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  • remote life
  • video chats
  • quarantine
  • books
  • art

Special Episode: Books, Art, and Zombies: How to Survive in Today's World

Hosted by Charlie Gleason, with guest Margaret Francis.

As shelter-in-place orders increase around the world, the challenges in keeping yourself safe in quarantine are becoming more apparent. There are disruptions to all of our routines, whether you're a child missing your friends from school or an adult balancing work with household responsibilities. Charlie Gleason and Margaret Francis discuss the ways in which they're keeping hope and happiness alive with their families.

Show notes

Charlie Gleason, a designer at Heroku and Salesforce, sits down for a special conversation with Margaret Francis, the SVP of Platform Data Services. Their conversation is around the unavoidable topic of COVID-19, quarantines, and the disruptions to normal life around the world. Margaret starts the conversation by briefly contextualizing the event against two other catastrophes she experienced: the DotCom Crash of 2000, and the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008. While those two incidents had very real consequences to the tech, real estate, and banking industries, this current pandemic feels different, not the least of which being that every facet of life has been disrupted.

Despite this, Margaret and Charlie keep their spirits up in a variety of ways. It's important to be radically honest with your family and coworkers about difficulties you're experiencing. You may just find that others have similar feelings, and sharing these thoughts can create stronger bonds of empathy. It's important too to try and find new ways every day to laugh, whether that's trying out a ridiculous haircut, or finding nonsensical videos online. Margaret advises trying to reconnect with a hobby you just haven't done in a long time. For her, that's reading, and she's recently picked up some of her favorite books that she knows will bring her joy. Trying out new activities can also lead you towards discovering new hobbies to enjoy, too, such as baking or sewing.

We will one day be out of quarantine, and the pair pontificate on what that might mean for societies across the globe. Change seems inevitable, whether that means the MTA will continue its recent practice of scrubbing New York City subway cars clean, or the continued extension of safety nets that governments are establishing. No matter what, it's important to try and keep touch with friends and family, and to keep in mind that when this is all over, we will hug each other once again.


Charlie: Hello and welcome to Code[ish]. My name is Charlie Gleason and I am a designer at Heroku and at Salesforce. I am joined today for a very special episode of Code[ish]. We're living in unprecedented times and I think a lot of us are grappling with a really similar set of complicated and scary feelings, and it's okay to feel like that. I am joined today by Margaret Francis who is the SVP of Platform Data Services and a former SVP of product and GM at Heroku. We had an internal conference a couple of weeks ago, which was awesome. Margaret gave a presentation and it kind of veered into a lot more of the topics that we're going to cover today, talking about the state of the world and how to survive it. Hello, Margaret.

Margaret: Thank you so much for asking me to do this, Charlie. It was very difficult to put together a professional presentation to be given online to a couple hundred people and not preface it with some acknowledgement of the fact that the world is not okay right now. Things are really very difficult on many different levels logistically, emotionally, medically for so many people. These small private griefs that we have because our everyday lives have been disrupted, seems so petty, when contrasted with the health crises that other people are going through, other families are going through and yet I feel we all have our own little tragedies to manage every day given what's happening with COVID-19.

Charlie: Absolutely. I suppose it's a sort of grief I guess, but I don't think grief is a relative thing. I mean, what your experience of this may on paper look very different than my experience, but it's all equal in the sense that we're all just people trying to understand the situation and trying to be empathetic and support each other and support our families and our friends and our communities.

Margaret: It is a bit of grief for a world in a way of living that's changed beyond recognition over the past few weeks. Certainly, in Northern California it has, and you're in London, I believe. We are both in cities that have been in some form of lockdown or restricted movement or restricted activities for some weeks now. I think that it's going to continue for some time based on our government's best estimates, but at the same time there are things that we also do to sort of carry on in the meantime. Certainly, for those of us who have been in tech as long as I have, there have been ups, there have been downs. It has always been a chaotic ride kind of in the industry because so much changes all the time. I have a little bit of free time this afternoon and I can actually go follow up on some things that I've been meaning to investigate for some time.

Margaret: Startups that are doing things that I'm really interested in because they support protocols that we might have at Heroku, at Salesforce, or there are tools we might want to use like Figma or something like that. Honestly, the pace of business continues even if at a reduced kind of velocity, and that is a little different than some ways than other crises that we've had in our industry before. I've been working in, on what my mother calls on the Internet for decades now, which seems like a bizarre to say. Having a boyfriend who went to the University of Friedberg in college and needing to talk to him on IRC was kind of the most pressing first use case I had for the Internet, but since then, we went through the kind of first Internet bubble, the dot-com collapse. I remember at the time I was working for a digital transformation firm and I thought I had all kinds of money and I remember watching the decimal points disappear from my bank account and thinking, "Well, that was really interesting and now I've got to figure out what happens next."

