Episode 84: DevOps World Keynote Speaker - Dr. Anne Marie Imafidon - From Child Prodigy to Tech Social Entrepreneur

In Episode 84, Dr. Anne Marie Imafidon, the founder and CEO of social enterprise Stemettes and keynote speaker at DevOps World 2020, discusses her journey from child prodigy to tech leader advocating for young women in tech.

Brian Dawson: Hello. Thank you for joining us for another episode of DevOps Radio, the podcast for software professionals. This is Brian Dawson and, as usual, I'm excited about having another compelling and intriguing, awesome guest here. With us today, we have Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon, who is the creator and CEO of Stemettes, and also a very accomplished and I’d say impactful member of the STEM community. Anne-Marie, welcome.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Thanks for having me.

Brian Dawson: So, to get started, you know, look, I don’t have enough breath or energy to go through your résumé. And, you know, not to pump you up too much—it is impressive, but I'm not even gonna attempt to do it justice, here. I'm gonna ask you to give our listeners a brief overview of what you do today as well as your background. How did you arrive at where you are at today with Stemettes and the other efforts you're working with?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Sure. I'll start from the beginning—that’s a good place to start.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I grew up in East London, I'm the oldest of five children, and I've always loved logical things. So, whether it was maths or whether it was technology, whether it was understanding how one black rectangular object went into another black rectangular object and then you had, like, The Lion King being displayed with the third rectangular object—my thing has always been, like, “Why? How did that happen? Lion King’s great—I wanna be involved in that.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon: As early as I remember, I've always kind of had an obsession with taking things apart, trying to put them back together again, but also doing that in a way that meant that someone else could derive utility from that thing. Which I think, as software developers, is kind of—that’s what we do, right? We put down the code and then others are able to use that software without us necessarily being there.

So, I did that a lot and did it to the end—I ended up being one of these child prodigy people that kind of sat exams super early, so I did GCSEs in primary school, which, in the U.K., you normally do that at 16.

Brian Dawson: Wow.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I then did an A level because you do that after you do GCSEs, so I did an A level at 11, and I actually went up to study maths and computer science to Master’s level at Oxford, finishing when I was 20.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, to me, it’s something that’s kind of followed me along. I really love this stuff, like, I really enjoy it. I guess it’s kinda nice to run away from life sometimes and kinda go into the tech and create things.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, I ended up actually working in tech at a big bank, loving it, being paid well to do stuff that I would have done for free anyway. And kind of a couple of years in, I actually went to Grace Hopper, the Grace Hopper Celebration, which happens every year, and there, I kind of realized I was a woman in tech, which up until that point, I hadn’t ever noticed, I guess.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: You know, I’d been in these exam halls and in these courses, and it being kind of Anne-Marie and the others.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I’d never been able to play that game of who’s the odd one out in this scenario. And so, kind of never really realized that I was the only black, young, female from East London, you know, arguing about query optimization or whatever else it would've been that we were doing.

So, I ended up starting a social enterprise as a voluntary thing on the side of my job, called Stemettes, which is why I head Stemettes. And that’s kind of grown and it’s 45,000 young women that we've worked with and kind of encouraging them and showing them, you know, that they can join this tech party, too. But also kind of, now part of my job is being this kind of STEM advocate but also policy person. So, looking at, you know, I'm trying to encourage girls to come and join the tech world. They will be the workers of the future. What is the future gonna look like at work for them? So, there’s a couple of different hats that I ended up wearing, but that’s like a short version of the journey.

Brian Dawson: Awesome, awesome. So, there is a lot there. I'm furiously taking notes, because I wanna click into multiple pieces of that. Awesome summary, but you still sold yourself short. So, I'm gonna have to—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] What did I miss?

Brian Dawson: I'm just gonna have to pull up some facts so people get it. So, I'm gonna brag on you a little bit. So, Anne-Marie past two A level examinations at the age of 11. At 13, she received a scholarship to study at Johns Hopkins. At 15, she was admitted to Oxford; at 17, she earned a Master’s degree.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Master’s degree at 20. 

Brian Dawson: Okay, alright. Well, you gotta work on—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Is that from Wikipedia?

Brian Dawson: Oh, no—at 17, she started a Master’s degree.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Right, okay, there we go. 

Brian Dawson: At 20, she completed it.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I was gonna say, what people read on the Internet.

Brian Dawson: Right, let’s forget the 13 at Hopkins, the 15—let’s hone in on the one thing I got wrong.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: So, no—really, really impressive, and that had to be a pretty unique journey. I find it powerful, I find it inspiring. But I am curious that, you know, random question—how was it, did you go study on campus at Johns Hopkins? So, you went from East London to Baltimore?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, I ended up doing a summer program at Johns Hopkins instead of going fully.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, yeah, I did. I was in Baltimore for like a month.

Brian Dawson: Okay. How was that? Was that your first time in the States?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Do you know, it wasn’t my first time in the States, but it was my first time alone, so it was amazing.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It was life affirming. I ended up playing a lot of Egyptian Rat Screw, the card game.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: With the TA. Have you never heard of that?

Brian Dawson: I've never heard of it, no.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It was a big thing. It was a big thing on campus. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Okay. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Most of my memories are playing Egyptian Rat Screw—yeah, it’s a card game—until really late in the night with our TA and the rest of the people in the dorm.

