Duh Ops | WTR 35

Duh Ops | WTR 35

Brook is a support engineer at puppet labs. She discusses so many tools used on a daily basis, be sure to check the links in the show notes!

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ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: So, Angela, today we’re going to interview Brook Shelley. She is a fantastic support engineer at Puppet Labs which is a great startup out of Portland. And she goes on to tell us about Puppet. About being a support engineer. We talk a bunch about life and her journey from being an English major to a professional in a technology field.
ANGELA: And before we get into the interview, I want to mention that you can support the network and Women’s Tech Radio specifically by going to patreon.com/jupitersignal. Now, it’s today because we have Tech Talk Today which is our thank you show of daily headlines that we do four days a week and it’s kind of like a thank you for supporting us, here’s just a little bit more and different than what we offer in any of our other shows. And it’s specifically for the people that support the network. I mean, anybody can watch it, really, but there’s some exclusive content that you get access to and updates about your network on the inside when you become a patron. So, go to patreon.com/jupitersignal to support Pagie and myself on Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: And we get started with our interview with Brook by asking her what she’s up to today and where she is in her career.
BROOK: My name is Brook and I work at a company called Puppet Labs. Right now I do support engineering. I’ve been doing tech work for around 10 years. Usually in the IT, sys admin supports fields. And so I guess I’m somewhere in my mid-career. I just keep working in different places learning different fields. This is my first job where I’m working with a server automation, whole new thing for me. And it kind of falls under the dev ops worlds, which I think the term is hilarious but it seems to be what people are using these days.
PAIGE: Isn’t dev ops another, another version of the developer designer unicorn?
BROOK: Yeah. Something like that. I mean, it’s just like, what if we got ops people and dev people to work together in harmony. I also call d’ops because I think that’s funnier, but-
ANGELA: Oh, I thought it was Duh Ops. Duh ops.
BROOK: Oh, yeah.
PAIGE: But that’s kind of also true, right?
BROOK: That works too. Yeah, I like that a lot.
PAIGE: That’s good. So what is, for people who aren’t familiar, because i know this is actually kind of a unique position at Puppet and a couple other companies. What is a support engineer?
BROOK: So, for us, what that means is, we sale a product that is an enterprise software, so we sell Puppet Enterprise. And it sort of puts together a bunch of open source components and a few other things to help large companies, and small companies, manage their server infrastructure. So when those people implement it or get their software implemented by — our software implemented by our engineers, our professional services folks, then when they have trouble with it, or if they have questions about it, they usually file tickets via email with us. And then my team is responsible for talking to them about their issues, reproducing them, filing bugs with our engineering team, directly fixing things ourselves. So we’re kind of the glue that holds it together once it’s shipped, because like any other software it works really, really well until you have it configured in a custom way and it’s all these moving parts and then you start going oh, there’s a few things I’m confused about. So that’s what my team does. We’re sort of a 24/7 team. We have people in Malaysia as well. I think there’s like eight or nine of us and we’re all pretty savvy experienced sys admin people. It’s also really rad because my team is, I think just about half women, which is super cool.
PAIGE: Oh wow. That is super rare.
BROOK: Yeah, especially for an engineering team. Yeah. So I feel really lucky that we have that. Both my boss and my boss’ boss are also women, which is really fantastic.
PAIGE: Oh wow. Yeah, womens’ leadership changes the whole team.
ANGELA: That’s great.
BROOK: Yeah, totally. It was a big factor in why I moved here to Portland and went and took this job, because I was like, oh man, if I can be surrounded by amazing, smart women, that’s my ideal goal.
PAIGE: I like it. So, I think, my understanding, and I would love you to correct me on this, is that Puppet as a product is an awesome wrapper to make a Docker more usable, especially in the enterprise environment? I think some of our viewers here are familiar — or listeners are familiar with Docker. I covered it on a couple other shows, but is that accurate?
