A Culmination of DevOps Learning with Dominique Top (2/2)

Welcome to episode 175 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of an interview with Dominique Top, detailing her transition into a community advocate, experience as a meetup group leader, the road to HashiCorp, and how she has been making an impact since joining.

Original Recording Date: 05-13-2022

Dominique Top is a Solutions Engineer at HashiCorp living in London. Catch part 1 of our interview with Dominique in Episode 174.

Topics – DevOps Community Advocate and Developer Relations, The Meetup Group Leader, HashiCorp and Startup Life, Making an Impact, Parting Thoughts

2:37 – DevOps Community Advocate and Developer Relations

  • Fast forward to when Dominique was working at Tecknuovo as a recruiter. She started working here about 6 months after moving to the UK.

    • When she moved to the UK, Dominique would go all over to Kubernetes meetups, DevOps Exchange meetups, London DevOps, Docker meetups…everything she could related to our adjacent to DevOps.
    • Her manager at Tecknuovo saw what she was doing as useful. The manager recognized it was important to Dominique, and she was always advocating for community.
    • The manager thought they could come up with something which was a bit more community focused.
      • Dominique knew the communities were for the engineers and the importance of proper behavior when attending the meetups (behave as guests).
      • Many recruiters would go to meetups to poach talent.
      • Some people would go to meetups, eat the pizza, drink the beer, and talk about accomplishments they have achieved.
  • It was interesting for Dominique to be a developer / DevOps Advocate between a company and the community.

    • Rather than go and only be a sponge, she would go and be the face of the company.
    • Tecknuovo would sponsor a lot of these types of meetups (which were extremely fun for Dominique).
    • The community was one of the reasons Dominique felt just recruitment was not what she wanted any longer.
    • Being on the phone all day calling people was not something Dominique really enjoyed.
    • At some point she felt a great deal more comfortable sharing what her job was. "Yes I’m a recruiter, but I am not here to recruit you."
    • But as a result of attending so many meetups and knowing what Dominique did, people would tell her when they were looking. She could then make the connection between that person and some of her colleagues.
    • It was an interesting reciprocal relationship between the community, Dominique, and the company where she worked.
    • It took a lot of time going to every single meetup but may have also been a catalyst in wanting to do more in the realm of developer relations (in which she did a short stint after her time at Tecknuovo).
  • Developer Relations vs. DevOps Community Advocate

  • Dominique gives some examples of Liz Rice and Matt Stratton, some of whom Nick recognized as DevLops Loop participants in 2021.

    • These folks (and those like them) represent their company as a Developer Relations person.
    • For software companies, having someone act as a bridge between the company and the community is very beneficial.
    • Taking the example of HashiCorp, the developer advocates field questions from the community, participate in online forums, create interesting content sharing what can be done with HashiCorp’s open source technologies, for example.
    • Chef as well as VMware, AquaSec, and Snyk also have folks who perform this role, for example.
    • Many of the people Dominique mentioned help organize DevOpsDays events.
  • These roles may or may not fall under the Technical Marketing umbrella.

    • Dominique attended DevRelCon a couple of years ago.
    • Developer relations is a bit of a new segment in the industry. Some companies may have this role inside technical product marketing while others may have it in engineering.
    • It depends on what the company expects these people to do.
      • Sometimes it will be important for someone in this role to help hand off qualified leads (i.e. someone who started with open source and is looking for more enterprise solutions).
      • In other cases it may be about getting feedback from customers using existing products and helping to make them better.
      • Basically this is like a modern day bard – giving talks to present interesting content (with demos) and making sure people want to engage.
  • The difference between what Dominique did at Tecknuovo and what she aspired to do at Babylon Health was being even moreso embedded in the technical communities, helping the community solve problems with solutions the company she worked for had to offer.

    • The difference between advocacy and developer relations is that developer relations takes things a bit further.

