DevRelCon 2021

Green developer relations

March 22, 2021

Author Matthew Revell

Founder of Hoopy, the developer relations consultancy. Need help with your developer relations? Get in touch.

In normal times, travel and swag are large parts of DevRel but they’re both costly in environmental terms.

In this talk, Microsoft’s Asim Hussain teaches how to measure the environmental impact of DevRel activities, as we as how to offset that impact or choose low carbon alternatives.

He also looks at how DevRel professionals can use their influence with technologists all over the world to advocate for a greener, more sustainable, way of building and running applications.

Transcript

My name’s Asim Hussain. You can find me everywhere as @jawache. If you see a @jawache somewhere, it’s me. My blog is asim.dev. I used to be the EMEA Lead for Regional Cloud Advocacy at Microsoft.

I’m very excited to say as of Monday, I’m now the Lead for Green Cloud Advocacy at Microsoft. So, very excited about that. Thank you very much. And I’m also one of the organizers of ClimateAction.tech which I’ll talk about a little bit later on, it’s like an online community if you’re interested in climate change.

So yeah, I’m very passionate, as you might guess, I’m very passionate about the environment, about climate change. I do lots of things. I do all the standard baseline activities, recycle, etc., etc. If you see me in an airport, I’m usually running around trying to fill this bad boy with water because I hate seeing all these plastics.

It really bugs me. I do a lot of stuff with the environment. It’s kind of who I am. It’s what I believe in. This is my son, Micah. Yeah. Something about this photo makes me think he loves his daddy.

But, so yeah. So he was born, he just turned 1. I was given some really great advice when he was first born by a friend of mine that said, “Asim, take the nappy changes.” All right. My wife was breastfeeding, he said that “She’s going to have that beautiful one-on-one time with your son. The rest of the time he’s going to be passed around like a football amongst the family. Take the nappy changes because that will be just you and your son, one-on-one time.”

And I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that. Fine.” Told my wife, more than happy. Right? Then, like, a couple of days later she goes, “Oh, by the way. I’ve decided we’re going to use cloth nappies. Not disposable nappies, cloth nappies. Disposal nappies, he does a shit, you chuck it away, like, don’t look at it.

Cloth nappy, you need to deal with shit. Right? And okay, cloth nappies, if you’ve never used them before, they are a lot more advanced than what you might imagine in your head. It’s not just a piece of cloth you wrap around. They are a lot more structured these days with kind of bamboo inserts and stuff. But the key thing is you need to deal with shit. Right?

And he shits eight times a day. Right? You have to deal with a lot of shit, a lot of shit. I got very, very used to dealing with shit, right, covered in it all the time. I’d be on conference calls and people say to me, “Asim, what’s that on your face?” And I’d be like, “Don’t worry about it. It’s just shit.”

That’s what I do. That’s what I do for the environment. I’m happy to deal with shit eight times a day. That’s what I do, quite happy to do it. But then I had an epiphany because I realized I was willing to deal with that eight times a day, to be covered in shit eight times a day, I was willing to do that for the environment and yet not once, I could not remember one single time in my career, in a single scrum meeting, in a single architectural meeting, me ever putting my hand up and saying, “Actually, what’s the greener option? What is it? What does it even look like?”

I’d argue incessantly over the smallest technical issues, but I’d never asked about the big ones, the things that are most important to me. And that’s been my journey over the last, I’d say year or so, is figuring out what does really green mean for us in the technology space? And I also have been leading developer relations at Microsoft, so it’s also what does green mean in terms of developer relations?

And so, I’m going to, kind of, talk to you about this today. But first off we need to talk about, kind of, why now? I mean, to kind of normalize the term to certain terminology when we talk about green just to make sure everybody’s on the same page. So, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, it gets pumped into the atmosphere. It acts as a blanket, all greenhouse gases act as a blanket on the earth, and it traps heat and it stops it from escaping.

Okay? There’s lot of different types of greenhouse gases out there. Carbon dioxide is the most common, but there are other ones, for instance, methane. Methane has, kind of, 30 to 80 times the greenhouse gas effect of carbon dioxide. But it gets really confusing thinking about all these different gases. So what we do is we normalize it all into carbon.