Brian Dawson: Ah. So, Johns Hopkins has a particular resonance with me, because anybody who knows me will tell you that I talk way too much about lacrosse, one of my passions, and Johns Hopkins is, you know, one of the premier lacrosse schools. Actually, you were probably there about the time that Kyle Harrison, one of the most prominent players of color in lacrosse was playing at Johns Hopkins.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Okay. I learned what lacrosse was at Johns Hopkins.

Brian Dawson: I figured that. I figured—you can’t be in Baltimore without learning that.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: So, you brought up another thing. You said that you did not realize for the longest that there weren’t other people around you that looked like you. And I think in my experience, one of the beauties of STEM, and if you're really into, well, could use the word kinda digging in and geeking out on science and tech, one of the beauties of tech is that, you know, you don’t necessarily have to reconcile with that a lot of times, at least in my opinion. That said, you did eventually realize it, and it sounded like you identified that you existed as an other in tech.

And I guess I wanna ask, when you did kind of realize that, what impact did it have on you? You know, how did it change the way you viewed your path?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, I wanna start by saying, as much as that was your and my experience, I think now I'm older and wiser and realize that we probably have a form of privilege or a form of luck, whichever one we wanna call it, that that wasn’t our experience.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, for me, kind of the moment when I realized was literally being—so, the year I went to Grace Hopper, it was 2012, and there were three and a half thousand technical women at one conference in Baltimore, actually, I think it was that year.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I think it was in Baltimore—was it in Baltimore? But yeah, and we—it was, I’d never been in that environment. So, I’d never been, kinda, you don’t know what you're missing, I guess, until you're kinda [Cross talk].

Brian Dawson: Yeah, that's it, essentially.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And there was this one thing of, like—oh, my goodness. Someone, you know, we were just having the best discussion about data science at bitly, and so has just complimented me on my necklace, let’s say, in a non-ironic way, but in the kind of way where I'm like, “Yeah, that compliment means something coming from you” whereas being at work normally, you don’t get complimented on your necklace, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, it was a really interesting time to be like, “This is what it’s like. Like, I'm really—I'm really the odd one out in a lot of scenarios when I'm working or when I'm doing anything technical.” How crazy is it that there’s this big part of my identity that I'm, like, realizing that—yeah, of course, I'm a woman in tech. Like, why wouldn’t I be a woman in tech, that that’s a thing? And at that moment, I hadn’t even explored being a black woman in tech or knowing that that was a thing.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I think for me, it was like, “Oh, gosh, I'm part of this crew, this group—great.” But also, it’s a shrinking minority. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It’s like—great, I'm joining, I'm in this thing I just realized, but we are going to be extinct if things go on as they have been. And so, it was like a—there was a two-sided thing of, if I ever have children, I don’t want them to think their mom’s a weirdo because she’s the one woman left in tech, because I'm not leaving. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, no. But also, God forbid—I mean, not God forbid, but let’s say I have a daughter who is like, “Yeah, I wanna be like mom,” I don’t want her to be the second woman in tech by the time I give birth to her, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, there was a sense of urgency of—okay, I've gotta do something about this. I've always been a girl in tech or woman in tech. People have always vaguely known that I existed, because I hit the headlines when I passed all those exams, and no one reached out and was like, “Oh, my goodness, you're like a girl in tech or you're a woman in tech. Why don’t we kinda pull you into our crew, so that at least all the stuff that might happen being a woman in that space, or a black person in that space, we can kinda forewarn you and be your community” or whatever it might be. Like, I had none of that, and so, didn't even realize until I was a couple of years in my career that I was a woman in tech.

So, for me, that was the feeling. It was like a road to Damascus thing of, you know, that this is a big issue, you're a part of it and actually, you've got a fair amount of agency and insight to maybe be a part of the change. So, that was it—it was like a bittersweet moment.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, I am—well, I'll ask, did you feel…so, when you found this crew, how did you feel? So, you recognized the difference and it sounds like that’s what sort of drove a lot of your direction as you move forward in a career and sort of why we need to diversify in STEM.

But I'm also curious, did you find it empowering when you attended this conference and discovered a group of like-minded women?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, I think there was an element of it being empowering—yeah, definitely. I think it was empowering, though, in a way that I didn't know I needed.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, because I’d always felt comfortable in those spaces, it had always been my thing. But I think, like I said, some people don’t—some people are okay being the X-Man with the powers on their own.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And others are like, “Why do I have these powers? I'm such a freak.” And then you have to meet someone else to be like, “Yeah, I also have these powers in X, Y, and Zed.” So, I think for me, it was the empowering I didn't know I needed.

Brian Dawson: Yeah, no, that’s well said and it ties back to—of course, because this is about you, I won’t have a lot of time to go into my experience. But, you know, long story short, with some of the diversification efforts that I worked on in lacrosse, as I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of boys and girls that had existed kind of alone in this very under diversified space and felt great. But then when they all came together—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Exactly.

Brian Dawson: It was like, “Wow!” Right? And it actually—and I don't know if, actually, I believe it applies as much in tech as well. There was a little bit of, “I can be comfortable with myself, even if I didn't know I wasn’t, you know, fully authentic” and it unlocks a certain level of performance.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah.