BROOK: Uh, no. I would say it’s inaccurate. Docker is a separate piece of software. Docker is a way to bundle up applications and configurations into pendencies. Into little, like, container things and ship those out. But what Puppet does is Puppet installs, configures, and keeps in a steady state a myriad of server software and things. So, let’s say you have one Apache server and MySQL server and you’ve got some load balancers and whatever else. Instead of having to manually configure each one of those, you might set up Puppet and maybe create some modules to set all of those settings for you. And then when you want to launch a new server, you just start that node up, point it at your puppet master, and say hey this node gets this configuration. And you choose like a class or a role or something. It puts that on there and if someone, let’s say your employee, goes on that node and tweaks the configuration themselves, every 30 minutes that node checks back in with the master and says hey I look like this. ANd the master says that’s wrong. You should change your configuration. So, it also does some change management a little bit too. And that’s sort of the real rough outline of what it does, but it’s a pretty robust thing. We have customers that manage tens of thousands of servers with it. Some pretty big name customers too.
PAIGE: So, now you’re a support engineer. Have you always been in tech? Is this something as a kid you were taking things apart all the time? Do you have a degree in computer science? What’s your journey?
BROOK: So, yeah. When I was younger we were pretty poor, but my dad, when we were — I was maybe like in early middle school — my dad got a job in the defense industry and brought home a computer. And we’d had like an Apple 2E when I was really young that we inherited from somebody, but I just got on it a lot. And being a queer woman, I was looking for answers in community, because I was raised in a very Christian household and so I was like, I bet I can find stuff on here. So I started just like surfing around the internet and inevitably the computer would break in some way or I would get confused about how to connect to some IRC channel and so I started researching those things just to connect to find out what the hell was going on with me. And, that was impetuous for me to get started in tech was just fixing my own problems. And then, inevitably, I became the go to girl for my family and my friends whenever something would break. Like, hey can you help me with my computer or hey can you help me with my printer, and I just did those things. I went into the University of Texas at Austin and majored in English Literature.
PAIGE: So that’s not computer science.
BROOK: Not at all. I started working at the laptop help desk for the education department while I was there and — because i just fixed computers. And I was like, well it seems like people want to pay me money to do this, so I might as well take the money. I write now, but at the time I was like oh I want to be a novelist. I’m not going to try to do this tech thing. This is just temporary. ANd somehow temporary turned into ten years of doing this. I mean, it’s definitely something that’s always interested me. I think it’s fun to solve problems and it’s fun to sort of learn about new technologies. A lot of times my passions lie elsewhere and to some degree what I do as a job is a job. I didn’t necessarily get into tech as goal to become a programer and I don’t necessarily build servers or set up software on my free time, but it’s a job I’m very good at. It’s something that interest me and I kind of stumbled into it and kept going. But I’m actually also a college dropout. My situation was very bad when I was in college and for various reasons my dad stopped sort of filling out my financial aid information and so I couldn’t get loans anymore, which meant I had to drop out. And i was lucky enough that by that time I was already started in tech, so I’ve been able to continue with my career ever since then. I think my grandma hasn’t forgiven me about not finishing my degree yet, but at this point it’s been a while, so.
PAIGE: Yeah. It’s paper, right? At the end of the day.
BROOK: Yeah. And, I mean, I would love to go get a PhD in English, but it’s expensive so.
ANGELA: I know a lot of tech professionals that don’t have any college at all. You know?
PAIGE: Yeah. I even know a couple high school dropouts.
ANGELA: Yeah.
BROOK: And all the stuff I learned that I use every day are things that I picked up on my own, on the internet. And through friend and through mentors. So, my college classes taught me a lot about the socialist interpretation of Dostoevsky, but not necessarily the things that I do every day.
PAIGE: Yeah. I think one of the biggest values in education is learning how to learn. Especially once you mastered that, the internet is such an amazing worldwide resource. It really is changing lives. We have these stories of children in India who are ending up as millionaires because they’re teaching themselves how to build apps on the app store online.
ANGELA: Right.
