The early days of Drupal.
A focus on employees as humans.
Project manager burnout.
The false hustle.
IVAN STEGIC: Hey, everyone. You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. We’re starting off the new year with a retrospective.
We published 29 episodes last year, which is slightly more than once every two weeks, or as we say it here, every fortnight. That’s a great deal of content, all of which was created by an amazing team here at TEN7. So, let me begin with some thanks. I’d like to thank our transcriptionist Roxanne, who works tirelessly transcribing the audio for every episode, so that we can publish the text online. Thank you! To Charlene, who edits each of the transcripts and comes up with the summaries, links and social media posts, thank you! And of course, to Jonathan, the producer of the show, who masterfully records, edits, mixes, schedules, uploads and makes my life magically easy to record this show. Thank you! None of the almost 30 episodes of 2019 would be possible without you.
So we’re going to look back and play some of our favorite excerpts of the year. Before each clip, I’ll tell you who the guest is, what episode it came from and I’ll try to set it up with additional context. And don’t worry, today’s podcast webpage has links to the episodes, so you can always go back and listen to them all.
We started off 2019 with our 50th episode, and who better to have as a guest than the founder of Drupal himself, Dries Buytaert. I asked him about how his role and how it had changed over the years, since starting the project and writing the initial code in his dorm room in Belgium.
DRIES BUYTAERT: I think my role has evolved a lot over time. I mean, in the early days I would write 100% of the code, and I would spend a lot of my time building Drupal.org. I would help run the servers behind Drupal.org. I would organize the DrupalCon events or help organize them, like intensively. And over time I’ve scaled more and more. Drupal Association would be one example of that, as a step in evolving my role, which put in place an entity, a non-profit entity specifically, that could take over the organization of DrupalCon which now is a serious event. It costs a few million dollars to put on and takes a whole team of people to organize. Same thing with managing our website and the underlying hardware infrastructure.
It’s now being managed professionally by people at the Drupal Association and again, also with the help of people in the community, just like DrupalCon. But these are examples of how I’ve scaled my role. Obviously on the technical side, I went from being the sort of single core committer, to now having teams of core committers for each of the major releases, having committees and task forces around different aspects of the project, like a technical working group that defines coding standards. We have release managers and product managers and framework managers, all these kinds of roles to subsystem maintainers that are responsible for different aspects of Drupal core. And so, these are all examples of me scaling my role over time, and we continue to make governance changes all the time and to scale the project as needed.
I think that’s the right thing to do. As projects or organizations get bigger, you need to put the kind of organizational structure in place. You also need to scale the culture of the project and so, I try to help with that through my keynotes. Actually, last year at this time, I helped write Drupal’s Values and Principles document, that’s a way to help scale our culture. So, it takes a lot of effort and different people to maintain and run the Drupal project today.
IVAN: After I had been to the ManageDigital conference, I was enamored with Rob Harr’s keynote and his leadership of a company called Sparkbox. His style is squarely focused on all the people that are connected to his company, whether that’s current employees, clients, partners or even former employees. In Episode 74, that published in November of 2019, I asked him about this focus.
IVAN: I love the friendly disposition you have, and how inviting you are, and it doesn’t just extend to clients and partners and current team members. It also extends to Sparkbox alums. When you gave your keynote at Manage Digital, I was really impressed with how you talked about the wider Sparkbox community, not just the people that are working there right now, but people who have worked and humans that have been with you in the past. What’s your philosophy around that and how do you get those people together, if you do?
ROB HARR: My philosophy around all of this is I got into this for the humans, and I believe that we have to treat them well. I think that your former employees are the ones that actually control your reputation. I want to make sure everybody leaves well, and things end well for people. I think so much of how people view a relationship, and that’s really what employment is, it’s defined by how it ends. A perfectly good, even successful relationship, if it ends poorly, can feel horrible and can color the whole thing, and that’s not at all what I want to do. I think that what we look for is for people who, during at least a season—because there’s seasons for all things—where our seasons line up and we can kick a bunch of butt together on projects, and that season will probably end, and that’s okay.
And I think that’s really healthy to think about life that way that, “Hey, our goals lined up and we did a bunch of great work together, and now our goals don’t and we’re going to go our own ways.” That doesn’t remove that person or alum from our story. It doesn’t take us out of their story. There’s a lot of good stuff that happened. And why not respect that by throwing a party on the way out?