Brian Dawson: So, what we noticed on the field, and I've kind of noticed in tech, is that allows people to reach more of their potential.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: A hundred percent—100 percent. Because there are also things that you don’t realize you're hiding or that you're cloaking.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Or you don’t realize kind of the extra capacity, mental or physical or spiritual, I guess, if you wanna call it that you're putting on by being the one representative for your race or your gender or your age or whatever it might be.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I think there’s also that kind of tacit labor, if we can call it that, of kind of—I didn't realize that, I don't know, I was making extra effort to make sure I wore blazers to work or—

Brian Dawson: Right. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon:I talked a certain way. You know, all these kinds of things. Which, I mean, yeah, you're right. If I look back now, you do get a little bit of a spring in your step. I think I stopped wearing the blazers. Like, there was a whole load of stuff.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And you all have to be okay with it because I've been here for three years and you're not gonna fire me for what I wear. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: [Laughter] Right, right. Alright, so, I'm gonna—we're gonna jump around. I am now gonna go through an exercise, here. I am looking at your Twitter profile, your social media profile which, for better or worse in today’s world is how a lot of people meet us and understand us.

And I am reading your profile description, and I'll read it out loud for the audience and then I'm gonna ask you about some of the things.

Brian Dawson: So, “I like maths, tech, and helping others. Stemette Creator and CEO, Women Tech Charge podcast”—I’d like to be invited to the Women Tech Charge podcast if I could.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter]

Brian Dawson: “Trustee at Future Work, speaker, author, Forbes 50 and she/her.” So, let’s see where I hit first. I'm gonna spin my wheel and I'm gonna land on first asking you about pronouns.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Oh.

Brian Dawson: About your pronouns. So, when you put your profile together or you modified, obviously, you felt that there was a purpose and reason and importance, apparently, to put in pronouns. Can you tell me a bit about why you've included this here?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, so, it’s a convention that’s been developed, actually, that’s around inclusivity, which is something I kind of fully believe in. And I think it’s interesting because we were just talking about kind of not realizing that you're cloaking or that you hide certain things or that you're kind of assimilating to a norm that might not be who you are.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, gender is something that, again, for ages—recently, but not forever—we've thought as being kind of a direct binary thing. You're either he or she and there’s no other variation or difference or state. But, of course, now we know there are lots of different pronouns and kind of it’s that person and their own identity. So, I added this because I'm she/her and not they/their, and I'm not he/him. Because, yeah, that’s it, that’s what I’d like—those are the pronouns I’d like to be referred to, by.

Brian Dawson: Awesome, alright. Let’s go to the next.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Also, other people who have they or the or whatever can put theirs and they can be referred to as such.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. No, it’s—you know, well, and it’s, if you look at the pace at which that convention has been adopted and how important it is to a certain segment of society, it’s a unique example of how fast society can shift and change and do it to support other people.

Brian Dawson: So, I'll give you a big ups or some props on the way to the next one.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Thanks.

Brian Dawson: Forbes 50—congratulations, that’s fantastic. So, maths, I like the plural. I gotta stop there.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: That’s a British thing. Because we—it’s mathematics.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, it’s not one math, there’s several maths, so we call it maths. That’s definitely a British thing, yeah.

Brian Dawson: Okay, okay, okay. I thought it was a funny.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: So, what does maths, tech, and helping others have to do with each other?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Oh, okay—what don’t they have to do with each other? Like, technology is—so, I love technology because you can think of something and you can make it, right? And what I love the most is not making trainers that go faster or, like, random things that are kind of—or bigger or, you know, drilling holes into the ground because I want to see what happens. I'm like—no, why don’t we build a database so that person can store that information and find it more easily? Or why don’t we build a website so that person’s able to show that thing better? Or why don’t we build a bot that tells people to not say awful things to each other on Twitter? Or we don’t we—like, the altruism in tech is something that’s always driven me.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And I think it’s something that people forget that that’s kind of a capacity of tech. It’s a tool, like—you use a tool. What do you use the tool to do? Personally—

Brian Dawson: Be better.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: You build tools to do things that help people, because people need a lot of help with a lot of stuff, in general, in life. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Yeah, right. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, so, why can’t we build tech that helps rather than tech that hinders?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: But we forget that. We definitely forget that, and we're like, “Yeah, I'm just gonna build this thing because it would be cool to build it.” And it’s like, okay, you might wanna have another reason why you're gonna build a drill that drills into the middle of the—or insert name of any other kind of slightly silly, interesting idea someone’s had where it’s like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you had an app that just yo’d somebody else?” It’s like—okay, cool.

Brian Dawson: Right. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I mean, it may be cool too.

Brian Dawson: Well, yeah, it’s funny you bring this up, because I haven’t really thought about it or verbalized it, but it is kind of what’s scary about the emergence of tech and the startup culture. Like, I think entrepreneurialism is really powerful—and I'll throw this out and get your thoughts on it, right—and that’s a valid pursuit.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Mm-hmm.

Brian Dawson: But then when the tech gold rush came along, a lot of it kinda contradicts with what I hear from software developers every day—“I wanna solve tough problems that help people.” But now you're kind of in more, “Alright, what can I create that’s gonna make me a load of money? Fill in the blank,” right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And it’s one of those things where I think it’s not mutually exclusive for you to make something that helps people and makes you a fair amount of money. Like, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but you kinda have to put it first.

So, it’s really interesting. When I talk to the young people, when I talk to girls as well, I'm like—hey, do you, in your life, what is your aim? Do you wanna change things? Do you wanna make things better? Like, what is it that drives you? And it’s really interesting, because I'm like—do you wanna make things better or do you wanna be an evil genius? Like, tech is the way to do either if you want to do them, because it’s ultimately a tool that does what you want.

And so, I think, like you're saying, the kind of startup culture ended up being about money, and I think the thing that frustrates me the most is, it doesn’t have to be. Like, there are so many genuine problems. You know, do we really need that Yo app, or do we need something that’s gonna make sure that wealth is distributed well?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Or do we need something that’s gonna make sure that, you know, people that need to go to medical school or pay medical bills can pay? Like, there’s so many things where it’s like—if you just, if you use that energy to help that kind of person rather than just to build money, then we don’t need to build technology that’s gonna help the people that are now, whose lives are now ruined by the tech that you built, right?