9:42 – The Meetup Group Leader

  • About 6 months into her Tecknuovo stint, the person leading the local Docker meetup group appeared to be a bit overburdened (was at the same time working on a startup).
    • Dominique asked how she could help. Once she began to help her, the leader asked if she might like to just take over entirely. She agreed.
    • Dominique likes organizing things and helping people. It was fun to do this and become the group leader. * There were a number of interesting talks which took place.
  • About 2 years after she took over the pandemic hit, which has not been great for in-person meetups.
    • Pre-pandemic attendance was 100-150 people at an in-person meeting.
  • Dominique was the main leader of the group after taking over (a volunteer position), but over time she delegated tasks to others.
    • Her partner even helped out. He works in a similar field to her, always solving problems.
    • Dominique’s partner helped live stream a number of meetup events pre-pandemic and would make sure all the equipment was setup and ready to go. Being a fixer, he was always willing to help.
  • Nick mentions his experience co-leading a community group and the responsibility to get sponsors, schedule, find a venue, get community speakers, and open up / close the meetings for the group (including sharing the meeting agenda, introducing speakers, and doing icebreakers).
  • Dominique says the meetup scene in London is huge. There are so many who want to come and learn there wouldn’t be time for everyone to share something to open a meeting.
    • Dominique would normally have a couple of sponsors lined up for meetings. Sponsors would get their company logo on the screen and have their company mentioned in the opening. That did not necessarily mean the vendor gets a talking slot. Usually the talk submission was a separate process (and anyone could submit something).
    • Dominique would prefer to give the community the priority, having 2-3 talks that filled an hour slot, break for food, have one more speaker after that, and then proceed to a pub for networking and further discussion.
    • The networking sessions were often the best part because they were a chance to get feedback on what worked and what did not. Sometimes the vendor sponsors would also sponsor the networking session.
    • Dominique has kept these so they are sales free discussions, focusing on something that can be done with an open source tool. She says folks in the community are often times not very open to something they will need to pay for unless this kind of topic is specifically requested.
    • When leading a meetup / user group, the importance of knowing your user base is paramount!
  • Like many others when around so many brilliant people, Dominique suffers from impostor syndrome, feeling it might be better to give others time on the stage.
  • She has presented at a number of conferences but due to the pandemic was not able to give a talk in this specific meetup group.
  • There’s so much content available for those who might want to learn more about DevOps, making it somewhat overwhelming and hard to know where to start.
    • Platforms like A Cloud Guru or Pluralsight are helpful.
    • Don’t forget about attending meetups to help here too.
    • Talk to other people about how they got into this industry. Not everyone took the traditional / classically trained path.
    • Start a small project to see if you can get something working. Don’t be afraid to fail.
      • Dominique still has to remind herself that it’s ok to not be perfect.
    • And stay curious!

17:27 – HashiCorp and Startup Life

  • Dominique has been at HashiCorp for about 2 years at the time of this recording.

  • In her time attending meetups she had meet a solution engineering geography leader for Europe from HashiCorp (Nico) who was a friend of a meetup leader Dominique knew.

    • The introduction was made years before Dominique started thinking about HashiCorp.
    • Dominique was asked if she might want to work for HashiCorp. She said yes. This was back when she was a recruiter.
    • She was then asked why she might want to work for HashiCorp.
    • Dominique liked talking to technical people (lots of DevOps engineers, for example).
    • She had also been told by an engineer she met at a meetup group to remember the name HashiCorp Vault (which she did).
    • Throughout her recruitment career she has heard of Terraform and Vault on many occasions.
    • Dominique told Nico she wanted out of recruitment. When he asked if solutions engineering might be of interest, she said yes but felt she did not have the proper technical skills.
      • It was suggested that Dominique get a certification (which she did with AWS), gain skills with Linux (which she did through installing Linux and tinkering with it), and do some simple development (which Dominique has done through a small website she built).
      • Dominique likely knows more than she gives herself credit for knowing.
    • About a year later, she ran into Nico again. When he asked if she still wanted to come work for him (mentioning that he had open head count), she said yes.
    • It was a series of about 6 interviews in a week, including a technical exercise. Dominique got the job as a solutions engineer at HashiCorp.
  • HashiCorp was the first startup Dominique joined in the technology space.