I think the other part that is so fundamental is, I can’t talk about caring for humans the way that I do and believe what I believe and then only live that when it benefits me, when they’re employees. I think that’s fundamental. If you really care about the people, then it has to transcend when it makes sense, when it’s convenient. I invite people to come in and talk to me about what they want to do next, and I’ve written letters of recommendation to help people find new jobs when they’re current employees.
That’s all good stuff. Sometimes people grow. Well, all the times we hope people grow. That should be a common thing that we want out of people. Our alums are part of our story. I still talk to them. If I end up in a city where there’s a Sparkbox alumni and I haven’t seen that person in a while, doing dinner or taking them out, or just saying “thank you” is totally commonplace.
IVAN: Why do you call your company a “studio?” It’s a subtle distinction from being an agency or a firm or a dev shop. I think it’s worth explaining and exploring.
ROB: I hate the word “agency.”
IVAN: Yeah, I do too. [laughing]
ROB: It makes me think of Don Draper, with the brown liquor sitting in his office, smoking, and the whole power dynamic that comes with that. I think the word “agency” has been overloaded a lot and doesn’t make clients think of partnership they have. It thinks like, “Hey, we’re going to throw some work over the wall and it’s going to come back and you’re going to be our agency of record.” It’s everywhere. I like the word “studio” because I think it speaks better to the creative problem-solving work that we want to do in partnership with our clients, and it invokes the right feeling of that.
IVAN: Rob was one of the keynote speakers at Manage Digital, that’s the annual project managers conference in Minneapolis put on by our good friend Lynn Winter. She was on the show as part of Episode 56, in March. And at the conference, she was giving a mini-keynote about burnout, so I asked her about it. She had some wise words to share with us.
IVAN: Let’s talk about burnout. How prevalent do you see that? Do you have any data to show? What have you noticed and what are you hoping to achieve with your mininote?
LYNN WINTER: In general, stats, if you start looking at people across the industry, or working people, and then specifically, across the industry, there’s so much pressure and change of environment from, where is the line between home and work, from working at home or having technology accessible all the time? It’s really blurred the line of when do you go home? When do you put things down? When do you turn off? And it’s becoming a problem, and honestly this talk came out of my own personal challenges with burnout, but as I started talking about it with people, I heard these stories over, and over and over. I’d be speaking at conferences and people would talk to me about, “How do you deal with this?” and “How do you deal with that?” and it was all about boundaries, and all about taking ownership of the path that you actually want to go on, versus letting the path take you.
I think it’s a thing that PMs deal with more in this industry, because of maybe the role and how it’s often positioned at agencies. So, what I mean by that is, a lot of times it’s not as valued as a developer, for instance. Like, when you’re going to hire, “Oh, we can get any old PM, they don’t really need to be a PM, they can be anyone, they can do that, they’re just scheduling meetings,” but hire a developer, it’s, “We’ll get a recruiter and it’s going to be harder.” And, it’s hard for different reasons, to hire different roles, but there’s just oftentimes that situation setup or less responsibility or value placed on it.
Some PMs aren’t even allowed to talk to clients. They have to go through account managers, they’re not given the responsibility or the value in that role. And so, there’s some positioning at certain places, and then there’s also that impact of how you personally come to your role and for me, I personally have an issue, balancing, l like, don’t take on too much, and stop running the hamster wheel kind of situation.
So, I had a kind of career change back in 2017, and I’ve been really trying to force myself to step back and try to realign what are my goals in my career and what are my personal goals, and things like that. So, since I’ve started talking to people about it, I’ve gotten, honestly, a lot of feedback that has been positive, as well as a lot of sad stories. So, it’s something we need to talk about.
IVAN: In Episode 66, from the end of July, I talked to Jeff Archibald, CEO of Paper Leaf, about two articles he wrote, one about the false hustle and the other about the 60-hour work week. I asked him about what motivated him to write them.
IVAN: It segues into this article you wrote on Fast Company about the false hustle, how keeping busy is just a way of not getting things done.
JEFF ARCHIBALD: Right.