Brian Dawson: Phenomenal, yeah.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I think it’s that kind of thing of ‘don’t do harm, and don’t forget that when you build something that’s cool’, the world we live in now means that there are consequences for what you build.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And those consequences can be more far reaching than you imagine when you're in your dorm room trying to compare whether girls are hot or not. Like, that's the nugget of the idea, but when you scale that up, which is how things happen now and that’s kind of how you make a bit of the money—like, there are gonna be casualties, more than needs to be. But if, instead of rating whether someone’s hot or not, you decided to rate whether someone looks like they might have a medical condition or not.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Like, there’s all these things where it’s like, reframing of how you do things and understanding that, you know, when—in the early days, you know, you might have made something and the Internet was just a fad. I used to have this, I used to have aunts [Laughter] in my lifetime who were like, “Oh, really? You're still doing that computer thing?”

Brian Dawson: [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Like—do you know—

Brian Dawson: I love that—“Do you do computers?” is the common question.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, “Do you do the computer thing?” and I’d be like, “It’s not a computer thing. Like, the Internet [Laughter]—this isn’t a fad.” So, I think we have to kind of move on and be like, “Look, the Internet’s no longer a fad, so if you build something, you better be ready or you better think maybe there’s consequences for what you're building. It’s not just about making it super-efficient and bigger.”

Brian Dawson: Yeah, no, that’s interesting. I mean, yeah, it’s almost—look, especially as we've gone to the pandemic and we've quarantined, it is no longer an incidental communication mechanism. I think it’s so interwoven with our lives, that it is about as impactful as the ground we stand on or at least it’s on the way there, right? You're actually, these aren’t necessarily virtual things you're inserting into the world, you're creating things that are software quote-unquote virtual—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah.

Brian Dawson: - that have real sustaining and, to your point, scaled impact on people.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, exactly.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. So, there’s—in addition to DevOps World, where you are the speaker, that’s how we got introduced and ended up doing this DevOps Radio podcast.

Actually, first, before I move on, I wanted to get in—before I move off the Twitter handle, your profile, which hopefully, now, you'll remember what’s there.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Totally forgotten, yeah. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: So, can you just tell us about the podcast real quick, get a plug-in? I would love—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah! Women Tech Charge. So, we're recording season three at the moment, actually. And as the title might suggest, I don't if any of you kind of, from a particular part of the world, you might understand that kind of Tech Charge, Tech Girl kinda thing, you might not—it’s fine. It'll be a joke some get, it'll be a joke some others don’t.

But the idea is, tech isn’t this kind of club where you have to have, you know, done your degree at 17 to kind of be able to get into it. You don’t have to be a genius. But lots of people who see things and are like, “Do you know what? I'm gonna build a tech platform to solve that.” Or there are people who are geniuses and, you know, they then are a genius and then they use their genius to solve problems.

So, Women Tech Charge is me talking to lots of women who have taken charge using technology. So, whether it’s one of the professors at Imperial College, actually, in London called Maja Pantic who was doing a lot of stuff with deep fakes to help young people who have autism understand facial expressions. So, that was kind of—she’s been working on this for decades, actually, and now, obviously, we know deep fakes for a different reason, but that’s what they were working to develop. 

Ripe Fruit is someone who has used it to help people understand the closest popping parties—I'm using the word popping parties, that’s kind of maybe the more broad colloquialism. The startup is called Shopes, and she was actually the first black woman to be a part of YC. 

So, kind of a lot—and she’s British—so, lots of different kinds of women, lots of different stories of different things that they've done and created. There’s another one who’s using AI in education to help kind of track and do kind of continual assessments, around being kind of big exams or whatever else it might be.

So, lots of cool women, rocket women—like, lots of interesting people who happen to be women and who also are kind of taking charge. And it’s a look at their lives and what they are up to, but it’s maybe more personal, kinda less technical.

Brian Dawson: Alright. No, I think, hopefully, as you can tell by our conversation, I can appreciate that. So—awesome, thanks for that plug. Check out Women Tech Charge podcast. You can—what’s the best way to get there for people to listen?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Anywhere you get your podcasts. We're on all good podcast platforms.

Brian Dawson: Okay. Well, wait ‘til we finish here. Don’t go look for it now.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: I am, and I just thought about it, I do love—actually, I like maths, tech, and helping others. I did wanna say that, as I hear you talk, I am thankful for you being you and doing what you're doing. I actually have a 23-year-old daughter who is a Mathematics minor, a CS major, and a volunteer and an activist, right? So, she is that mix of maths, tech, and helping others, and it’s awesome to be able to sit here as her father and have a conversation with someone like you, Anne-Marie. I'm gonna absolutely make sure that she checks out the Women Tech Charge podcast.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Great.

Brian Dawson: Alright. Now down to business. I guess the stuff I get paid for—or I don't know if I get paid for this, but the stuff I would get paid for.

So, DevOps World. So, you made me think about DevOps World because you really got into what I think is becoming increasingly important and that’s the space and the subject matter of ethics in technology, right? And we're all—you know, there’s a lot of people talking about at DevOps World ethics in AI, which is a subset, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Mm-hmm.

Brian Dawson: But I love that you hit on, and we'll have a talk by Chad Wathington of ThoughtWorks at DevOps World where he will also hit on the larger space of ethics in technology.

