms of breaking into the field?

I am self-taught – I was a psych major. Moved into the web with lots of View Source and later hours of tinkering.

Do you know if there are any plan to overhaul your docs and interfaces across all the Google products and APIs? Or is everyone at Google super happy with material design and finds the docs clear and easy to understand?

“Is everyone at Google super happy with material design and finds the docs clear and easy to understand?” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHAAHHHAHAHAHAHAH

LOL – ok at least there’s hope then.

I find those sorts of initiatives are sort of like 1984 – “The teams are working together to improve the documentation and have always been doing so.”

It sounds like a joke, but it’s the reason I haven’t even bothered to open the GCP website until today. The idea of dealing with one more Google interface and docs is just… no.

Because of our culture, documentation is always going to lag. I can’t get around that. We are working on it, and we just got done a major push to get a crap load of out of date pages back into shape.But it’s a game of whack a mole.

Yeah, it must be a nightmare to keep all of that updated.

And to be clear, I didn’t think you were joking. I am often frustrated with what we are able to accomplish in documentation.

I wonder what the Google ecosystem would look like if it was a real ecosystem. Probably with Minecraft-like biomes.

With our penchant for terminal screens it would more likely be a MUDD.

What do you think about the newly released FB Analytics vs. Google Analytics?

¯\_()_/¯

I dunno.

Can non-Googlers eat at the food trucks?

We may bring guests, but they aren’t their own businesses, so you can’t buy lunch if you aren’t staff.

Thank you SO MUCH for chatting with us today – it was really great having you here and getting all of your insights! Are you on Twitter?

Yep, I’m @tpryan on Twitter. https://twitter.com/tpryan

 Thanks all!! This was really fantastic to do.