IVAN: And you’ve also written about humble bragging, about how a 60-hour workweek is actually symptomatic of larger problems that you might have as a company. I’ve talked to Lynn Winter in a previous episode about burnout, and it just seems to come up more and more. Like we are trying to be cognizant of what we’re doing, of what our employees are doing, so that we’re not detrimental to our own mental health, and so that we’re happy in the work we do, so that we have careful focus in work and life and home. So, the question is, what motivated you to write those two articles? The false hustle one and the one about the 60-hour work week?
JEFF: The 60-hour workweek one was just a bit of a direct response to what I was exposed to, and what I’m sure virtually every listener and yourself has been exposed to as well, through social media, and just is that humble bragging, right? “Oh, man. Crazy week. Finally shutting the laptop down. It’s 10 p.m. on Friday.” It’s indirectly talking about how important we are—and I’m totally guilty of this in the past as well—how important we are, how busy we are and how successful we are. But in reality, that’s not sustainable. It’s symptomatic of not having enough process in place, or not having enough revenue coming in, or just symptomatic of a host of potential flaws with the business model.
So, instead of bragging about it, it’d be great if we were bragging about how everybody in our shop worked a 25-hour work week and it was super stoked, and we’re hitting 30% profit margins, and everyone is getting paid properly. Those are the things we should be bragging about. And I get that, especially when you’re starting a business, a start-up or an agency or whatever, there is an inordinate amount of time that needs to be put in to get to the point where you have enough clients and you can support bringing on somebody to help ease that workload. I understand that. But, if it’s continually what we’re toting as success, then I think we have it totally backwards.
The false hustle article, that was more just like, I suppose, a moment in self-awareness for myself. I’m a productive person, I can get a lot of stuff done very quickly, but I have a tendency to overvalue the volume of tasks I complete, versus the importance of those tasks. I could sit down and crank out 12 things in a day, but did it actually move the needle anywhere? I was working really hard and I was being really busy, but it’s the equivalent on some level of, in that article the analogy I drew to Sammy Sosa’s sprinting from the dugout to the outfield, in between innings, but then jogging after a fly ball. [laughing] It’s the same kind of thing.
For me I just wrote that more to remind myself that I need to make sure and understand what I really need to be working on. What’s truly important. And apply tools like the Eisenhower Matrix to understand what needs to be done now versus what can be delegated and plan my week out a little bit better. Or else you can get to the end of the week and think that you’ve moved the needle because you did a lot of stuff. But it doesn’t mean you actually have moved the needle.
IVAN: How do you keep yourself on track for that? It sounds like a great idealistic way of living, and I would love to do it myself, but how do I actually do it? How do you do it?
JEFF: It’s relatively straightforward, to be honest. It is, I suppose, a series of processes. So, we use OKRs here: objectives of key results. I set one or two objectives for sales and marketing, which is primarily my focus here for every quarter, and then I list out the key results. If you’re a listener and you’re wondering what that means, just google OKRs and you’ll find a whole bunch of really interesting methods and information about it. But I set up those results and those are the things that I really try to focus on. Those are the things that are going to move the needle.
So, I map those out. So if I have an objective to increase revenue for the next quarter, then some of my key results might be to pitch three new projects every month. It might be bid on $1.5 million of work. Just key results like that. So that’s where I start, and then at the start of every week, I have a reminder in my calendar and about a 30-minute window to actually plan and block out my week, and it says right in there, review your OKRs, figure out what you should be working on, and then I’ll go through my calendar and I’ll see what time I have available, that hasn’t been booked for meetings or whatever else.
And I’ll block in time to focus on this particular sales objective, or this key result. Or, this particular proposal that I know was due by the end of the week. So, for me, those OKRs ultimately are making sure I’m working on the really, really important stuff that’ll move the needle, and then that weekly calendar reminder and the subsequent blocking out of my time on a weekly basis, is how I make sure that stuff actually gets done.
IVAN: How many companies have you worked for that have gone to the trouble of figuring out your own personal love language? Well, Alison and Chad Paris, who run Paris Leaf, were my guests in Episode 67, and in this clip Alison talks about their company’s values: gratitude, responsibility, integrity, candor and excellence.
IVAN: Ali, what is G-RICE?
