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Developer Avocados – Creating Culture Over Team with Alex Lakatos

Relicans host, Aaron Bassett, talks to Alex Lakatos about creating a developer relations culture instead of creating a team, Grant for the Web: a fund to boost open, fair, and inclusive standards and innovation in Web Monetization, and being 1/2 of the Developer Avocados Weekly Newsletter and working in DevRel in general!

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Polyglot, proudly brought to you by New Relic's developer relations team, The Relicans. Polyglot is about software design. It's about looking beyond languages to the patterns and methods that we as developers use to do our best work. You can join us every week to hear from developers who have stories to share about what has worked for them and may have some opinions about how best to write quality software. We may not always agree, but we are certainly going to have fun, and we will always do our best to level up together. You can find the show notes for this episode and all of The Relicans podcasts on Thank you so much for joining us. Enjoy the show.

Aaron Bassett: Hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Polyglot Podcast. My name is Aaron Bassett. For those who have not heard me on the podcast before, I am a Principal Developer Relations Engineer here at New Relic.

And my guest today describes himself as a reformed JavaScript person. He is Tech Lead at the Interledger Foundation as well as a speaker, trainer, Mozilla Reps mentor, and one-half of the fantastic Developer Avocados Weekly Newsletter. Hi, Alex, welcome to the show.

Alex Lakatos: Hi, Aaron. Thank you for having me.

Aaron: It's great to have you on. It's been far too long. [chuckles] So Alex and I actually met when we were both developer advocates at Nexmo or, as it is now known, the Vonage Communication APIs. [laughs]

Alex: Please, I'm going to stop you there.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: I'm going to stop you there. It's called Ericsson right now.

Aaron: Oh gosh, yeah. Well, no, that's not gone through yet. I think that's early next year whenever that happens. The only reason I know is my wife still has her stock from when she left. [laughs] So we're watching the seal very closely.

Alex: Us as well here. Us as well here. Because me and my partner Julia both have stock, so we're looking for the Vonage Ericsson acquisition very hard in this household.

Aaron: I don't have mine, unfortunately, but my wife still has hers. So we are watching this acquisition. [laughs] I don't think it's going to buy us a new house or anything, but it might be a nice weekend away [laughs] but yeah.

So I have to admit, I made what turned out to be a very naive assumption that whenever anybody started to move on from Nexmo that it wouldn't be a big deal and that we would see each other pretty frequently at conferences. And now, looking back at December 2019, me who was thinking that I didn't have any clue really what 2020 had in store for all of us.

So I don't think I've seen you unfortunately at any conference since. I think I've been to only three in-person conferences since that time. So I hope everybody listening doesn't mind me being a little bit self-indulgent just for a moment and asking just generally Alex, how have you been?

Alex: Whoa. I think when we met the last time I was just back from Asia. It wasn't really a trip. It was a nine-month Asia-long exploration of developers and how developers work in Asia. We were just back, and everybody was telling us about this interesting thing that came out of Asia called Coronavirus.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: I feel like Myrsini was very concerned about going there. Myrsini and Olia were the community managers at Nexmo. And they were very concerned about going there for a trip, and they canceled that trip. And we went, "It's a fad. It's going to pass. We just came from Asia, and nobody in Asia knew about this Coronavirus stuff. It's just a fad, and it's going to pass." And I've been proven wrong.

But after that, we moved to Bristol because we got really into surfing in Bali. And we looked at Bristol because they have an artificial surf pool. It's in the middle of the field out in the middle of nowhere. And they have artificial waves, and it's amazing. Sadly, the pandemic hits straight after we moved to Bristol. So we didn't see anything in the city. We got locked in. We didn't get to go surfing because it was closed. It was interesting.

And then after we moved to Bristol and we thought that wasn't a big change for us, I decided changing jobs in the middle of the pandemic was so good for me. So I did it twice, twice since then. I've been a Developer Relations Manager at Fidel for about a year. And I basically had to learn how to DevRel for startups at startups. Nexmo had...I think when I left, the developer relations team was 42. Going from a team of 42 to a team of 1 was --

Aaron: That's a big change.

Alex: It was. I took a while to figure it out. But part of how to do DevRel at a small startup with a small budget was me figuring out you could create a developer relations culture instead of creating a team. So I basically made myself redundant. I spent six whole months trying to make myself redundant. And when I was redundant, I was like, your job here is done. Go find something new.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: And that's how I am on the Interledger Foundation. To be honest, I was into web monetization before I knew the Foundation existed.

Aaron: Sure.

Alex: If you don't know what web monetization is, is pretty easily explained. It's basically a way to get paid for your website without using ads. People pay a small amount of money for every minute they spend on your website without them having to do anything. The web monetization provider pays for it. At the end of every second, you get a small bit of money into your account. You don't have to wait for the end of the month or anything like that. And that technology is being made possible by the Interledger Protocol, which is basically a network protocol that describes a network in which money moves like the internet works.

The foundation is set up to steward that Interledger Protocol and make sure the ecosystem is healthy, and the ecosystem evolves. And I've joined them as their technology lead. Bear in mind; this isn't your usual tech lead role. In tech, when you say tech lead, it means a certain thing. For the people at the Foundation, which none of them were technical, technology lead means the person who is leading technology at the Interledger Foundation.