So, I took that segue to DevOps World, because I wanted to ask you—you are giving a session at DevOps World. What kinda teaser can you give us to get everybody there listening to what you have to say?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: No pressure. I mean, you have to tune in to hear what I'm gonna say, right? Isn’t that the answer?

Brian Dawson: That’s part of the teaser, so you just gotta give a little bit and then pull it back.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: A little bit more? Um, what are we even talking about? We're gonna be talking a little bit more about my journey and kind of the different stops along the way, because obviously, we've just given kind of a short version of it today. But we're also going to be talking about kind of what are practical things that people can do, like, DevOps professionals should be doing to ensure that we don’t build the robots that are kinda like Terminator that kill us.

Brian Dawson: No. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Because it’s [Cross talk] and you don’t get into it, then you know, our children will be marrying—our grandchildren, sorry, will be marrying robots and we will unintentionally end up killing, wiping the whole human race.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. And I know we say it tongue in cheek, but I know 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have really bought into the fact that it’s really plausible. It is really plausible. 

Okay, so you are also gonna talk—so, that’s your teaser of what Anne-Marie is gonna talk about. You know, join us for what I'm sure will be a compelling discussion.

Now, let’s shift. So, you're speaking at DevOps World. Now, you're one of these advanced degree, you know, Ph.D., high level education people, not even working in the real world, right? So, what do you know about DevOps?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: What do I know about DevOps? [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Yes, I do—I mean, you don’t actually, do you still code at all? That was a joke, by the way, for people—as my wife says, I have terrible humor, so that probably didn't work, but do you—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: There you go. 

Brian Dawson: Do you still code?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I code on the side. I'm Technical Lead at Summit, which means that I code as, like—it’s almost like, you know, when you have the F1 race track and someone has to go around and, like, put themselves in the car and go around just to make sure that it’s not too whatever. So, at the moment, the coding I do is limited to just testing to see that this platform won’t fall over when the 5-year-olds dribble all over it or whatever it might be.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: But also will mean that the 25-year-olds have enough things to do over a two-day hackathon. So, any code that I do—the thing I always enjoy, will always enjoy is WebDev, which I know people don’t necessarily count as coding, wah wah wah wah. But ultimately, that’s kind of where I'm happiest, because that’s 10-year-old Anne-Marie, basically.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. Phenomenal, phenomenal. So, can I ask, how much—you know, what are your thoughts on some of the process and practice developments, CI, CD, DevOps? And I'll frame it within two questions, right? Do you believe that they're important to us progressing as an industry, and is there any correlation to this emerging DevOps culture and the pursuit to diversify tech?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I think—I'm not sure. So, CI—continuous improvement, right?

Brian Dawson: Well, continuous improvement is the larger body. I'm sorry, I used acronyms. I meant CI that’s continuous integration, continuous delivery as practices underpinning this DevOps approach.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah. So, I think being able to formalize processes around what’s done is definitely good progress. It’s good progress. I like the look of it because it means that you've got less reliance on that kinda 10X Dev person we used to have where the whole company’s gonna fall in if Ricky, you know, if we piss Ricky off—can I say piss? I can say piss, right?

Brian Dawson: Yeah, you can say piss. You can say a lot worse.

Anne-Marie Imafidon:If we piss Ricky off—yeah. [Laughter] Yeah, if we piss Ricky off, then the whole company’s gonna fall in on itself. So, I think the industrialization of what we're building and what we're creating is definitely good because we need less reliance on others.

I think the other thing I'm quite enjoying about it all is that it also means that you don’t have to have been there for ages to be able to contribute to what’s going on. Which I think also, when we talk about inclusion—which is what I always end up bringing everything back to—when we talk about inclusion and diverse people there, it’s harder to say, “This is an exclusive club, and because you didn't blow into cassettes when you were younger, you don’t know what you're talking about,” right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Which is a problem we had for generational, too, now, where it’s kinda like, “You didn't do this. You didn't pass these kind of weird initiation things that don’t really necessarily correlate with your ability as a Dev, which we've kind of held people up to.” So, I think productionalizing it, formalizing it, having a proper structure around it—although that maybe hampers creativity sometimes, I think that kinda the idea of continuous delivery means that others are able to kinda get on and be a part of it and contribute as project manager, whatever else they might be. 

And I think this has been seen, so I don't know if you've noticed it as much in the U.S., but this is something we now have in the U.K. where there’s quite a lot of people who have ended up being kind of, they're tearing down the gates, almost, or trying to disarm the gatekeepers. There’s been a recent spate of, “Here’s how to get into DevOps. Here’s six things you need to know, and you can get to a six figure salary.” And it’s quite a liberating thing or people to be able to have that in an Instagram account, right?

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: To have that as a Twitter handle or to have that and end up being featured on BBC News, I mean, it’s terrible that—you know, so, there’s one particular woman, for example, who ended up being kinda trolled or ended up losing her job or whatever because she came out and was like, “I'm on a six figure salary. Here’s how I did it. I'm DevOps here, I do that, I contract, I blah blah blah blah blah.” And it blew up for the wrong reasons, but it still blew up with the title of, you know, “Here’s how to make six figures in DevOps.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, you had never been able to see DevOps as a word on BBC News. Like, that would have never been a thing, right? Or it would've been like, “Ha ha, you don’t know what DevOps are. You can’t work here.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I think, for me, it’s been really—it’s been really nice, actually, to see it grow as a practice, to see it formalize, but also to see it be visible where you can say DevOps, you can say developer, you can say project manager and they all have the same level of kind of awareness—

Brian Dawson: Importance

Anne-Marie Imafidon:- and understanding. So, yeah. I think the other thing has been it being embraced—so, this is kinda slightly more deep than your question, but it being embraced as a separate role has meant, as well, you've got the right progression for people who wanna go along that path and they're kind of recognized in a way that, when I started my career, DevOps wasn’t a thing, necessarily. It wasn’t quite a big space. And so, people have that as a formalized career, which is always a good thing for kind of people being able to feel satisfaction.

