SCaLE 16x Lightning Talk: “You’re a Failure! Now what?”

I was really happy with the way my lightning talk went at UpScale on Saturday night. It more than made up for my disappointment in how my main talk worked out.

I asked everybody who ever blew up production to raise their hand. Almost every hand in the room went up. Photo by Lisa Sweeney.

UpScale is a series of five-minute lightning talks in a “modified” Ignite format. I say “modified” because the standard format is 20 slides of 15 seconds each. SCaLE decided to go for 10 slides of 30 seconds each. The talk in its 20-slide incarnation had been written as a possible selection for PyCascades in January, but was not picked. SCaLE’s decision to do things differently from the 20 slide standard forced me to refactor my presentation a bit and cut out a few moments of planned levity in favor of other things, but it worked well.

Opening with Wile E Coyote and the statement that “My name’s Michael Gat and I’m a failure” might be an issue in some conferences. Maybe most conferences. But this is a bunch of Linux nerds at 8pm on a Saturday in Pasadena. I opened to laughs, not groans or (even worse) stone cold faces. Things got even better when I immediately asked everybody who had ever blown up production to raise their hand and almost every hand in the room went up. I think there were some five year-olds who raised their hands! (Which does make me wonder what their parents are teaching them, but nevermind…)

We all have to eat that sandwich at times, so pick your favorite flavor.

I may have also given the first talk ever in the history of major conference talks to feature an open-face shit sandwich as a slide. Thanks to Mark Manson for the idea, which is that we’re all going to have to eat it at times, so might as well pick the flavor you are most willing to eat. Or as Chris Smith stated more judiciously at dinner on Sunday night: “what’s the thing I’d want to do every day even if I repeatedly failed at it?”

A shit sandwich is also not the kind of thing you want to put on a slide at most conferences. Wile E Coyote may not be the most appropriate image, but I’m sure it’s been done. Not so sure about this one though. There was a noticeable delayed reaction when the slide went up. Some laughs, some groans, and about half the people in the room got their phones out to capture the moment. Fortunately, SCaLE is special and this worked well for the crowd there. There’s a reason I wanted SCaLE to be the first conference where I gave a talk, and was happy for UpScale to be the first place I tried out a funny lightning talk.

The next day, random people were walking up to me, giving me the thumbs up or a high five and just saying “shit sandwich!” or something like that. It was bizarre, but probably not a horrible marketing moment, given the audience.

I concluded with a less-shitty thought. Photo by Lisa Sweeney.

So I was quite happy. There was the desired humor along the way, some serious notes, and a conclusion on a positive message about relying on each other and asking for help. Something I haven’t done enough of in my career.

I have to do a few more like this one.


Slides are somewhat compressed in the video. Full resolution slides in pdf format are on github.

The reddit thread I referred to is at https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/6ez8ag/accidentally_destroyed_production_database_on/ It is instructive as to why picking the right place to work (and by extension, fail) is important. This is a company that failed systemically at so many levels, and of course chose to blame the guy at the bottom when all fingers should have pointed at the top.

The other company I referred to changed their website after getting slammed for it on twitter. But does anybody really believe they have changed? Company is at https://www.healthiq.com/ and their careers page currently states that “We’ve received some feedback recently on our Careers page and how we describe our culture and workplace, and we realize we may have missed the mark.” Uh, yeah. Twitter thread that provoked my use of them as an example along with some other excerpts is: https://twitter.com/mattpointblank/status/969515360637595648

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