ALISON PARIS: G-RICE stands for our five values. And I do want to expand on that a little bit, what Chad was saying, because I think it’s important to talk about using your purpose and ambition statement and also your core values, to make strategic hiring—and sadly, firing—decisions, I think by evolving our core, kind of brand messaging, and really owning it and metabolizing it for ourselves, it strengthened our ability to make really strategic decisions about who we bring on our team, and as a result, the conversations are so much easier, making decisions as a collective are so much easier because we just bounce it off of our values, which are gratitude, responsibility, integrity, candor and excellence. So, that’s where the G-RICE comes from.
IVAN: How do you know when you’re not living up to those standards and who’s policing them?
ALISON: I think we’re quite a self-policing team. We are very open with one another, and we really turn to one another to hold each other accountable, so if we feel like one another is kind of out of line with our values, we’re very quick to bring that up, in a really kind and empowered way. So, there’s not necessarily one person with the policing badge on, making sure we’re having these as our core values. I think it’s somewhat easy.
And I’ll knock on wood as I’m saying it, it’s easy when you hire and fire for your core values, because the teammates who are ultimately on your team end up embodying those values. So, it’s not as much as a policing as it is like We’re a team doing this together.
IVAN: I met Carl Smith at Owner Camp in Bend, Oregon in the Spring. I went to this Bureau of Digital event not knowing anyone, but came home feeling like I had a new, intimate set of friends and peers I could talk to. In Episode 63, I asked Carl how he planned to scale this wonderful thing he was in charge of.
IVAN: So, I’m going to ask you what your daughter asked. How do you scale that good feeling? How do you make it even bigger?
CARL SMITH: It’s tough right? Because in a way you’re scaling intimacy. Lori Gold Patterson said that to me. Lori Gold Patterson runs Pixo out of Urbana, Illinois and we were at Owner Summit in San Diego a few years back, and she came up to me. She goes, “You’ve got a huge challenge.” I was like, “What is it?” She goes, “How do you scale intimacy?” She was like, “Most of these people know each other because they’ve met, but there are going to be so many people that want in, and you’re not going to be able to do events for everybody,” and all this sort of stuff.
So now, the goal is to find ways to do more stuff online in smaller groups. To have opportunities for people who have met in person to reconnect. And for us to be the facilitator and the organizer and handle the logistics of that.
Because we can do so much more online, that as long as there is some level of in-person connection once a year, maybe twice a year, then the online supplements really well. So, that’s a lot of it. We can’t just have events get bigger, and we can’t just put on more events. It’s going to have to be finding ways, using the means that we have—and a lot of it’s technology—to make sure that everybody’s feeling connected, more frequently. And, even voice over just pixels, right?
Even just like you said, “It’s so good to hear your voice.” So, having that happen. So, we’re working on an idea called Bureau Circles. We’ll see how it can play out. We don’t want to overcommit and then blow it. But the idea of eight to ten people that we help coordinate to get together once a month, it’s kind of like a NEO, kind of like a Mastermind, but it’s super focused on what they do and their role. We called them role calls in the past when there were more people, but this idea is getting it down to a smaller group that is there for each other all the time.
And one of the things, Ivan, that spurred this was we have a Biz Dev Camp. So many camps, dude! I can’t even remember them to list them. But Biz Dev Camp, everybody said don’t do it. Nobody is going to share. Nobody’s going to be willing to share. And we said it when we brought people in.
The thing was, it sold out with seven on the waiting list. And I told them, “We’re going to have an optional show and tell on the final day, where if you show up you have to show. You have to show your pitch deck, or you have to show a presentation, you have to show something.” But what was amazing is when we left that first Biz Dev Camp, monthly calls started.
And it was just hilarious, they started their own monthly call. They called it an “accountability” call. It is just unbelievable. So in a lot of ways, that’s become the model for us as we’re looking at how do we move forward to scale the intimacy, and it becomes, people have said, compared to AIGA or things like this, “I like the grass roots feel,” and, “I like the idea that in those circles there is somebody who connects with us,” but they’re also at liberty to make sure that they’re doing what the group needs, so that we’re continuing to support, but we don’t have to participate in every single thing.
IVAN: In 2019, TEN7 started to purchase renewable energy certificates, called RECs and water restoration credits, called WRCs for every full-time employee. It’s our way of trying to offset the carbon footprint that the company creates by being in business. In February, for Episode 53, Heather Schrock from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation joined me on the show. In this clip, she talks about the projects they’re involved in and how they come about.