But also—what was my second point? I was gonna make another point on DevOps. Oh, also, I think it also does lead into this whole ethics in tech thing where we are taking it seriously that you need to have fail safes and you need to have kind of a bottom in anything that you're building where, in the olden days, we didn't have that. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Right, where you have a level of transparency, you have a level of, arguably, immutable checks, and everybody is a stakeholder.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah. And you have service guaranteed, right?

Brian Dawson: Right.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It’s like, these are checks and balances we have to ensure that level of service is guaranteed. Where initially, we didn't, that wasn’t as important, right? It was—make the thing that’s cool and—

Brian Dawson: No, yeah, it was make the thing that’s cool and hand me a binary so someone can go put it on a server somewhere. Whatever happened to get there, whether it took Brent from The Phoenix Project or one person to knock it out. I will say there’s a bit of it, I'm just riffing on you, right? Sunlight is the best disinfectant, right, that old adage, right? There’s a bit of what you said, it sort of brings it above board, makes everybody an equal stakeholder—that has its own ethical benefits, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Very much, exactly. Yeah. So, I remember there was somewhere that I think I interned. It was either where I was interning or a friend was interning while I was interning somewhere else. And, yeah, someone was running stack exchange on a machine under their desk at work. And, like, the whole tech department, that was, like, it. So, if that person wasn’t in or it wasn’t turned on, or like—and it’s like, you can’t…like, we shouldn’t have been there. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: That floor piece shouldn’t have been a thing in a professional outfit. But now, we've professionalized it, so that’s not a thing.

Brian Dawson: So, I am—I keep getting thrown off because you keep talking about.

Brian Dawson: No, no, not thrown off, but it’s in a good way. You keep talking about the old times, and people—this is a podcast, people can’t see you; they'll see your Twitter feed. What old times are you talking about?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: 2010?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I've been doing this for 20 years as well, Brian, just so you know. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Okay, okay. [Laughter] 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Maybe people will say ________ 20 years ago, but I was still there.

Brian Dawson: Right, right, right. I'm sure you're light years ahead of me; it’s still funny to hear.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Like, I'm the old, grumpy guy that goes, “[Sighs] You know, these people don’t even know what a register is. There’s people graduating”—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: You know? They ask people, I've spoken to, you know, well paid, functioning, contributing software engineer that don’t know what a pointer is. And that’s no offense to anybody out there—I do also realize you don’t necessarily need to know any more, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon And it’s also not their fault. Like, I didn't choose when I was born, right?

Brian Dawson: Right.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Like, you can’t hold it against me. But also, there are things that I'll know and understand that you might not necessarily get, so—

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah, right. That’s my privilege, and I'll recognize my privilege of being old. 

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: I can—okay, you…this damn music, this dang [Laughter]… Alright. So, I know I am gonna have to, I can’t keep you here with me all day, so I wanna shift into a DevOoops moment, and that is Dev O-O-O-P-S, DevOoops, darn. You know, what is a software development challenge that you've faced in your career or a mistake that you've made, your team has made, and how did you overcome it, what did you learn from it? And dig deep, don’t come up with, like, some, “Oh, I actually only had a typo in my pointer for my register.” See how I did that? I brought it back around.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you brought it back. I see that. Gosh, dig deep. It’s whether it’s—I mean, this is the funny thing in DevOps, was it was my fault or not. I mean, there’s always times when systems just are down. I mean, I get hit with the Error 500 on my press more than I think I’d be willing to—was it Drupal? More than I think I’d be willing to admit. So, there’s definitely things like that that have happened. I don't know, what’s a big one? There’s no big one?

Brian Dawson: You've never just, like, completely messed up—so, what’s here, officially, on the record?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: No, no. I think my thing is, I mess it up all the time.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I don’t commit the mess-ups to memory, I commit the, “What should I do?”

Brian Dawson: Oh, that’s the DevOoops lesson—there you go.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I completely, I'm super-efficient with this. So, you know, like—I don't know, if you run, like, a hash on something, you just keep the value? That solution you have operates.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: The full what was there originally, I keep the result from that—that’s it.

Brian Dawson: So, look, that was actually—ding, ding, ding—you kind of win possibly what is gonna be the best DevOoops answer.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: Accidentally, serendipitously stumbled on the best DevOoops answer—I can’t remember them, because I only store the result.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah.

Brian Dawson: It’s a misuse of resources to store—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It is!

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Definitely. Now, at this point, my initials are AI, and they've always been like that, just so you know, this is like a thing.

Brian Dawson: No, but it just happens. No, that is—that’s funny. And look, I can tie this back again. You sound like somebody that must have programmed in the old days where you didn't have infinite resources to use inefficiently, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah! [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: You're managing, this is when we had 2 Megs of RAM to program.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: You know what, maybe that’s where I learned it from. I wonder if that’s a thing. But literally, that is how my brain operates.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: It’s really bad, because I make mistakes all the time and I'm the kind of person that will give people advice, but I won’t be able to give you the full story.