Charlie: Yeah. I mean, I think essentially because tech, it's an incredibly privileged position in a lot of ways in terms of how much access we have to information, to tech literacy, and also to communicate and the way that we kind of do our jobs. I think that the response for us has likely been different for other communities that maybe don't have those same access to those same things, but I think you really hit on something there with that idea that this, even for an industry that has been very volatile, is so unprecedented. For companies that don't necessarily have a remote culture first, Heroku has an incredible remote culture, but not every company does. It's a huge thing to adjust to for our communities and even all the way to co-workers through to families, through to everyone else.

Margaret: It's an absolutely enormous adjustment. I feel I've got a good kind of work wardrobe thing going where I call it my wardrobe mullet. It's business on the top and sweatpants on the bottom all the time. At least, I used to put on jeans and go into the office every now and then and it was always a bit of a debate, how comfortable would my shoes be? Will I wear that pair or will I wear the really comfy ones with no heels. Now, we don't really have to do that. We can't really do that. We have to stay home to protect ourselves in our communities. A lot of those distinctions have collapsed and it is actually so much less hard I think on adults and on people who are used to remote work and who've learned how to be effective on Hangout or Zoom or whatever your video conferencing technology is.

Margaret: Who live on Slack, who live in text threads, who are already kind of fairly digitized, but it's much harder on people who aren't. Frankly, it's very hard on my children. I have two kids. They are 12 and 14, and they are just at that point where they need their peers more than any adult in their life and they're reduced to Snapchatting in between classes. It's just not the right set of social interactions and support that they need at their phase of development, and we haven't figured out what all the substitutes are for that very, I think, let's call it 15 year period, when five to 20, let's call it, when what you really need most is your peers and not your parents.

Charlie: Yeah, I remember, I mean, I came out of the closet when I was quite young. I think I was 14 or 15, and my best mate did as well at the same time. It was a huge revelation. I remember us being like this little team, right, against the universe. It was like no one got us, our parents didn't get us, our peers definitely didn't get us, at that time. I think it's changed a lot, because I'm older than I think I realize I am, but the tools of communication we had weren't even remotely there yet. I don't even know how we would have coped, but it became this thing where it was like, I didn't understand my parents, they didn't understand me.

Charlie: I have a huge amount of empathy for this kind of shifting landscape now where parents are grappling with trying to cope with their own emotional response to this situation whilst still working, whilst supporting their family, whilst also homeschooling in some cases. It's a huge burden emotionally, financially, physically. All these things are kind of just dropped on top of this unit. I don't know. I have a huge amount of empathy for what parents especially are going through.

Margaret: Well, I rather resent having been turned into a short order cook. I cook rather well, but 21 meals in a row every week, not a lot of takeout options is really hard. We're doing our best to support the local sushi place. My goodness, I couldn't be more thankful for them right now. This is just no one's idea of fun. I would absolutely trade my current champagne problems for some of my former champagne problems because at least we got a little bit more together out of the whole thing, and together really matters during these crises. The first dot-com bubble I remember very well. I was at a digital kind of transformation agency, and I am still a member of alumni groups and attend happy hours and go to dinners and I'm friends with people that I went through that very real economic crisis with.

Margaret: About 10 years after that, I had co-founded a company called Scout Labs with some dear friends who are still friends of mine and who have their own other startups now. One of our investors went unexpectedly bankrupt during the mortgage crisis and a tranche of VC funding that we were anticipating would come and meet payroll did not arrive, and I vividly recall how we had to flee the building with no, the rent was in arrears and repossessment people were coming to take all the things and we piled our monitors and our equipment onto our chairs, rode them down the cargo elevator, rolled our chairs and our monitors all the way over to the offices of our law firm, Morris and Forrester and set up camp in one of their conference rooms until we can sort of sort out the next step for that particular company. I remember it very vividly because we had to sit down as a management team and decide how much of our retirement savings we were going to put into the company to fund payroll for all of us to keep going, how much cash we had, how much we could pay. We asked everybody who worked there to take a pay cut.