HEATHER SCHROCK: Yeah, so I’ll just start with water, because that is, again, our more in-house piece. Because the water projects that we support are all directly—you know, if we’re going to create WRCs it’s from a project that we, as an organization, personally support and are putting some energy behind. Whereas with offsets and RECs, we’re on the retailer side of that relationship. So, we do vet and choose the projects carefully.
For RECs there’s Green-e, the certification for RECs, and then for offsets there’s several certifications that we mainly work with four or five of them, third-party verifiers, and we just like to have a nice array of those projects that we think people would be interested in. Currently in our offset portfolio we have various things from landfill gas to forestry projects. We have an interesting marine project, where it’s a project that makes marine shipping vessels more efficient and also protects some of the sea life. So, always some interesting stuff there.
But the water projects—and I’ll send you the link later—we have a project bank on our businessforwater.org website. So, we have a separate website that we send people to, that really, specifically talks about our water stewardship business engagements, and there’s a project bank, which we started because we were finding with water projects it was getting a little more difficult, whereas with carbon offsets and RECs, there’s almost an infinite supply.
But with water projects, it’s a little more difficult to match the needs of the funder or the person who wants to buy those water WRCs or invest in that type of water project. Trying to matchmake between the funder and the project can be quite difficult, trying to get something in their region, something where they have an impact, something that aligns with their goals and their ideals around what a water stewardship project should look like. So, we started this project bank and there’s now, just scrolling through it, several, maybe dozens of water projects that are in various stages of development.
So, some of them are done, some of them are in the middle, some of them still need funding, have funding gaps, but there’s some great—if you go to that link, again, which I’ll send you later—you can see examples of all these amazing water projects. And, again, we started this bank so that we could solicit water projects from other organizations who have projects that need funding, and then, so we can come in and help matchmake the funders to these projects.
IVAN: That’s wonderful. That’s businessforwater.org and we’ll link to that in the transcripts on our website. Is there one particular project that sticks out for you? Do you have a favorite?
HEATHER: A favorite water project?
HEATHER: Oh gosh, there’s some really cool ones. Let me think about that. So, most of our water projects, historically, have been very much your traditional type water leasing type projects, where we’re buying water leasing rights to keep the water in the stream, instead of having it all go to irrigation. Those are very common types of water restoration projects, irrigation upgrades, things like that. We’ve recently branched out into more urban and green infrastructure-type projects, so there’s one we’re undertaking in Los Angeles, which is a green infrastructure project that’s a collaboration with Los Angeles City Council.
There’s a neighborhood association and also an organization called Heal the Bay, and we’re all working together to create this park that will have also an impact on the neighborhood. It will be a safe place for people to play and move, and there will be fitness stations, but the park itself will serve as a water quality improvement project in the Los Angeles River Watershed. So, that’s really exciting, that we’re going to be able to save hundreds of gallons of potable water that will serve this neighborhood, but also creating this safe and fun space for them to interact with. It’s turning what was just a block that had nothing on it, that was not a safe place to be, into something that will be a neighborhood gathering spot.
IVAN: When Hans Bjordahl, CEO of Culture Foundry, attended a talk on conscious capitalism at SXSW, little did he know it would make him question everything he’d been taught about doing business. You can’t just tack conscious capitalism onto a company, it must be baked into the leadership. In this clip from Episode 64, I’ve asked Hans to give us a definition of conscious capitalism. Listen.
HANS BJORDAHL: Conscious capitalism is a model that seeks to unlock the potential for social good and humanistic good in business. Not just do that as a feel good, let’s have a corporate giving program when we’re done counting our money,
but baking that concept right into the core of your company, and doing it in a structured way that actually yields better financial results at the end of the day. When I was first exposed to this system, I was at SXSW. John Mackey, who is one of the founders of this organization and an early champion and ongoing champion, was giving a talk about a book he wrote called Conscious Capitalism, and I’m like, This is interesting. It’s a fairly aggressive assertion that the way we’ve been doing business in this country is wrong, and that we need to evolve it to fit this different, and frankly, more difficult model of how business should work.