So the title is a bit misleading. I just felt bad about changing it just because it felt natural. When you talk to your mom about it, and you tell them I'm this whatever person, it makes it just more easy to say, "I'm the technology lead. I lead this little bit of the foundation". And that's easier to understand even though in tech lingo or in software developer lingo, it means a completely different thing.

Aaron: So what's the Interledger stuff then? It sounds really interesting what you're hoping to accomplish. And it also sounds like a chicken and egg kind of thing. Would that be a good way of describing it?

Like, anyone who’s trying to open up any kind of new payment provider, especially for equitable payments online, I think is the description of it, that's a challenge coming into the...especially as I'm sure you're doing a lot of the developer relations stuff with it still. How are you promoting it both to developers and also to people who are going to be funding it?

Alex: That's the challenge. It stopped being a developer advocacy role, and it is an advocacy role. So it's advocacy on all sides of the aisle. And to be honest, the network itself and the protocol is designed to work like the internet. Technically, it's easy to put any computer on the internet. It's technically easy to put a new node in the system.

But the challenge isn't technical here; it's regulatory because it deals with money. And on the internet, when you lose a when we're having this conversation, a bunch of small little packages get exchanged between our computers right now. If some of them get lost, they get re-sent again, no biggie. If you lose a small little package of money, it's a biggie. [laughter]

And it's not like, oh, I send this to a random computer on the internet, here's the address. I don't really care about anything more than the address. When you send this little packet of money to this account on the internet, you have to figure out who the account belongs to. So a lot of things like Know Your Customer regulations come into play.

So getting a new node on the network...there's currently a bunch of nodes on the network. And Interledger, I know there's ledger in the name. And that might be confusing because when people hear ledger, they think of crypto. It's not crypto. It has absolutely nothing to do with crypto.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: Ledger means what ledger used to be before there was crypto.

Aaron: Yeah, an accounting ledger.

Alex: Exactly. It's an accounting ledger. So a ledger is anything that stores information about transactions and stores value, basically storing value for you. So the network is designed to make all these separate ledgers talk to each other.

If you think about bank accounts, bank accounts are ledgers. But at the same time, your Venmo account or your PayPal account as a ledger store value for you. And they record transactions. And they don't really talk to each other unless you're in one specific situation.

What if a ledger is your Starbucks account? One of the biggest payment processes in the world is Starbucks because they hold a lot of value in their Starbucks card. They're one of the biggest ledgers available. And they're worldly distributed, and even the separate countries don't talk to each other, let alone the ledger talking to something else.

So what if you could connect that type of ledger into the network, and you can exchange value from my bank account to my Starbucks account in Romania or whatever? So the protocol is designed for that. And it's a lot of advocacy, not only to developers. Because the tech side of it when you're a developer, it's pretty dry. It's a network. You build a node. The node is easy to stand up. It's a service. But from a regulatory perspective, it's a lot of advocacy, a lot of working with regulators, working with people who are regulated and can join the network.

Because talking about it sounds like a great idea. I want to be on the network as myself as an individual. I have a bunch of money, and I have a bunch of places that I record my transactions, and I kind of want to put them on the network. It's not as easy. I have to find a provider that's actually able to be on the network, and I convince them to be on the network. So it's a lot of advocacy in a lot of different places. I feel like the developer relations role really did help. As developers, we are really...I want to say hard to talk to.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: We're very particular about how we would like to be talked to.

Aaron: We have a certain voice that we like folks to use when they communicate with us, a certain tone and way of communicating that is fairly unique to developer marketing. [laughs] Would that be fair to say? Is that accurate?

Alex: Yeah, I'm going to go with your definition here.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: But you have to figure out the tone of voice to talk to some other people to explain the same concept from a different angle to lay off the tech a bit and talk a little bit more about how the tech enables some of the features they're looking for.

So the tech by design because it doesn't store doesn't store transactions; it's not the ledger. Tech is a network. So then, it doesn't have to be regulated. But every node or every ledger needs to be regulated in its place. And trying to change the conversation and explain the same concept from three different perspectives is interesting for me, and it's part of my job now, so that's exciting.

And one of the other things we're doing to help the ecosystem, and that is something that I've never done before, and it's one of the things that I struggle with right now, is granting. We have a 100 million fund to grant for people who try to experiment on the network, on the protocol, web monetization. Right now, it's called Grant for the Web. And that's one of the programs we have at the Foundation. Next year, fingers crossed, we're going to have a few more programs to go along them for different types of activities.

But right now, Grant for the Web was just...last week; I think we finished our CFP round. And we gave out the awards for, I think, 20 something, maybe 30 projects. And trying to be on that side and looking at project proposals and trying to figure out if this is going to be a good idea or not or trying to figure out how granting works is something that I struggle with. We have a really good grant team, a really good programs team. But me coming in and trying to be helpful, I wasn't very helpful, to begin with.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: I feel like now maybe I could be helpful for the next one. But for the first ones, they probably spent more time hand-holding me through the granting process than me helping them figure out if the grants were a good idea or not.

Aaron: I'm also on the DSF Board. And that's probably the largest thing we do is issue grants. And yeah, there's a lot of regulatory stuff there as well whenever we have grant requests coming from all over the world. And sometimes it's like, how do you get money to these people?