So what we do is when we say 1 ton of methane, we normalize into 30 tons of carbon, what we call its carbon dioxide equivalent. Right? And that’s when we talk about, “How do we reduce our carbon? What do we do to reduce it?” That’s what we’re talking about, carbon dioxide equivalent. Another really important thing is this number, 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees. So, in 2016, 186 states, and I always get that number wrong, signed an agreement in Paris for the Paris climate agreement which they agreed to try and keep the temperature increase to below 2 degrees C, ideally 1.5.

I remember seeing that originally thinking, “What the hell? Two degrees is nothing. Why do we care about 2 degrees?” Can you even tell a 2-degree change? Could you tell that yourself? Could you detect it? Probably not. I don’t think I could. Why is that number so important?

And there’s lots of, kind of, interesting studies out there, I think one really good website to find a lot of information about this, something called Carbon Brief, has lots, and lots and lots of different slides, lots of different pages. This is one of the ones I think is most interesting, and it’s the proportion of species that are losing 50% of their climatic range for different temperature increases. When you get hot or cold, you just take your clothes on and off.

Animals and plants can’t do that. They just die. Right? So a 1.5-degree change, a 1.5-degree increase, this is the increase from pre-industrial times, we’ve already reached 1 degree, so this is the headroom on top of that. For 1.5 degrees… I should use the clicker, shouldn’t I?

For 1.5 degrees, kind of, single digit changes in the climatic range for a bunch of animals, then. Insects, oh. But we need them. Two degrees, we’re into, kind of, double digits. Right? Okay, doable. Double digits might not seem so scary, right?

But we’re talking about the entire planet. That’s a huge shift in life and how we live. Four-and-a-half degrees, I mean, look at it. It’s like 67%, 66%, 2/3. Four-and-a-half degrees, a significant change. Okay. There’s a study by the World Bank which talks about how a 4-degree change, they don’t consider it is, they’re not certain that’s adaptable to.

Like, we might not even be able to survive beyond a 4-degree change. The UN recently released a report that we’re much more on track for 3.2 by the end of 2100. Right? And that’s the key thing. That’s why everybody is getting annoyed, that’s why we’re getting really angry, that’s why we’re gluing ourselves to buses, that’s why we’re doing all this stuff because no one’s paying attention, this stuff is real, and we’re not remotely on track.

We’re not even close to being on track. In order to even get on track right now, we need to start reducing our pollution that we’re releasing. Today, we’re still increasing year by year. We’re still increasing year by year. Right? So we haven’t even reached peak pollution and start to go down. All right?

That’s where we’re at right now. Bit depressing, but you all in this room are unique. Most people in this world who want to have a positive impact in this space can only really make decisions that affect them. You all in this room are influencers in your communities. You can make decisions that influence people, many more than just yourself. Right?

You can have an outsized impact in the solution. What can you do in terms of developer relations? There’s a lot you can do but have only got a very little amount of time, so I want to talk about three things. Travel, events and using your influence. Okay. Talk about travel. Air travel is 2% of global carbon.

And you’re probably thinking, “There’s that number two again, Asim. Who gives a shit about two?” Why is it like two? It’s like, “Asim, give me a real number. Give me something that I can really get my teeth sunk into, something I can really solve.” Right? And this is one of the big myths you need to, kind of, go over in your mind is that 2% is a big number. Right?

When we look at, kind of, how all this stuff is broken out amongst all the different industries, a quarter of the carbon is created from electricity and heat, a quarter from agriculture, so like creating of food, most of that is actually animal farming. Buildings, industry, other energy. Transportation is 14%.

That’s all of it. All cars, all buses, all planes, all boats, all of it is 14%. Elon Musk, the entire, like, electrification of car industry, he’s just trying to solve a tiny slice of that pie. Right? It’s not just you solving this problem. There are millions of people fighting this battle.

This is the battlefront. The 2% is a battle worth fighting, and it’s very much worth fighting for us especially in this industry because 15% of people take 70% of the flights. Okay? Most people never take a flight. Of the people that do, most people just only ever take one flight a year. How many flights have you all taken this year?

Right? I’ve been on, I’m on about 30 so far. Right? So, those of us in developer relations, we have a big impact on this space. We are quite a, create a lot of this carbon pollution, right, and that means that a small change in us can actually have a big impact in the resulting amount. What are some things you can do?