BROOK: Totally, yeah. It’s amazing. And I think this is one of those — I have a lot of friends who are involved in things like Pi Ladies and other types of organizations that help women in other, like oppressed and minority groups in tech get involved with it. And the biggest thing I see a lot of times is just people not knowing that they can do something. Kind of feeling tentative. Well, I don’t know, that’s for somebody else. And it’s so amazing to see people kind of be able to in a more caring and free environment feel like they can succeed. And then when they feel like that, all of the sudden it’s like oh man you’re writing so many cools things and doing things I would have never thought of.
PAIGE: It’s like, people should have a podcast about that.
BROOK: I think so. Yeah. It turns out.
PAIGE: It turns out. Obviously, it’s a big passion of mine. I think that it’s just, you know, if you know that you could do it, you can do it.
BROOK: Yeah, exactly.
PAIGE: It’s the biggest hurdle.
BROOK: Exactly.
PAIGE: So, Brook, you’ve mentioned that you kind of actually are one of the few people in technology who manages to leave their job and tech at work.
BROOK: Yeah.

PAIGE: So what else do you do with your free time?
BROOK: Well, I live in Portland and so that means I bicycle a lot between different places. I absolutely love food. Like, sort of, maybe too much. Right now I’m on a ramen kick. I didn’t do gluten for like five years so every opportunity I have to ramen I’m doing it.
ANGELA: Okay, wait. So are you like college student ramen’ing it or are you adding like sarata and egg and green onions? How are you?
BROOK: Yeah. I’m going to like ramen shops. like fancy ramen shops that do like, they put their own pork belly and do like a bone broth.
PAIGE: You have to help me on my quest then, because as you know, I recently moved to Portland.
BROOK: Yeah.
PAIGE: And when I was in San Francisco I found this ramen joint, because I am definitely gluten intolerant.
BROOK: Yeah.
PAIGE: Where they would sub cabbage in for the noodles and it was amazing.
BROOK: Okay.
PAIGE: So if you see a place in Portland that subs cabbage for noodles, I’m there.
BROOK: There’s a place in Portland that does like a yam noodle instead of the-
ANGELA: Wait, you don’t like sweet potato?
PAIGE: I love sweet potatoes.
ANGELA: Oh.
BROOK: This is like a shirataki, so it’s like a white yam. It’s actually, it’s weird deal, it’s like all in, it’s all in soluble fibers so it’s like celery, so you don’t really digest it, but it’s good. I don’t know. It’s strange.
PAIGE: It’s called a high resistance starch.
ANGELA: Better than a cheeseburger, probably. Better for you, I mean.
PAIGE: Yeah.
BROOK: Possibly, yeah. I mean there’s some cheeseburgers.
PAIGE: There’s actually some interesting nutritional research that we need more highly resistant starch in the diet to act as prebiotic to host bacteria in your intestines properly.
ANGELA: Holy moly.
PAIGE: Which is why people are encouraging things like the shiratakis and plantains.
ANGELA: Interesting.
PAIGE: And a couple other things.
ANGELA: I wonder if there’s going to be then a movement to support adding more of that — I think it’s called — no cellulose — yeah, I think it is.
BROOK: Yeah.
ANGELA: Like the wood pulp that’s in a filler in a lot of our food.
PAIGE: No. No I don’t-
ANGELA: Because you can’t digest that either. But it could host something, I’m sure.
PAIGE: Yeah, probably not the right things though.
ANGELA: Yeah.
BROOK: I just eat a lot of rocks. No, I’m kidding.
ANGELA: Let us know how that goes.
BROOK: I travel a lot for fun and to go see friends that I know through Twitter and various other places. So when I’m traveling I eat a lot of food. I also read pretty constantly. I’m in a book group here in town that’s like a lesbian book group. And then, I don’t know, I have a Goodreads challenge that I’m trying to complete this year of like, I think 60 or 70 books.
ANGELA: Wow.
BROOK: When I was kid that was really easy, because I never stopped reading. I was always like hiding and reading or walking around and reading. But now that I have a job it’s like oh I have to stop reading this novel so I can go to work. But I do that a lot. I used to make music. I haven’t done that recently. But it’s something that I –
PAIGE: How do you make music?