You know, if you're working especially in some areas of Africa where it's very difficult for people to get money transfers or even to open bank accounts in some instances, it becomes kind of the...just that transaction the ability to're like, yes, we want to give you the money. Your grant has been approved. How do we get it to you? [laughs] It's so, so difficult in certain areas of the world. And I guess Interledger is global. You must run into this as well.

Alex: Yeah. And that's one of the problems we're trying to solve. The whole protocol was designed because the founders or the creators of the protocol were working with this developer in Pakistan. And the U.S. suddenly decided Pakistan wasn't a nice country anymore, and you couldn't pay people in Pakistan anymore.

And they went, "Look, we tried every way we can to pay you, and it's not easy. It's not going to happen in the next three months, at least. We need to reincorporate. We need to figure out some creative ways to get money to Pakistan. We just can't use you for three months." They let you go for three months, and if you're still available in three months, we can start paying you again. But that's a problem. At the Foundation, we work really hard for financial inclusion like that.

The reason we're building this protocol or trying to make it grow is because we're concerned about financial inclusion. We worked a lot with the global south and trying to pay people in the global south. So if you look at the statistics, I can't remember...some statistics says 1.7 billion of the world is unbanked, as in they cannot get a bank account. And if you think about that, more than 25% of the world can't even get a bank account even if they wanted to. So we work a lot with those areas. And a lot of our grantees come from those places.

We have a person full-time that just figures out how to pay people around the world or tries to pay people around the world because the grants don't come out in full. There are milestones, then staggered, then you get a big chunk of money at the beginning. And then, as you meet your milestones, you get paid again and again until the six-month period runs out.

So for a grant, you might have to do three or four payments or things like that. Even with something that worked in the past for the same account, it's going to be tricky to do it again in a month and a half. It's that complicated to pay people, and that's what the Interledger Protocol is trying to fix.

Aaron: That was really, for me, one of the big surprises whenever I used to be a full-time developer. When I started my career, most of the websites I was working on were e-commerce sites that were all really based in the UK or the U.S., And you make an assumption that if somebody is going to buy something online, they are going to have a debit card, they're going to have a credit card, they're going to have a PayPal account. They're going to have some manner of making an online payment. And that's just not the case in a lot of the world.

We were selling an education product. And we wanted to break into, again, an area in Africa where the majority of people did not have a card that they could use to pay online. And PayPal did not operate in their area. The way in which they made payments online was via their cell phone via their cell phone bill. They would text a code to a number, and that would then get charged whatever the cost of your product was to the telephone bill. And you would text them back with a coupon code essentially to go to redeem on your website, and it works. [laughs]

Alex: And it's still the case today, like, mobile money providers. We were talking about ledgers. Mobile money providers are one of the biggest ledgers in that part of the world. That's because they store value for you. And they record the transactions, and you can pay with your mobile money provider. That was the case for me while I was being a developer.

Because I was born in Romania, I had access to all this knowledge. I made websites. And then I couldn't make any money with my websites because PayPal in Romania...Romania was a shit country for a really long time. When I was a developer then, we weren't even part of the European Union. So PayPal said, "You know what? We just can't trust you."

So trying to pay with PayPal on I could get money with PayPal, and then PayPal would lock it up in my account until I provided some sort of proof from where the money came from, some sort of verification. Sometimes it was a six-month process. I had to store my bills for six months to show them that I could pay my bills, even without the money.

Aaron: Oh gosh.

Alex: When I was starting out as a developer, I was working for an outsourcing company, and I was freelancing with...I think they used to be called Elance. They're called Upwork now. But all the money I got through Elance was more than I made on my day job. I just had to keep my day job because I couldn't get my freelance money out otherwise. I had to prove I was happily employed, and I could pay for things, and I just happened to make money on the side. It was very complicated for me to get paid.

And Romania was on a bunch of different lists. So you know how most of the card companies right now are Visa and Mastercard and AMEX, those networks didn't reach Romania for a really long time. We had a lot of the European networks. Maestro cards were the default. Those aren't accepted on half the internet.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: So if I wanted to pay with my card, I was like, oh, this website doesn't accept my card, and I have to find it somewhere else. Amazon was literally a dream.

Aaron: Europe, for anybody who's not traveled there, can be a little bit odd with cards, so I've discovered. They make this assumption that any Mastercard is a credit card. So whenever I was living in the Netherlands, for example, my Monzo card, my debit card, is a Mastercard. And buying groceries, I could not use it in the store because they would assume it was a credit card. And you cannot buy groceries with a credit card there.

So I had to fall back to a Maestro card, which I hadn't even seen since I was like 12 years old. [laughs] So yeah, payment providers and how payments are processed and even in brick and mortar stores in different countries varies a lot. One thing, and not to get too political in the show that I was thinking as you were talking right there is so you left a country that wasn't a member of the EU, and now you've moved to a country that is no longer a member of the EU. [laughs] Talk to me about that, Alex.

Alex: I make the worst decisions ever. So I left Romania as it was becoming an EU Member. It was in infancy. They opened free travel, but we didn't get all the perks. Like, Schengen isn't still a thing in Romania. We still have a hard border to get into in the country and out of the country. It's just you can go with your ID instead of requiring a passport and visa and a lot of that crap. So I was leaving as that was happening in Romania. And I got to the UK, and it was all nice. I felt really good about myself. In my first year here, Brexit got voted in.