You can join the 1-foot high club. That one is not a term coined by me, by Glowascii, but I like it. It’s 1-foot high club. Take the train. Right? Try taking trains. It’s very, very hard.

Trains are much more expensive than planes, and they take a lot longer to do. So, it’s a tough challenge to do. What I try to do with my team and myself is I just try and turn one flight into a train, just one next year. Just one flight into a train. In Europe you might have certain things you can try. Chris Adams, if you’re interested in this space, I definitely recommend you follow Chris Adams.

He knows a lot about this stuff. What he tried to do is do an Interrail pass. If you’re in Europe, what you can have is an Interrail ticket. It’s 1 price for 7 days for 250 Euros. One of the challenges of going all the way across Europe is, you know, like, a train line might be down. So with an Interrail, you can just take another train, right, so you can, kind of, circumnavigate it. It takes a little longer, so what you might want to explore doing is having multiple stops over seven days, in each stop doing a meetup, doing something like that, turn it into a bit of tour.

Right? That’s a good thing to try. But it’s tough. It is tough. Just try and turn one flight into a train. That’s a good thing to try and do. Here’s some good websites where you can go to, kind of, buy, kind of, cross European, at least, train tickets.

We’ve got Rail Europe and omio.co.uk, you can, kind of, try and give those a go. But really, whether you’re flying, whether you’re driving, whether you’re, whatever you’re doing, what you really want to explore doing is offsetting your impact. So one of the things, this is something that you can do where you essentially give people money and they either use that money to invest in projects which suck carbon from the atmosphere and put it back down, or help people to reduce the amount of carbon they are pumping out into the atmosphere.

Okay? There are these carbon-credit systems available. They’re rife with con men. Right? It’s rife. There’s people that are going, “Oh, I won’t cut down these trees if you give me money.” There’s, kind of, like, stuff like that going on.

So the key thing to do is use one which has certification. There’s three main types of certification I really recommend, CDM, VCS and Gold Standard. It, kind of, more stringent, goes down. Gold Standard is by far the best. If you can get Gold Standard ones, get Gold Standard ones. But any of these is good. Any of these is good as long as it’s certificated by one of these.

That’s what I recommend. There’s some good places to go where you can find out your carbon footprint. One of the things I do, or I’ve done with my team over the last year which, kind of, worked out quite well, I think, is when they make a trip request, one of the bits of information I ask for is just to calculate the carbon cost of your trip, just put it in as a line item.

I don’t judge. We don’t really compare or anything. Just put it in as your line item. And that thought, that concept, helps, kind of, drive some interesting discussions later on. But these are some good websites you can go to. Carbon Footprint has all three of the different certified offsets. Atmosfair.de, which Chris recommends, is, I think, just has one of them, I can’t remember which one.

But they are two good ones. And here’s, like, the really key thing. As I said before, like, if you’re going to, and I’m not going to convince everybody to stop taking all flights. If you’re going to be taking a flight, if you’re going to damage the earth a little bit, if you’re going to do that, if you’re going to make us sacrifice something for you, try and just do more per trip.

That’s, kind of, what we want to achieve. If you’re going to take a flight, make it worthwhile. Right? Make it, and this is, kind of, one of the questions I do ask in the trip reports, like, “Is it worth the carbon?” Not money. I don’t, who cares about the money. Is it worth the carbon?

Is the trip worth the carbon? Can you add a meetup? Can you add a influencer meeting? Whatever you want to do, is it worth the carbon? Right? Try and do more per trip. All right.

Moving along quickly because a lot to get through? Events. We’re at one right now, if you hadn’t noticed. We’re at an event, an in-person event. Did you know that there was a carbon code of conduct? Did you know? There’s a carbon code of conduct.

Hasn’t been released yet. Chris has been working on it with us, a bunch of people at the, in the ClimateAction.tech community. I’ve put a short link here which will take you to the existing URL, and I’ll move it to the proper URL once it gets published properly, you can find it. As well as being a carbon code of conduct, so what an event needs to do to, kind of, meet the code, it is also a whole bunch of advice of how to meet that code because a lot of people don’t know.