But it’s not just profit and loss. It’s things about core purpose and things about stakeholder orientation, conscious culture, conscious leadership. That these things can be defined. That they can be, to some degree, quantified, and that they can, through research, be shown to have not just an incrementally better return on investment, but an exponentially better return on investment. The research around it is still emerging, still evolving. The ideas have really caught fire because the hunger for this in business is acute. And everywhere I come across it, people who feel they have to be one person at home, and bring a different person to work, that they can’t integrate who they are with what they do, that’s a fundamentally unhealthy place to be.
And creating business environments where you can bring your entire genuine self to work and do that, hopefully, where there’s some social good that comes out of that, that’s a very compelling thing. That idea’s been around a long time, but it hasn’t been super structured. Now it’s getting more structured, and it’s getting more structured through conscious capitalism, through B-Corporations, through some of the work that Nick Hanauer is doing. He’s a Seattle billionaire who is making a very aggressive run at redefining what successful economics look like.
So, a lot of people are approaching this idea from slightly different directions. Conscious Capitalism was my introduction into that approach to business. Some of those tenets from the book I picked up directly and plugged them right into Culture Foundry. It’s been very useful to us in terms of how we want Culture Foundry to be, but I also think there’s an imperative worldwide, I won’t even stop at the borders of the U.S., but worldwide, to really think about business in this way, and very aggressively counter the traditional model that you only have an obligation to your shareholders and everyone else can take a hike, that everything else is a commodity.
This model is a broader stakeholder model where you need to accommodate clients, employees, partners, environment, community, and shareholders, but we’re going to slice this pie up many different ways, not just give everything to the shareholders and leave everyone else holding the bag.
IVAN: In my head, Jeff Geerling is the Pi Dramble guy. So, getting a chance to sit down with him and talk about Raspberry Pis and how he’s automated them, clustered them and bent them to his will was a lot of fun for me. In addition to being a lover of software and all things open source, he’s also an author. In Episode 77, I asked him about his latest book and what he’s currently working on.
IVAN: Now, in addition to all the hobbies you have, side projects, and so on, you are also an author, and I would love to hear about your latest book and the book that you’ve written on Kubernetes. What are you working on right now?
JEFF GEERLING: I love writing. I don’t know how many million words I’ve written in my life, on my blog and on other blogs and things, but I love writing. In 2013 or so, I think that’s when I started, I’ve always wanted to write a book my whole life, I want to write a book sometime. I think part of that was jealousy because my brother, when he was a kid, wrote a book and his book, you know, the 15 minutes of fame, his book caught fire and was a local very popular book. He sold maybe 15,000 copies or something. It was pretty cool being the little brother to the brother who wrote that cool book.
But I was also a little jealous, like, I want to do that too. But I also just love writing. I’ve always loved English and literature growing up, and I love reading and I love writing. So I put that together with the fact that Ansible didn’t have a book in 2014. I started in 2013, but in 2014 I’m like, There’s still no book for Ansible, and it’s really popular.
So I decided to start writing it with a goal that I would write 100 pages and sell 200 copies. And it was funny because I started writing it on a platform called Leanpub where you can publish it while you’re writing it and sell it while you’re writing it. And by the time I had written about 40 pages I already had sold 200 copies [laughing]. And then fast forward these many years later, it’s 2019, so it’s been in print for five years now, and I now sell it on Amazon and other places and it’s called Ansible for DevOps. And that book has sold over 22,000 copies and it’s now 480 pages, including a chapter on Kubernetes and a chapter on Docker and a couple examples that do Drupal.
One of them was inspired by the Raspberry Pi Dramble cluster. So, that was my first book effort, and it went incredibly well, and I was floored. There’s no word to describe, when you're like, I want to do this thing my whole life, and this is my goal. And then your goal is surpassed by 50 times over, and you get to meet awesome people because of it. It’s just so many cool things happened because of that book. It also helped my family.
We’ve wanted to remodel our kitchen and after writing the book and making some profit off of it, I was able to remodel the kitchen four years earlier than we thought we might be able to. That’s a huge change for our life, because our old kitchen was kind of hard with three kids, and the way that we live our life and stuff at home, especially since I work remote. And I’m at home all the time. We had an old cramped little kitchen, and we were able to get it better.