Aaron: [laughs] Oh gosh.

Alex: And that was like six years ago maybe, yeah, six years ago. I've lived with Brexit ever since. I think it only actually hit me now, coming back from San Francisco. So I've been to San Francisco last week for the workweek. And I was coming back to Bristol, and I went through the automated gates without even thinking about it. And it said, ah-ah, nope. You have to see a human now. I went, and I saw a human, and the human had a bunch of questions for me. I was like, I don't know. The government said I could stay here. I have a leave to remain or whatever that's called.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: And they were like, "Okay, but you now get a special process." And after I saw the human at border control, I had to see a police officer. I spent ten quality minutes with a police officer. They wanted to see all my passports; why I fly so much, have I been to the Middle East? Why did I go to China?

And I went, "Look, I work in developer relations. We do this all the time." The fact that I have 20 visas from the U.S., 20 stamps from the U.S. on my visa, I haven't traveled as much to the U.S. It could be worse. And they were really keen on what developer relations is and why I travel so much. [laughs] Like, I didn't know you cared.

Aaron: Yeah, yeah. I got that a lot myself. Well, not anymore, because we haven't really been traveling an awful lot for the last couple of years, but yeah, previous through that. It does hit a little bit differently because you're used to getting stopped by customs. But yeah, whenever they nod over to the police and get them called across, that heads a little bit differently.

I've only ever had it once, and that was traveling from Scotland to South Korea and got pulled out of line and usual questions as you get. What's the reason for your journey? And back and forth and just the usual general questions about what I did and everything else until they got to the question about am I carrying any cash?

So for people who don't know, normally when traveling through airports, you can carry 10,000 in the local currency in the UK and U.S., so $10,000 or £10,000. And so since he asked the question, I was like, oh, okay, I know why I've been pulled out here because I had an envelope that my work had given me full of cash in the bottom of my backpack as walking around money for this trip to South Korea.

So when he asked me, "Do you have any cash?" I was like, "Actually, I do." I have, I think about 320,000. And you could see his eyes getting slightly wider. And I was like, "South Korean won," [laughter] which is about £300 or something. Obviously, on the machine, it had just been this big wad of cash. So I was very lucky that he just laughed and waved me through. So there you go. If you ever need to get through security with a large sum of money in your backpack, just claim it's some other currency, and they don't even check. [laughs]

So we've been talking a little bit about developer relations. You do run the fantastic Developer Avocados Weekly Newsletter, which I'm not just calling fantastic because it's featured me a couple of times and this podcast as well. But it is a very good newsletter. I do recommend everybody subscribes to that. And we'll make sure the URL is in the show description.

But with you being so involved in the newsletter in developer relations then, you must have your finger on the pulse of what's going on with developer relations in general. And obviously, things have changed a lot in the last couple of years. What has been the biggest positive that has come out of everything that's happened?

Alex: Ooh, it's very hard to pick one. So I'll pick one for the industry, and I'll pick one for individuals in general, right?

Aaron: Sounds great.

Alex: As an industry, we've stopped thinking going to events was the way to do developer relations. Turns out you can be effective and get more bang for your buck if you stay home. You don't have to travel 70% of your time.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: Don't get me wrong. I love traveling, and I miss traveling out of developer relations. And there's a certain type of thing in developer relations, which you can't really do behind the computer at home, and that's that feedback and relationship building in person really deep. But speaking in front of 2,000 people, you'd be better off with a blog post, and we finally learned that. You don't have to spend three days to fly somewhere and talk and fly back. You can do it virtually. And it hits just as many people or maybe more virtually.

I've seen a lot of the conferences I've done this year which used to be small community conferences with 500 people tops in the audience...this year, I got 10,000 people in my audience. There was a lot more bang for my buck. And I spent maybe the same amount of time preparing for my talk, maybe a bit more while delivering my talk. I had to fudge. I had to figure out how video works. I had to invest in some sort of thing. But I got more bang for my buck out of the other speaking events.

And I feel like now the industry finally figured out...because when we used to do DevRel, we used to have a ginormous event budget that we used to travel all over the world for events. And we were one of the conservative teams. There were teams who were doing just that.

If you think about the evangelism teams out there, they were doing exclusively that, no content, no feedback gathering, just events all the time everywhere in the world. Turns out you can do events and do some other stuff as well while being effective at your job. And I like that about that industry. Don't get me wrong; I took every opportunity to fly this year.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: So I moved to San Francisco for our workweek because I missed traveling that much. But as an industry, I feel like we've gotten to a point where we can justify spending time home. If you think about some of our co-workers, some of them didn't like travel. Some of them liked sitting at home. And we used to think about them as the odd one out. Now it's perfectly normal. Now it's perfectly fine. And I love that about it.

Personally, as a human, do you remember how hard it used to be to get a new laptop approved or a top-of-the-line laptop approved?

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: Because you're doing demos and POCs. You didn't really need a powerful laptop, one of the Air Macs or whatever was perfectly fine for you. You are on your email and forums all day, right?

Aaron: Yeah.

Alex: Now powerful machines are par for the course just because video editing has been added as a skill in developer relations. If you've got video editing, it's a new skill set. Everybody's trying to learn it. Before, it wasn't even a value add that was nice to have or whatever. Nobody cared. Now it's actually something people look for. And the machines you'd get as the default or the package you get for onboarding counts for that. So I have a really nice camera. I have a really nice lens. I have literally the latest MacBook Pro M1 Max or whatever.