BROOK: Uh, I grew up playing bass and so I played in some bands. And then I also used to make electronic music, which is something I want to start doing again. And I write. I write a whole lot. i do sort of a daily meditative prompt thing. There’s this website called hellloprompt.com and they send you a daily prompt. Like yesterday’s was I think on like wedding proposal or something like that. And then the day before that was like a story about a bully or something. And so it’s just a bunch of different small prompts and you can write a few sentences or a few paragraphs and send them in and they all get collated anonymously. So the next day you see the previous day’s stories and then a new prompt. It’s really fun. I do that and then I write for The Toast occasionally. I just had a piece on a tarot website about why tarot is important to me as somebody who grew up as a Christian and also as a lesbian. And, yeah, just stuff like that. I’ve got a couple different things coming out and some books this year too, and writing is a big deal for me.
ANGELA: That is really awesome.
PAIGE: Very cool.
BROOK: Yeah, thanks.
PAIGE: So, if people want to follow you for this sort of stuff do you tweet about it?
BROOK: Yeah, I definitely do. Yeah, my Twitter account is probably the best place to see things like that. And I think the books is like orbooks.com/lean-out. So the book is called Lean Out and it’s a bunch of stories about misogyny in tech.
PAIGE: I see what you did there.
BROOK: Yeah, exactly.
PAIGE: We will not lean in.
BROOK: Yeah, you want to lean out.
PAIGE: So what is your Twitter handle?
BROOK: It’s BrookShelley, so B-R-O-O-K-S-H-E-L-L-E-Y. And that’s kind of the name I use for everything.
ANGELA: Great.
PAIGE: Awesome. And that will be in the show notes.
BROOK: Awesome.
PAIGE: For sure.
BROOK: Yeah, and it’s fun. I mean so many people on there too. Like, I say a good amount of my friends these days are people I met through Twitter, which is kind of fun.
PAIGE: How do you meet people through Twitter? This is one of the, — I’m not going to lie. This is one of the fascinating — I’ve actually had several people recently be like oh I met this person through Twitter. And I’m like, it’s just a, it’s tiny microblogging platform.
BROOK: Yeah.
PAIGE: Which has sort of messaging, but not really.
BROOK: Yeah. I mean a lot of it is just like friends of friends. So some people I know through real like things. We’ll follow each other on Twitter. We’ll be chatting about something. Maybe one of their friends will pipe in and add something or make a joke. And I’ll sort of follow the people that my friends retweet, sometimes. And then I’ll make a joke or respond to something. Inevitably if we’re both funny and kind of enjoying each other’s company in the sort of microsphere or Twitter, then we’ll like DM each other or say like hey we should grab a drink sometime. Yeah, especially when I’m traveling. I was just in New York and I was just in LA and while I’m there I’m like, hey if I have any friends on here who live in this city and you want to show me something or go get a drink, let’s do that. And then I often meet up with people. New York was super busy because of that. And I stay with people that I meet through Twitter too. LIke people I’ve never physically met in real life.
ANGELA: That’s awesome.
BROOK: Yeah. It’s super weird though, because it’s like, I’ve never met you but I guess I’m going to crash at your house when I come there. ANd they’re like, yeah rad. It usually goes well.
PAIGE: That’s like couchsurfing but with more knowledge.
BROOK: Yeah. And you can also date people from Twitter. That’s the more-
PAIGE: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa, now.
ANGELA: Her mind just blew. It’s all over the wall.
PAIGE: Angela, I think we’re going to have to have like a teach Paige Twitter episode. We’ll do a video this time.
BROOK: It’s the best. And it’s so much better than like OkCupid or Tinder because where that’s like static information that you say about yourself-
ANGELA: Right.
BROOK: Twitter is what you care about. What you’re talking about. So you can see what somebody actually is like to some degree.
ANGELA: What their passion is too.
BROOK: Yeah. Yeah. And then also who their friends are. So, you’re like oh that person follows Ron Paul. Maybe I don’t want to hang out with them or whatever.
ANGELA: Caution. Caution.
BROOK: Yeah.
PAIGE: What if it’s like an ironic follow.