Like, if it’s information about links, how do you actually calculate the carbon cost of your event? FYI, the vast majority of it is going to be travel from your attendees and your speakers. It’s got links in there where you can put in your location of your event, a bulk list of all of your attendees plus their location in the world.

It will calculate that carbon impact, then you can go and use one of the other services to offset them. Right? So there’s a carbon code of conduct, a whole lot of information on that, not just travel, if you wanted to go there. Online events, right, something I’m exploring a lot more. They have a bad reputation, I’d say, and I think that’s because people view them as cheap versions of in-person events.

It’s, kind of, poor cousins to in-person events. That’s how people view them, right? And I think that’s, kind of, one of the real problems with how people have really tried to address the online event solution is they try to take an in-person event and go, “How can we do that online?” Online is a completely different medium to in-person. It’s a completely different medium.

You can do completely different things. We need to think different about online events. People still desperately want to connect. When we look in climate community, there’s a lot of people who want to meet, they want to have events, they don’t want to travel, so online is just the medium that we have to choose, but we still desperately want that connection that you get from in-person events. I always say, if you are going to try and do something online, don’t forget the chat.

The chat is where it’s at. Right? The chat is where it’s at. I see too many things where it’s just a live stream, a Q&A thing, and then there’s no chat. Right? We want the chat. I often say that me being, my speaking events is just an excuse for people to meet.

I’m just the side show here. You’re really here to meet everybody else and talk in the hallway track above. I’m your excuse for the, to ask your boss for a ticket price. That’s it. I honestly think that’s why I, that’s my purpose here. I think one event that does a really, really good job is Agile in the Ether. So it’s a agile meet…

I’ve actually not managed to go to it. I’ve heard really, lots of good things about it, and they run all their meetups and conferences online. One of the things I think, I mean, you guys, if you have used Zoom, and I think I’m putting it up here because one of the things they do that is really interesting, and it really demonstrates how you should think about online differently is before each session they ask a crazy request from all the attendees, like, “Go away and show us your best, favorite-fridge magnet.”

And they run off, and in a minute they have to get their favorite-fridge magnet, and they show it to the camera. That’s in a way that you can engage with people. It’s fundamentally different to what you can do in person, but that’s the way you should think about online events. Think differently. Think outside the box. People still desperately want to connect. Give them a way of doing that online.

What tools you can use. Microsoft Teams. My company, you can use that. It has a max of 250. Has a live version which has 10,000. I’ve had lots of really good use with my community stuff with Slack and YouTube Live. Why is Microsoft and YouTube in green?

Google and Microsoft are fully carbon-neutral firms. Everything that we do is carbon offset. Our data centers are mostly powered by renewable. Google has us a little bit beat. So, anything you do with Microsoft or YouTube, you just know it’s going to be green. It’s going to be offset. Right?

Slack is yellow because they are a good company, they are doing good stuff. They have committed to become carbon-neutral by 2030. I’m actually unsure about Zoom, so I just don’t know the answer there, so I have kept it there. This is really interesting, hopin.to. I’ve not used it yet. It’s a new startup, and they are doing completely online conferences, not just a webinar. It’s multiple tracks.

You can, then, have, like, random chat roulette conversations with different people in the attendees, so it’s a really interesting way of how can explore this stuff online. Give that a go. Finally… I don’t know what time it is. I think we’re probably quite over. I’m good? Excellent.

The final thing I have to say is that… Well, not the final thing. I have a saying that’s “Don’t use your influence for good, abuse your influence for good.” Right? Abuse your influence for good, because there’s plenty of people here abusing their influence for evil. Abuse your influence for good. Right?

As I said at the start, it just wasn’t normal for me to talk about being green in tech or even in developer relations. It didn’t even occur to me. By going on stage right now, by talking to you, I’m normalizing these discussions. Right? So, the people in this audience and the people you speak to are, then, going to be more inclined, if they’re on the edge, are going to be more inclined to then have those conversations later on, they’re going to be empowered to have those conversations at their companies later on.

So abuse your power for good, your influence for good. Look. You’re not there. Here’s a piece of advice. If you’re going to start doing this stuff, if you’re going to put some slides in your talks and talk about climate, you’re going to get the climate deniers. I’ve taught at Java, that’s my technology of choice.