Aaron: I know Alex; we were talking about this before we started the recording today that he had put on his new lens just for me. Even though we're not recording video for this podcast, he had set up this lovely green avocado lighting and brand new lens. So he looks good, folks. I'm sorry we're not recording this as video. You're only getting the audio. But trust me, he looks good.

Alex: Thank you. Thank you.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: The vanity in me makes me feel like I didn't spend the whole 20 minutes before this getting ready for nothing. Thank you so much. I feel like now getting the top of the line everything because you have to do video editing is part of the onboarding package. And I feel like me as a human, I am a bit happier those two hours a week or five hours a week when I actually do video editing, yes, it makes a big difference in my life.

But in between those, I don't complain while having a Google Meet. I don't have to swap to Zoom because it's more energy efficient. One of the things I do miss from my old laptop though it came with its own heating system. So I used to work in shorts while at home because it was so hot. I couldn't put down sweatpants in the winter. With the new one, I haven't heard the fans going.

So while I'm talking to Aaron, I'm actually pulling in a 4K stream because I was too lazy to disconnect. So I'm pulling a 4K stream. I'm plugged into the internet to show this to Aaron, and the fans haven't turned on yet. And it's been 40-odd minutes of doing this. And it's really impressive.

Aaron: Well, if you want to get back to working in shorts, just come join us here in Florida. I don't think I've worn long pants in two years. [laughs] But yeah, I totally agree. It's always been a very strange thing for me that companies would advertise a work laptop as a perk of the job. It's like you're doing advertisements to join a fire brigade as a fire person saying you'll get hoses. It's like, yeah, of course, I'm going to get hoses. I need them to do my job. [laughs] So that's not a perk.

But yeah, I think the fact that we now have this necessity of having good cameras and good microphones for just doing our regular content means that we all look fantastic on our Zoom calls with the rest of our organizations. [laughs]

But so the other question I wanted to ask, and this is...I saw a tweet from a person I follow, Emily Freeman. They are pretty well known in the DevOps area. They are head of community and engagement at AWS, and they were tweeting recently after re:Invent about how community seemed to have taken a little step back.

And they were getting questions really about their technical ability, which is something that we thought we had seen the back off in conferences, assuming that women weren't technical, that they were over there with a partner or anything else. And they're kind of going, hey, have we forgotten how to be decent humans in person? Is that something you think is an issue? And how do we stop ourselves from backsliding whenever in-person conferences become more common?

Alex: I do think it's an issue, and we used to see it before. Right now, if you think about yourself, how many lockdowns have you done? Because I've done four lockdowns in the past two years.

Aaron: I'm in Florida. We never even had one, really, let's be honest.

Alex: You're really lucky, so we've done four lockdowns.

Aaron: Oh, I wouldn't call that lucky. [laughs]

Alex: We've done four lockdowns in the past two years. And a lot of the things that we used to take for granted we were scared about now. I haven't hugged a human being I haven't met before or haven't known for a long time. So, for example, while I was in San Francisco, I was there for a workweek with W3C. But I also met my boss for the first time there. I really liked my boss. She's amazing.

But as we were meeting each other in a regular setting, I would have hugged her just because I'm a hugger. I hug everybody. And then I had to take a step back. "Is it okay to hug?" I had to ask permission and a bunch of other things, which before I wouldn't have thought about. Maybe this is a good thing. I shouldn't hug random people as soon as I meet them. Not everybody would have been comfortable in the past.

But that interaction that I used to do now took me a mental...I had to disconnect and think about it. And it works the same way for every interaction you have with other humans. It was really hard teaching some of the people who are disrespectful to a bunch of different groups of people at conferences to be better humans. If they've lost their ability to human and to people in these two years, it's going to be another hurdle to get them not only to the same level or get them better.

I feel like it's something that stems from a deeper... "I forgot how to interact with people, and I'm not comfortable around people anymore. And I've been behind my keyboard, and nobody saw me for two years. So I didn't have to play nice or act nice. I was kind of an asshole. And now that I'm in the world, I am my old asshole self, which is really bad."

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: We were trying to get rid of the assholes or at least try to tone them down. As much as the pandemic did for remote working and being able to work from anywhere in the world, it did damage a little bit those in-person interactions. We used to be able to be in an office or had to play nice for eight hours a day. If you do something for eight hours a day, eventually you do that all the time. It sinks in, and it stops being pretend.

Now that you're an asshole 24/7, you're kind of stuck as well, which is very bad. I feel like this is one of the things that we'll have to work at again. We were getting better. We weren't good by any standard, but we were getting better. We were making progress. And everybody was talking about it. Because it didn't happen in the past two years, nobody was talking about it. It wasn't top of mind for anybody anymore.

And now we're going to have to do all that work again, which, to be honest, go for it. Let's go for it. It is a worthy mission and a worthy cause. I just wish the pandemic wouldn't have been damaging towards that. But the pandemic damaged a lot of things, so I can't be too picky right now.

Aaron: I think that's a really good point that people need to remember how to be social and interact again, not just interact in negative ways. But for some people, just to be out in person again...I know I did my first large in-person conference again maybe a few weeks ago at RubyConf, and it was exhausting. I don't remember it being quite so tiring whenever I used to do it before.