BROOK: Yeah, there you go. Yeah, they just follow to make sure that he’s not getting more dangerous or something. I don’t know.
PAIGE: So you can, whenever he says something stupid you can do that thing where your snub him or sarcasm back.
BROOK: Exactly. Yeah.
PAIGE: Okay. This is funny. What I’m — all I’m hearing in this conversation is like, Paige you’re social ineptitude via text will get you killed, but — or not killed, but you know. This will not go well.
ANGELA: Smited.
PAIGE: Yes. Smitten.
BROOK: I mean, you8 know, there’s a whole bunch of different ways to do stuff and I have — I — for me, I had a lot of people that I grew up around who are not really friends anymore. A lot of it due to my queerness and a lot of it due to me moving. ANd so, I’ve had to rebuild a chosen family and rebuild a group of people in my life in the past few years. And so it made me a lot more apt to try new things. I have a lot of people i know who, you know, they have the same friends from college or high school and so they’re impetus for making new friends isn’t as high. But yeah, it’s pretty fun.
PAIGE: I mean, it’s no joke that the tools that we have built, like Twitter, like Facebook, and all of these other different social networks can be used in this awesome way to build these intricate connected widespread communities. And, you know, I just happen to be really bad at sharing via text. I’m awesome in Meet Space. I swear.
BROOK: Yeah. There’s always, yeah, there’s always meetups and stuff too that are kind of fun. Although, I’m — I do better online. I do really well in one on one and small situations. If there’s a room full of like 10 or 20 people, I’m usually in the side of the room and like maybe want to read a book.
PAIGE: Yeah, I’m exactly the opposite, which is fairly unusual for a geek and I get myself in trouble that way sometimes, because everyone is like well we’ll just talk about it online. I’m like, do we have to? Can we talk about it now?
BROOK: Yeah, exactly.
PAIGE: Can I bring a beer? How about pizza?
BROOK: You’re the person who calls people on the phone as opposed to like texting them?
PAIGE: Oh, let’s not go that far. Mostly, I’m actually the person that just shows up at your house.
B; Hey, I like that. That’s good.
ANGELA: Wow.
PAIGE: Like old school. Like, hey can Brook come out and play?
BROOK: Exactly. I like it.
PAIGE: Awesome. So I did have one other question that I like to ask. I’d love to know what tools you’re using right now to do your job, because it’s always interesting to see what other developers and support technicians and all sorts of things are using in their jobs so that people can get a handle on it. What your job needs for skills.
BROOK: Yeah. My favorite tool of all time is nvALT which is like a — it’s a fork of a thing called Notational Velocity and at its basic level it’s just a plane text editor that does universal search. So the screen looks like, you’ve got a big box for text and you’ve got a left sidebar that lists all of the articles you’ve written or all of the things you’ve written. And then you’ve got a search bar as well. When you type in anything it will find all the notes that have those words in it. And if you press enter on the search it will create a new note with that as a title. So that’s like my brain dump. I found that I’m not very good at story arbitrary information like numbers and whatever else. But my computer is. So I have that synced up to Dropbox and then over to Byword on my phone. And that gets me really far. Other than that, we use Confluence here at work to store a bunch of internal information. We use Zendesk to do our ticketing. I use an inbox for personal stuff and Gmail for work stuff, Google Apps rather. And as far as server things go, obviously Puppet Enterprise, which is something I have to know really, really well. But because I have to bring up a lot of VMs really quickly and test various interpolations of them and be able to roll them back really quickly if I mess it up, we use Vagrant for that. So we have a bunch of different sort of VMs being managed by Vagrant. It’s a cool service. You can like — you template things to YAML and then you say like Vagrant up and create a new VM. You can log into it, mess with it. We have a snapshotting plugin for it, so you can create a snapshot as soon as it’s launched and installed so that if I go misconfigure it and break it, instead of trying to go fix it I can just roll back to the known good state. Let’s see, other than that, we use HipChat to talk to each other. That’s pretty important. And then Markdown, a lot of Markdown stuff. It’s how we write our documents. It’s how we do our ticket stuff in JIRA.
PAIGE: Is nvALT Markdown friendly now?