    • Tecknuovo, for example, considered itself a startup (but not in exactly the same space). She was part of a 20-person company at that time.
    • When she joined HashiCorp they had over 900 employees. It definitely had the startup vibe. If you had an idea, you could make a pitch to someone and if approved give it a try.
    • Your day job consisted of certain things, but if you wanted to help in other areas you could.
    • It’s interesting and inspiring to see how everyone was working toward a single goal (get to IPO). Dominique had never experienced something like this before joining.
    • They seem to have new people joining every day and at this point are over 2000 employees as of the time of this recording.
  • Picking a startup completely depends on what you might be looking for, but you can expect…

    • There is nothing as constant as change. You can blink your eyes twice, and there is a new process.
    • It’s fairly fast paced, so it is important to protect a healthy work life balance.
    • Is the mission statement something you care about?
    • Are the principles of the company aligned with your own values?
    • Are the written principles something the company actually believes?
      • Dominique believes HashiCorp does believe and that things done are viewed through these principles.
      • One of the principles at HashiCorp is kindness (full list with details can be found here).
    • Do people seem happy or stressed?
    • Do you believe in the product and the company go to market strategy?
    • "Every company has a product that will work. But you need to find something that you believe in." – Dominique Top

23:59 – Making an Impact

  • Dominique co-founded the Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group (or ERG) called NeuroD+ inside HashiCorp that serves neurodivergent employees.
    • Dominique has ADHD.
    • The group was started because there are a lot of neurodivergent employees who may not feel like they have the same voice as those who are more "neurotypical."
    • It is important to ensure company policies and processes take all employees into account. There is a lot of work inside HashiCorp being done to focus on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).
      • For example, are we thinking of reasonable accommodations in the interview process, in company outings, etc.
      • One thing Dominique has been fighting for (and has not resolved inside the company) is to have live closed captions. This is for those who are not native English speakers. It is also helpful for neurodivergent folks to see things in addition to just hearing it (makes it easier to parse).
  • Dominique has also co-founded a WISE Special Interest Group (or SIG).
    • In the wider solutions engineering community, this stands for Women in Solution Engineering. The one Dominique is a part of inside HashiCorp also includes non-binary and other marginalized genders.
    • Women in technology are not as prevalent. Members of the WISE community will have some experiences and things they struggle with that may not be the case for their male counterparts and have thus created a safe space for discussion together.
    • The group has a regular cadence with solutions engineering leadership to give a readout on what’s happening within the collective group. The fact that the WISE group has a seat at the table with leaders and that leaders are listening is really cool.
    • How can men in technology support these kind of efforts?
      • The most important thing is understanding what it means to be an ally. You constantly work on this.
      • Ask questions. Ask your local non-male solutions engineer or anyone if there’s anything you can do to support them.
      • If you do get a chance to be in a meeting with someone who is in the minority, make sure you give them a chance to contribute in a safe space.
        • It might be a very small thing, but it could be super impactful to the person.
  • More details on each of these organizations can be found on Dominique’s LinkedIn profile in the Organizations area.

29:00 – Parting Thoughts

  • If she did it all over again, Dominique feels she would follow the same path.

    • Dominique does not like having regrets about things. She makes decisions based on the information she has at a certain time. If at some point she realizes that could have been made better she will learn from it and carry the learnings into the future.
    • All of her experiences in life have been a culmination of learning.
  • If you want to accelerate into something really fast, you must be willing to give up everything else.

    • To make things sustainable, carve out blocks of time to do a project.
    • Trust your process, and make sure you do not get ahead of yourself.
    • Now more than ever, we need to consider mental health and ways to protect and preserve it.
      • If you hyperfocus on one thing and then burnout because you.
      • Whatever you do, take it on in a balanced way.
  • Episodes mentioned in the outro

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