Brian Dawson: The context of it.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I'm just like, “Look, look—just believe me on this one. Don’t give them that permission.” Or, I don't know, like, “Believe me on this one—click that one first before you do that. It will give you an error message, but do that bit first before you do that.”

Brian Dawson: Yeah, and if you build up trust—so, there’s a lot of talk about being able to give people the why so you can bring them along, and there’s absolutely power in that from a team sort of interaction standpoint. I would absolutely say, though, that that’s a reasonable, a powerful life principle as an individual, right? To go, “You know, I do a hash, I only keep the result. The rest of the stuff goes out.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Cluster inside, but you're right, it means it’s not great for teamwork, which I guess, that’s a whole ‘nother podcast. [Laughter] 

Brian Dawson: That’s a whole other—yeah, exactly, that’s the next, when you invite me to Women Tech Charge, we'll talk about that.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: [Laughter] We'll talk about that, there we go.

Brian Dawson: Alright. So, I'm excited to hear your answer on this next question. What is a book, podcast—and not your podcast—or another resource or resources that you’d absolutely recommend that our listeners read, follow, et cetera, to help them be better professionals, better practitioners?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, I've got two book recommendations. One is a book called Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, which, especially if you're working with data, which is most of us, it’s a brilliant one to read. And I think it’s definitely a good angle or this whole ethics in tech, how to be a good Dev in the 21st Century kind of angle. It looks at, as the title suggests, it looks at kind of data bias and the fact that we kind of collect data and take averages across societies and whatever and we ignore gender. Whereas, if we looked at gender and we kinda just did at least one extra slice on our data, we’d make much better decisions.

Brian Dawson: Okay. Wow.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And this is even outside of the tech world, this is like, just in policies or how you decide what you ice when it snows. Like, there’s a lot of things where it’s like, actually, if you look at the difference in gender between what happens when there is a snow storm and when you do have—you know, all over the town. It’s really interesting to look at what happens. Or even heart medicine. The fact that we say, “Hey, we're gonna base this medicine off healthy 20 to 40-year-old men for heart conditions”—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I mean, I'm never gonna be a healthy 20 to 40-year-old man, and so the heart medicine that I might get is actually less effective and I'm more likely to die from a heart attack.

Brian Dawson: Wow. Yeah. So, that—so, Invisible Women, you have me…unfortunately, I keep hearing, I'm absolutely gonna get this, and I'm gonna call it out. I just keep downloading, I'm spending all this money on books I hear, so, I have a Kindle full of books I'm not reading. But no, that sounds powerful. That sounds—

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah, read that one first. 

Brian Dawson: That sounds powerful and important. Thank you, yeah.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: A book—and I'm picking up my phone, and this is gonna mess up the recording, but it doesn’t matter. So, I can’t remember the name of the author. There’s another book called Better Allies, and it was written by Karen Catlin. And this, as a DevOps person, especially if you're a DevOps person that wants to do right by the people around you and who wants to kind of—I think there’s been a lot of talks since George Floyd, frustratingly died, unnecessarily died. And there’s been a lot of talk about people educating themselves and, I think, not enough talk about action. 

So, this is the thing, I'm talking to companies quite a lot, like, a lot of tech companies at the moment are like, “Anne-Marie, what do we do?” And I'm like, “Look, you can read all you want to read, but if you don’t do anything, there’s no point. I don’t even want to be here to have to tell you that.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, Better Allies is a really good book for just understanding the small things to do on a daily basis. I'll give you kind of a story, though, about why this is—

Brian Dawson: Yeah, please, or an example—yeah, absolutely.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: A couple of years ago, there was a Rosetta mission to Mars by the European Space Agency. We love space. Everyone loves space, right? It’s not NASA, but it’s the ESA, which is the European version, blah blah blah. It was big news. It was all over the papers, all over the TV, and there’s one dude that turns up to represent the European Space Agency, on this really, really big press event that goes out across the entire nation that morning.

He turns up wearing a shirt with kinda half-naked ladies on it, and that is what is broadcast is him wearing that to represent the European Space Agency on one of the biggest days in their history on this Rosetta mission to Mars.

Brian Dawson: Wow.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, someone kinda tweeted a picture, it’s like, “No, no—women are totally welcome in our community. Just ask the dude in this shirt.” And so, I say to people, kinda, “Let’s think about how we got there.” I'm assuming he legally acquired that shirt. So, in that transaction, no one said, “Huh, this is an interesting shirt. I wonder where you're gonna wear this shirt to.” Right? No one asked that, right? He left the shop, he got home. I'm assuming there’s someone who loves him at home, or nearby, and none of them said, “That’s an interesting shirt. I wonder why that’s the shirt that you picked up today.”

That morning, he left the house. Let’s say he got the bus or he got in the car, but in the car, no one in the traffic lights kinda said, “Huh. That’s a shirt.” No one on the bus said, “I wonder where you're wearing that shirt to.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon: He then got and maybe met his colleagues, because on a big, big day like this, he wouldn’t have been alone going to the studio, he would've met his colleagues. Not one single one of them said, “Do you not own another shirt that you could've worn today?” That’s fine, he got to the studio. Anyone that’s ever worked in TV will know, normally, they say, “Bring two outfits,” because if you wear something striped—

Brian Dawson: Yeah. No stripes, yeah, or—right? Don’t match the background, but half-naked ladies? Eh…

Anne-Marie Imafidon: I mean, no one in the studio said, “What’s the other outfit that you brought?” The person behind the camera, the person in front of the camera—no one said anything. And so, I say, you know, you've managed to appear on this podcast today not wearing a shirt with half-naked ladies. I wonder how you managed to do that. And this isn’t even necessarily the biggest day of your career in front of millions of people, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Okay. So, I tell this story and I say to people, “It’s a small thing. You could've been one of those people that said significant.” I happened to tell this story in front of one of those people that could've said something. [Laughter] And this is on another podcast, so if you wanna check it out, you can find it. And she was like, “I'm really sorry, Anne-Marie, I could've been one of those people.” And I'm like, “That’s interesting, Maggie. Okay.” And she goes, “But it’s worse.” And I'm like, “Tell me how it’s worse.” And she says the shirt was custom made.