There is something, as you said, to doing something very frequently. You get used to it. You learn how to do it. And for a lot of us, we're out of practice of being social. And I don't know what effect that is going to have whenever we all come back together again.

Alex: It's going to be interesting. Do you want to know what compliment I got this year, and it made my whole year?

Aaron: Sure.

Alex: It's a small thing. But it's the thing that made me thank God. I'm really happy this happened. I met my boss. And after we met in person, we had our regular catch-up this week on Wednesday after I landed. And the first thing she said to me was, "It was really nice meeting you. You're just as I've seen you on Zoom." A lot of other people in person versus Zoom are two different types of people, two different characters. And she said just as I was on Zoom. "I'm really happy that's the case. I was worried you were going to be weird in person or whatever."

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: And that made me really happy for some reason. I was like, yes, yes, I've managed to figure out how to Zoom in an authentic way. Because when we used to have calls, in the beginning, we used to be the antisocial people. We didn't turn on the cameras. We were doing something else. Having a call was kind of a chore.

Now calls are every day, and we try to have them as natural as possible. It's a bit weird that that made my day and made me happy so much. And it's one of those things that we have to learn again. How do you act when you're alone in a room versus how do you act when you're in front of 50 people?

Aaron: Yeah. We were fully remote teams before any of this happened, as most developer relations teams are because you're traveling so much. It doesn't make sense to have everybody have to come into an office whenever they're not traveling.

And yeah, I hadn't thought about it, but I actually attend meetings now. And I have my camera on, whereas previously, I probably skipped more meetings than I attended at Nexmo. Let's be honest; it was like, this could just be a Slack message. I don't need to be here. Whereas now it's the only way you really get to interact with your colleagues. And it's really raised the importance of them, I think for me.

Alex: Yeah, I feel the same. I used to hate all the meetings that could be an email because you could have emailed just as easily.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: I would usually read the meeting notes afterwards, and yay, team. Go, team. But now; I even those interactions and the banter that happens in the five minutes before you start is good. One of the upsides is they're a lot shorter now. When you have so many meetings in your week and in your day, you don't need an hour to read off your meeting notes. You can do it in 30 minutes. And that's one of the upsides of this.

Hopefully, after things start getting back to a new's never going to be the same as before, famous last words. After a new normal emerges, hopefully, we'll get some of the benefits of this pandemic, not just the drawbacks of being isolated for so long.

Aaron: Yeah, that's an interesting thing is like; I’m probably just as bad with my email as I was with Zoom calls before. I am so bad at reading my emails. I'm one of those people that just reads the subject line of an email 90% of the time. I have so many unread emails in my inbox right now. It's not even funny. But it kind of raised this thing. Have you heard about personal user manuals?

Alex: Yes. Oh no, yes. I have to make one of my own.

Aaron: Yeah, I have mine to write. And that's just why it came to mind because another old friend of both of ours, another ex-Nexmo person, Ben, has recently joined the team here at New Relic, and he's now a manager. And he's introduced me to this idea of personal user manuals. So you said you've written one for yourself previously.

Alex: So I'm in the process of writing one for myself. The interesting bit is I I knew about manuals for a while. You know me. When I interact with people, sometimes, if I'm uncomfortable, I shut down, and then people have trouble. It appears like I'm not listening when I'm actually listening. I just won't say anything because the thing I would say would be bad. And I'd rather be constructive instead of criticizing.

It was one of those things where I wanted to...because I can't really tell you in the process of having a conversation, "Hey, look, I need half an hour. Let me cool down here. Let me process this, and I'll get back to you. Just because I'm silent right now doesn't mean I'm not listening, or you've lost me or whatever."

I wanted to create one of these. I knew about them for a while. They've been around for quite a while. And I saw the initial...I think the first initial one was on LinkedIn. And I saw that, and I thought, ooh, I wish I had one. And I ran this by a bunch of people, and they said, "That's going to make you sound like a robot. What do you mean an instruction manual for yourself as a person?"

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: You're a person. You don't need all that crap. And it made me feel a bit bad. I mean, living with anxiety and being a bit on the spectrum made me feel bad, like, okay, this was the reality check that this was a bad idea. But now that everybody's doing them, I feel seen.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: I feel like yes, this, my entire leadership team does Manuals of Me. And the way they do it, I feel like it's really interesting. They don't shove it in your face the first time you meet them. I've actually seen all of them for my leadership team. It's been five months since I've been here. I've only seen all of them last week. No, the week before last, I've seen all of them.

So we tried to have a relationship. We've built a relationship. We've gained trust, and now that this trust bond is established, I'm going to help you even more with your development. And I've seen theirs, and I'm in the process of working on mine.

And it's made me introspect a lot. I have to actually think objectively from an outside perspective how am I, not how I feel I am. But how do I look to other people? And it's made me communicate so much better with my team. I've started hiring my team right now. Actually, my first hire started on Wednesday as well. I'm really excited about that.

Aaron: That's exciting.

Alex: Yeah, it's really exciting. But it's made me think how do I approach this from not only writing it? Because now that I've got a good draft, I've actually shared that with my team and went, "Look, this is what I came up with. Tell me where it doesn't actually match with your perspective, with your reality. And we can work to change this in a way that makes sense." But it's made me think, what's an appropriate time to share it with my direct reports? What exactly should I change for my direct reports because of that?