So, the book was just awesome. I don’t expect to have the same level of success, but who knows. You never know where it's going to lead. But I’m working on another book. I actually just finished the first chapter a few nights ago, and I have a structure for the rest of it, and I’m working on examples and chapters.
The next book is going to be called Ansible for Kubernetes, and maybe if Ansible is around in five years and there’s another game-changing cloud infrastructure thing, it’ll be Ansible for that and I’ll have a whole series out. But I’m working on that book. I haven’t published it yet. I probably will pretty soon. Even though it’s not finished, I’ll publish in-progress updates on Leanpub, but both of those books, if you go to ansiblefordevops.com or ansibleforkubernetes.com, those are the book sites. I love writing them.
And one of the best things about writing them in progress is for both books I’ve had a lot of interaction with the people who read it, and they can help me. If they’re interested in something, I can write about that. Or if they are like, “Your example didn’t work on my computer,” I can improve it before I actually make a published printed version that people will buy.
IVAN: As some of you may know, I grew up in South Africa only to immigrate to the United States at the turn of the millennium. As a result, my childhood friends are South African, and I was able to interview at least one of them for the show. Gareth van Onselen is a South African journalist, political analyst and author who joined me for Episode 78, right at the end of the year.
We try to stay clear from politics, but in this episode, I was all in. We mostly talked about South African politics, but in this clip, Gareth talks about former South African president Jacob Zuma and the parallels to politics in the United States.
IVAN: I’m glad now that I didn’t read it [van Onselen’s book on Jacob Zuma] back in 2014, because I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it as much as I do now. And mostly it shocks me how much of a parallel there is between Zuma and the current president here in the United States. At some points I was reading the book, and I wasn’t sure if I was reading something that was directed at Zuma, or something that was directed at Trump.
There’s this one place in the book where you say, “He can fill a vacuum with empty rhetoric, but once it is all done, you’re left wondering whether he has said anything at all.” Then you also go on to describe him as something of an ethical black hole. How did such a man become elected? Not once, but twice?
GARETH VAN ONSELEN: I would agree with you 100%. I think Jacob Zuma’s tenure is a brilliant template for what’s happening in the U.S. with Donald Trump. I think they are very similar in a lot of key respects. Not just in terms of the way in which they use or abuse popular sentiment to serve what is essentially an entirely personal political agenda, but in terms of the grand narrative of the entire tenure in office, and how these demagogues tend to affect the way in which society responds to them.
What actually happened with Jacob Zuma—and I think it’s not absolute but in a lot of ways very similar is happening in the United States—is essentially you get elected on a wave of popular appeal, which takes various different forms and has various different causes, but that’s the outcome. There’s some kind of populist zeitgeist that manifests, and you’re swept along by it if you’re this demagogic leader.
There’s then a process of the shattering of the illusion. And that shattering doesn’t happen to the opposition who never had any doubt as to your unsuitability for office. It happens to sections of your own support base. The nature of public office starts to reveal who you are, the demands of making hard, often neutral and magnanimous decisions which you’re kind of incapable of doing, because you’re demagogic, and biased in a certain way, start to reveal your true character.
Then there’s some fundamental problem, either a case of corruption or unethical behavior onto which your opponents then latch as a means to remove you from office. And it becomes a defining battleground along that particular issue. In the case of Jacob Zuma, it was his homestead in Nkandla, this abuse of taxpayers’ money. In the case of Trump, it’s Russia and impeachment and the various things that go about it. But that becomes the mobilizing point.
You then suck in all of civil society and independent institutions to help you deliver the outcome you want, the judiciary and so on and so forth. And how that plays out is yet to be known in the U.S., but that’s the way in which the narrative tends to unfold. As I’m saying all this, I’m realizing I’m going slightly sideways from the original question you asked.
IVAN: No, please keep going.
GARETH: You triggered a thought with regard to the overlap between the two, and I think Jacob Zuma is a real case study for democrats and conservatives in the U.S. to look at, because the narrative is playing out in hugely similar ways on a lot of different levels.
IVAN: Well, that’s it for 2019. Thank you for listening to our little podcast. We’re so glad that you join us as often as you do. We’ve got more in store for you this year, and hope you’ll join us as we continue to talk to interesting people from around the world. If you have a second, send us a message and tell us what you would like to hear in the coming year. Or, just send an email to say hi! Our email address is [email protected].
Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.