Brian Dawson: Wow.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah. And so, it’s like—okay, there were so many opportunities, there were so many times there where someone could've said, “Maybe—I mean, own the shirt, do what you want in your own home, but maybe this isn’t the shirt to wear on one of the biggest days or the European Space Agency for a Rosetta mission to Mars.” And yet, this person has been in the right kind of environment that has not only tolerated, but I'm guessing celebrated elements of that.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And so, you've got to think—if you're someone that works alongside him, if you've not been able to say, “Don’t wear a shirt with half-naked ladies onto TV to represent all of us and the decades of work we've done on this mission to Mars,” then what else haven’t you been able to say?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: What else has he been able to say and do in that space? Because it’s a simple, “Don’t wear a shirt with naked people on it.”

Brian Dawson: Yeah, yeah. And as you were making the tie-in, you know, it’s everybody—you know, just everybody assuming a little bit of responsibility for care and concern in speaking up.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: But I don't know that that’s a big one. I think there are bigger things that you can speak up on.

Brian Dawson: Right. Well, it’s a powerful—no, it’s a powerful example. I think at the risk of a little levity, I mean, maybe losing some listeners, right?

Brian Dawson: But just as we go, before I let you go, Anne-Marie—phenomenal discussion, phenomenal thoughts. I'm really—and again, my listeners at DevOps Radio say it’s a cliché, but I really mean it. I'm kind of a little bit ticked off and disappointed we don’t have more time to talk. Hopefully, maybe some time in the future.

That said, do you have any final thoughts for the listeners as we close out, here?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, it’s kind of related. I think my, the biggest thing that I'm trying to get people to kinda understand at the moment is that a lot of the things that we're asking you to do, if you're a manager or if you're a leader, if you're someone that has any kind of agency in any of the spaces that you go into professionally or not is to kind of exercise that agency and to get into the habit of using it well. Because the day that you're the President of the United States or the president of your company or the whatever it is, you don’t want that to be the first day that you start doing things well or doing good, or doing things ethically. You kind of want to have had some practice in it before you really are holding the reins or you're really in control of the red button.

So, I think my thing is always, like, practice it in the now. Like, you have [Cross talk] for so many other things that we do, especially as technical people, sorry. Especially as technical people, you have to have a growth mindset, right? You can’t just rely on what you did in college or what you did whenever it was, and so, you're gonna turn up to work today and apply that, because these things continue to [Cross talk].

Brian Dawson: Yeah, no—yeah. I want to jump in, I want to let you know—so, keep the thought. I was not telling you to wrap up.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Oh, I thought it was—

Brian Dawson: These are my hand movements. I'm moving my hands to the listeners buying in—no, it’s just like anything else. It’s a skill you have to build up. Don’t think everybody—and I think this is what you're saying, you can tell me I'm wrong, right?—when you really, really develop the influence and agency on a wider scale, you want to be prepared for that stage. And don’t think that, you know, you become aware of pronouns or you become aware of the statistics on lack of diversity or what have you, and then all of a sudden, the next day, you're just gonna be phenomenal and having an impact, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yeah.

Brian Dawson: You need to build the skill, build the knowledge and understanding over time, is that fair?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: You need to build the skill, and even more so as a technologist—because ultimately, that tech tool that we kind of played with and we enjoyed when we were younger and kind of was inconsequential, like we said, is super consequential now to the point that it’s become a power. So, even if you feel like you're a powerless person or a lowly person, you having that tech skill—I mean, I've ended up calling it…so, in England, we have this thing, it used to be, like, education was for reading, writing, and arithmetic, and those were the skills that you needed.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: And I'm like, it’s reading, writing, arithmetic, and re-digital. Where actually, kind of, this digital literacy is something that everyone’s gonna need, right?

Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, if you're someone that’s really in it or even just aware of that, that means that you have so much power and so much more agency than you probably could ever even realize, and that every line of code, every code review—anything that you do kind of has much more power and much more consequence as each day goes by than you realize. And so, kinda get into that habit of doing it well and using that power and, you know, you're for evil or you're against it. Simple as.

Brian Dawson: Yeah. Phenomenal. Perfect final words—you're either for evil or you're against it. Anne-Marie, thank you for your time. For the listeners here, please sign up for and attend DevOps World 2020. A lot of phenomenal content, including a session by Anne-Marie, which she teased us. That will be September 22nd through 24th. Anne-Marie, I look forward to seeing you there. Listeners, I look forward to seeing you there. Thank you.

Brian Dawson

Brian is a DevOps evangelist and practitioner with a focus on agile, continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD) and DevOps practices. He has over 25 years as a software professional in multiple domains including quality assurance, engineering and management, with a focus on optimization of software development. Brian has led an agile transformation consulting practice and helped many organizations implement CI, CD and DevOps.

Follow Brian Dawson on Twitter.