So the idea of manuals of me it tells you how to interact with me, but at the same time, it doesn't say anything about the relationship dynamics between the two of us. I feel very safe and comfortable with my leadership team. I don't know if they're going to feel the same way about me, or it's going to be ooh, do I make some differences for you? Do I adjust for the way you can use me? I feel like it should.

I feel as being my direct report; my only job is to make you succeed. I should be able to compromise not a little but a lot. I should be able to make you successful. So I shouldn't account for I need half an hour. Give me half an hour. I should account for I'll shut down, and I'm really sorry. And you can come back in five minutes, and I'll be okay and things like that.

So it's made me think about not only creating Manuals of Me for the world and saying, "This is me. Accept me," but also about how different people interact with your manual of me. Because if you think about technology, if you think about it with your laptop, me and you with the same laptop will interact differently with it, and it's the same laptop. Why should the manual of me just before for me as me? There are different ways people interact with you, and I feel like I should change that thing to change it for the people.

Aaron: It's something we really accept in all of our other relationships, whether it's our romantic relationships or how we communicate with our family or our friends or our kids. People discuss this. They talk about it. There are so many podcasts about love languages, et cetera. And that's all it is; it's really how different people communicate or want to be communicated with.

And whenever these user manuals were explained to me or manuals of me as you're saying at a work context, it's like, that is...of course, we should have been doing this all along. [laughs] Why do we put so much effort into our communication in other areas and then just assume that at work that it will be fine and we don't need to change how we communicate, that everybody's just going to be fine with Slack or fine with emails or whatever other channels that they use at work?

So I'm very excited to write mine. And I'm very excited to read everybody else's. I think they are a wonderful idea. But yeah, I know I'm coming in late to this. [laughs] But it's just very much forefront in my mind. So I'm going to be writing it after we finish this call. So do you have any resources I should be looking at before I start writing one?

Alex: So I'll send you the original. I have the link on my laptop, and I'll send you that. I'll also send you some of the publicly available ones which I looked at. There's one from one of my co-workers, which is publicly available, which is actually really good. And actually, I had a slightly different impression of them. But then reading through it and actually thinking about our interactions, I went, you were so wrong, Alex. You're so, so wrong.

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: Yes, the Manual of Me is indeed very accurate, and that’s been very helpful. And you've been wrong. Actually, I've apologized like, look, I'm really sorry. I misread the whole thing. And I'm sorry I've's one of those things where I need time to cool off, or I'm always going to try to find a positive spin on things.

Even though we both know this is not an okay situation, we've acknowledged that I will try to find something we can salvage all the time, which for me as an individual, I was like...but now it's like, yes, that makes total sense. I understand why this is happening. And I'm really sorry I didn't let you go through your process before. I should have been more mindful.

So it's really interesting. I'll send you the resources I used for mine. And to be honest, I'd really like to make mine public. Once it's actually done, I'll publish my version as well on my website. You might keep an eye on that, and you'll see what I come up with.

Aaron: And for any of the links that Alex does share with me today that are public, I'll make sure they are linked in the show notes as well. And just as we mentioned, your have several websites all linked from your Twitter, which is A-V-O-L-A-K-A-T-O-S @avolakatos. I'll make sure that is linked as well in the show notes. We can see there we've got links to the DevRel Avocado's Newsletter, and to your own personal website, and also, the as well, which folks should check out.

Alex: Oh no. Oh no.

Aaron: We're coming up on time, unfortunately. So before we wrap up, though, I do have one last question for you. Speaking of, what is your favorite pun that's on there?

Alex: Actually, the JavaScript callback one. That's because I heard that in an interview, and I contributed that there. And it's not the one that started the trend. The whole idea of exists because of conferences.

I was asked to emcee a bunch of conferences. And you know that awkward moment when you have to switch presenters. It was a lightning conference as well. So you didn't between presenters, everybody wanted to plug their laptop. They were on a time schedule. Everybody was nervous. They were messing up their connection. I was like, you need to take the pressure off of these people somehow.

Aaron: Sure. The whole emcee kind of...yeah.

Alex: We are very, very serious right now. And we will have a conversation like adults. No, I'm the clown. I'm the buffoon. I'm way more comfortable making a fool out of myself than trying to make other people feel uncomfortable. If it's an uncomfortable situation, I'm perfectly fine to shift some of that to me. So I was like, okay, so you need to do something to take the pressure off of these people.

And that's when I was like, oh, I'll say very, very bad jokes, very, very bad puns. It was a UK-based thing. So I was like, people understand puns here. I think you call them dad jokes in the U.S. I was like, okay, so I'll use those. But at the same time, I don’t want to read off from a bunch of random dad jokes from the internet. They wouldn't land as well with my audience. And instead of them being so bad they made you laugh, you'd just feel sorry for myself, and I wouldn't achieve my goal.

So I tried to look for the worst computer-related thing or technology-related things. And as I was saying them, as I was putting them out, I tweeted them out. And then Mark or @Judy2k, one of our former colleagues and dear friend, was emceeing the lightning track at a Python event.

Aaron: Probably PyConUK or EuroPython. I think he does it for both.