I’ve never had somebody in the audience shout out, “JavaScript doesn’t exist!” Right? But I have had hecklers when I talk about climate change. The first time I had hecklers from an audience was when I talked about climate change in tech conferences. And you’re going to get weird-ass comments on your videos. I still don’t know how to answer this person.

He was like, “Because 97% of people believed the earth was flat, that therefore, it’s impossible to believe that climate change is happening.” I don’t know how to answer this question. Don’t bother arguing with them. Just say, “Nice to meet you,” and move on. You’re not there to talk to climate deniers. You are not there to convince the deniers that it’s real. You’re there to galvanize the people that do believe into action.

That’s your job. If I can galvanize one person to action in a meetup, in a conference, I’m a success. What is it? That’s the third thing. Action. Don’t just talk about climate change and depress the shit out people, and then give them nothing to do afterwards.

Right? Give them an action to do. That’s why we have a community. That’s why I’m part of the community ClimateAction.tech. I wish action was bolded and in… I could have bettered my slide. I could have done whatever I wanted.

It’s ClimateAction.tech, right? It’s, like, how do we give people actions and the technologies to do stuff in this space? It’s actually, it’s a Slack, but it’s much more than a Slack. We’ve got newsletter, we’ve got community, we’ve got meetups now. If you want to drive people somewhere, if you want to give them a call to action with this, just get into ClimateAction.tech. It’s an amazing community.

There’s CEOs, there’s interns, it’s the most helpful community I’ve ever been to. You can ask any question on any esoteric aspect of climate change, and there’s people there that wrote the book or know the answer. So it’s a great community, send them there, and that’s where I hang out. So just to summarize. Look, it’s a climate emergency. Right?

It’s a climate emergency I went to. It’s a climate emergency. We’re not on track. That’s why we have now issued a climate emergency as part of the UK government, we are in climate emergency. More and more people are issuing climate emergencies. We need to do something. Everybody doesn’t need to one thing, everybody needs to do everything.

It’s a global worldwide thing. We need to a lot of stuff. Right? What can you do? Fly less and do more per trip. If you’re going to damage the environment, do more per trip. Please offset your carbon impact.

Look into it. The kind of standard we have, Microsoft pays $15 per ton. We really need to start paying $40 to $80 per ton of carbon. So I can additionally offset my travel. Microsoft offset my travel, I additionally offset my travel to make up for what I think we’re willing to pay. Explore online events, real online events.

Don’t just make them fake. Abuse influence for good. Abuse your influence for good. And send people to ClimateAction.tech. That’s your action that you’re going to send when you do it. If you need slides to put in your talks, come speak to me. A couple of slides for every single talk is all you really need.

Now, before I leave you today, I’m just going to tell you a little story. So, yes, I used to work at the European Space Agency when I first started my career. I actually worked in the mission control center in Germany, literally launching rockets. Right? And this is, kind of, a standard-chemical rocket you just basically light a fuse at the bottom, jet fumes out, it’s a chemical reaction, large amounts of power, really short length, but it can drive tons of material into space.

It’s really, really powerful stuff. But when I was at ESA, a friend of mine was actually working on a satellite which went with one of these. It’s called an ion drive. With an ion drive, what you do is you basically strip electrons from atoms, turns them into ions, and you shoot them out the back at 90,000 miles an hour, and it, kind of, just looks like this.

It just looks like a light, at the end of the day, on the back of a thing. It just looks like something like this. And the difference with them and a normal rocket is that an ion drive uses a really, really small amount of reaction mass, like a couple of kilograms is all it needs, and it can just last for years.

And that’s the key thing about ion drives. As long as you’ve got electricity, they can last for years. So the Dawn rocket, the Dawn satellite was on for five years. And the other key thing about ion drives is they produce the same amount of thrust as a piece of paper lying on your hand. That’s it.

That’s all the thrust that they provide, but in the vacuum of space, it goes a lot further. The difference between ion drive on a rocket ship is an ion drive is a small amount of pressure consistently applied for years. Then you can get faster than a rocket, a standard-chemical rocket. So, leaving you with some words from my benevolent leader.

“Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.” This is a very big challenge that we need to solve. We’re not going to solve it by burning ourselves out like a chemical rocket in a year. We’re going to solve it by being an ion drive that lasts decades. Thank very much for your time.