BROOK: Yeah, it is. The Markdown preview isn’t great, but I haven’t found a place that really has great Markdown preview. Yeah, I like it just fine though. Mostly I use it, especially because it’s very distraction free. It’s just a white box. So I can’t format-
PAIGE: I have used the exact setup that you have on that one and I liked it myself quite a bit with nvALT, Dropbox, and Byword.
BROOK: They’re fantastic. I really like it. I mean, every once in a while I’ll go check and see what else is out there as far tech stops go, but they’re always missing something key that I need, so I’m like all right, I’m sticking with this one.
PAIGE: Yeah. I ended up moving over to Evernote just because i have to deal with so much multimedia stuff with trying to do podcasts and meetups and things, but other than that I would much rather be in nvALT.
BROOK: Yeah, and I like Evernote okay, but for me I’m sort of paranoid and I’m like, well I don’t really trust them to stay around as long as plain text.
PAIGE: Very true. I might, I might be paranoid to export on a regular basis via (unintelligible) to my Dropbox.
BROOK: I love it. That’s awesome. It’s the best way to do it. And then we use like 13’ Macbook Pro retina computers and a second screen. Although, my personal computer that I use a lot when I’m here at the office is one of the new Macbooks. The little 12’ inch ones. And I’m like absolutely head over heals about this computer because it’s so tiny.
PAIGE: I actually was going to ask you that because I saw you had it the other night. And I’m still slightly on the fence because I’m always touchy about first gen technology, but.
BROOK: Sure.
PAIGE: What’s awesome?
BROOK: It’s so light and portable. It fits in my purse. I take it with me in my purse everywhere.
ANGELA: That’s awesome.
BROOK: Yeah. The retina screen is amazing. It’s not fast, but I don’t need it to be. It turned out that most of what I do is via SSH in a terminal and then things that I don’t do on a computer, sorry, on a server are things that I’m just, like I’m writing text. So I don’t need processing speed. And the GPU is good enough to let me throw game of thrones onto my TV. So it’s just what i need for a machine. And the battery life is a little bit less than I want compared to my old Macbook Air, which had like 14 hours. This one has like eight or nine. But eight or nine hours is still a long time so I’m pretty happy with it.
PAIGE: And one port life hasn’t killed you?
BROOK: No. I don’t plug anything into my computer except for headphones.
PAIGE: Yeah.
BROOK: I occasionally — I broke down and got the adapter so I could charge my phone with it, but that’s it. I don’t — I mean I connect to hard drives via a NAS. I don’t use secondary monitors when I’m at home or whatever. So I don’t really need much else. And if I project something onto a screen. Like, a lot of times people have Apple Tvs or whatever else. If I do talks and things like that, I don’t like using PowerPoint so I don’t worry about that either.
PAIGE: Nice.
BROOK: Yeah. I’ve radically simplified it.
PAIGE: Yeah. I really — I kind of did the same thing the first time I went down to a Macbook Air. It was just like, oh wait, I don’t really need, well because I don’t have time to play games anymore so I don’t really need crazy processing power, because mostly I’m just writing text code and it’s brower text code. So it’s not like I’m compiling anything.
BROOK: Yeah. Yeah, I’m alway confused when people are like, oh I need a really powerful computer. I’m like for what? But I think that’s like — that was the story of the ‘90s and the early 2000s was sort of like more power is always better and you’re always going to — except for the fact that websites and sort of the way people do Javascript stuff is more and more complex, generally you don’t need much.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Remember, you can find the show notes on the YouTube page or go to JupiterBroadcasting.com and from the show dropdown select Womens’ Tech Radio and find the episdoe that you want to listne to or ead about, and scroll down to those show notes. You can also use our contact form on the website, which you can select Women’s Tech Radio or any show on the network to email us about with any kind of feedback.
PAIGE: You can also find us on iTunes. If you have a moment please leave us a review. Let us know what you think about the show. You can reach out to us directly at wtr@jupiterbroadcasting.com or follow us on Twitter, @heywtr. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter | Transcription@cotterville.net

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