Alex: Yeah. And he was like, "Ooh, those are really..." and it was like five hours later."Those are really...well, I'm going to use them in my lightning track and see." And that started an avalanche. Another lady from Berlin was emceeing a conference on the same day. And she was like, "Ooh, that's a good idea. I'm going to use them as well."

Aaron: [laughs]

Alex: And I went okay, so this is really useful. Next time I did an MC event, I had to go find my Twitter thread and read from there. And I was like, this isn't scaling. I need a little website that I can load on my phone, big fonts, just the puns I can read from my phone. And that was it. That's why the current mode of the website is still MC mode, which is it gives you a random pun and then continues with everything in order. It gives something from pun one. It gives you a random pun and continues everything in order.

And then I made the website. I thought it was going to be for myself. Somehow Simona Cotin, who works for Microsoft...she used to be a developer advocate and a DevRel manager, and now she's a product manager. But she was emceeing one of the conferences, and she saw the puns, and she started using the website. She made it public. And it ended up on Hacker News from there, and it blew up.

So my favorite pun is, what do you say when a JavaScript interview went bad? Don't call us. We'll call back you. We promise.

Aaron: [groans] [laughs]

Alex: See, and this type of delivery, which is the delivery is bad intentionally. That's the reaction I got from my audience. [groaning] It made everybody groan.

Aaron: And that's what you want from a good pun. You want that like argh and then a laugh. That's the reaction you're hoping for. My favorite one from it is why did you get fired from a job at the keyboard factory? They told me I wasn't putting in enough shifts.

Alex: [laughs]

Aaron: It's so dumb. [laughs]

Alex: That's one of the ones contributed by the internet. So during Hacktoberfest, it is one of the most popular repos. It's Hacktoberfest-tagged. So I actually do enjoy when people contribute to it. But in the month of October this year, it got more PRs and more contributions than the entire 11 months of the year combined, the other 11 months.

Aaron: Wow.

Alex: So it is down to 120 something now. It started with...I think it had 20 puns or whatever when I started, and it's 120 now, most of them contributed by the internet. Feel free to contribute, by the way. If you're listening to this and you've got a pun that would make us groan, go there, open a PR or use the footer to get a PR.

Aaron: So it's for anyone who's interested. And there is a link to the GitHub in the footer. And yeah, there's just a puns.json file where you can add the pun and the punch line and create your PRs. So hopefully, you will have some more really bad jokes after this podcast airs.

But yeah, we're actually over time. Is there anything else that you want to shout out? Any other projects you have going or URLs that we've not talked about that you would like people to be aware of?

Alex: If web monetization and Interledger, in general, piqued your interest, DM me on Twitter. If you want to try web monetization as a content creator, it's completely free. So you put a little tag in your little element in your page, and you’re web monetized. Congratulations. If you'd like to try it out as a user who likes to pay other people for the content, one of the web monetization providers, Coil, has been kind enough to give me some coupon codes to give out to people.

Aaron: Nice.

Alex: They are six months free, so you can surf the web and pay creators at the same time for six months on their dime. Please reach out to me. I'll send you a coupon code. Sadly, I can't actually give you a nice, neat coupon code. It's all different random coupon codes.

So I have a list. I have to send one to you. But reach out on Twitter. I'd be really interested to see what people think about it. It's kind of a new technology. It's been incubated at W3C. Literally, the new standard proposal went out last Friday.

Aaron: Congratulations.

Alex: And it's in public feedback. Really interested if you'd like to give it a try.

Aaron: I was actually...whenever we started talking about it, I was like, oh, should I look at this as a funding opportunity for the Django Software Foundation? Could we include this on our docs? And it dawned on me that really we want people to spend as little time on the docs as possible.[laughs] Like, would we then be tempted to make our docs more complex or complicated? [laughs] So maybe not that instance with open-source projects, but I'm sure there are other ways it could help with open-source funding as well.

So I will be definitely keeping an eye on the project myself and thinking about where we can leverage it. It sounds incredibly interesting, also incredibly complicated, and yeah, a big challenge, which I'm sure you're up to. So I hope it's going to be so very successful because the world really does need some form of global payment system that is not blockchain-based. So fingers crossed, this is it.

But yeah, I've had a wonderful time with this conversation. It's been so nice catching up, Alex. It really has been too long. I'm sad that we have not gotten to meet in person at any conferences for the last couple of years. But this has been a good way to catch up. We should do more Polyglot episodes with ex-Nexmos [laughs]. We will get a panel going and just get all of us on it once. And we'll do an extra-long episode for that.

But yeah, thank you so much for joining us. And hopefully, everybody out there, you've enjoyed this episode too. We will be back hopefully next week with another episode. So please do subscribe. Also, while you're doing your subscriptions, don't forget to go subscribe to Developer Avocado's Newsletter as well, and sign up there too.

I've been Aaron Bassett. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you so much, Alex, for joining us for this conversation as well. And we will see you next time. Bye, everybody.

Jonan: 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 In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.

Discussion (3)

inhuofficial profile image

Got a stray liquid tag that needs closing properly there btw!

therubyrep profile image
Mandy Moore Author

Thank you for letting me know! It's fixed now!

inhuofficial profile image

No probs, interesting discussion and the bit about the all caps response to suggestions made me smile! ❤️