Margaret: We still had to let people go. It was a real economic disaster in some ways for that company. We ended up coming out the other end with a smaller workforce. We raised another round of capital to kind of bridge us through that, and we ultimately sold to Lithium, but that was a real financial trial as well. I think about all of the other small business owners and entrepreneurs who are out there and what they're going to have to go through after this kind of economic time of trouble has really assumed its final form and it is going to be hard. It is going to be very hard to weather those storms and to feel that you are doing the humanistically right thing for the people that you work with and for, and for your customers. It truly is hard. It really is hard and I still have very good friends and relationships from that time as well. I'm still very much in touch with any number of the humans that I worked with at Scout Labs, and some of them actually work at Salesforce today.

Charlie: I think that the dot-com crash, as an example, not to diminish the incredibly challenging time that that was for people, but it does breed a sort of human ingenuity. I think one of the things that I've found really heartening through this whole experience has been the response that I've seen, not just from friends and family, but from business as well. That people are stepping up where they can and supporting the people that work for them and their customers and their communities. What's it like for you supporting products and working through this time?

Margaret: That is a really interesting dilemma for all of us. How best do we engage with the world during this time and what is the best way to be effective? For me, it actually has been very much about the work. I would say that the week after shelter-in-place went into effect. We reviewed our business continuity plan in great detail, and it was incredibly important to me and to our engineering leadership and to everyone else who works on the Heroku products, the Salesforce products to understand that we have a business continuity plan, that we can keep our platform up and running, that we literally have made plans for how do we cope with reduced efficacy or absenteeism or loss of Internet connectivity. In fact, we really have a sort of... There's a section I think on the Salesforce website that details all of the business continuity plans that we have for our products because we want people to be able to trust them and count on them and use them during a time of crisis, perhaps more even than during the regular run the business motion that we are all in.

Margaret: It actually made me very engaged and proud that we had done that work and I believe it was actually originally done in the case of Heroku using some kind of scenarios we derived from the H1N1 health crisis. This is emotion that we have been through before, but at nothing like this kind of scale or I think level of economic interruption. We really do actually want people to use our platform, and so scaling up things like our support for people who write in for help to support community products, whether it's product guidance or whether it's advice or just kind of connecting people who can help each other.

Margaret: I've received inbound to by personal email to LinkedIn, through LinkedIn, through all of the usual Heroku channels, the usual Salesforce channels and trying to improve our digital connectivity when we don't have the physical connectivity is really in my opinion, very rewarding and important work. I don't want to, I try to balance my guidance to my teams with like, "Okay, I know that you've got to cook 21 meals a week and homeschool the children and that you haven't had any fun in days." Actually, there is reward in engaging in your usual work or there should be. There should be, and I hope there is for others a way that there is for me.

Charlie: Yeah. I will say, I mean I think Salesforce has done an incredible job at responding to this both externally and internally. The support services that we've had made available to us. The communication, the understanding, the empathy has been beyond what even I expected from a company that has a really great track record on that front. I think one of the things that you touched on there on managing teams or having a team, you were once my manager and it was the best.

Margaret: Thank you.

Charlie: I didn't realize that. That's very good. I guess having a team, there's an extra kind of... I think that for a manager, their team almost becomes part of their family, part of their work family at the very least. I'm curious how you found approaching this from a team point of view.

Margaret: Well, I've tried to be extremely transparent about what is going on in my life to the point where my calendar says, this is when I'm having lunch with my children. This is when I'm working on homeschool, and I see a lot of other parents in particular doing the same thing. This is when the grandparents are leaving. This is when the spring break is occurring. Even though we're staying home this year, I'm going to need, time off and I really can't attend to work matters. We're really covering for each other and making sure that we communicate as openly as we can about our real work situation and our real life situation. I think that that is a very healthy dynamic. That's a healthy behavior. I hope that we take past this current public health crisis and into the world.

Margaret: One of the things that is so wonderful about Heroku and that I just knew day one that I was going to be comfortable there. I walked in, opened my laptop and set up all the accounts and you flip open the group calendar and I could tell when everyone was going to their yoga teacher training or to the dentist or had blocked out when they actually started work, or had... There were fathers who had daycare pickup noted in their calendars and I thought, well, this is a culture that is transparent because we're all trusted to contribute. We're all trusted contributors. We are all trusted team members. I don't have to pretend that I'm not going to the dentist on Thursday morning for 90 minutes. I can be a successful member of this community.

Margaret: I think that the example that has been set for us by a lot of these executives on the Salesforce leadership team has been fantastic as well in this regard. Children and dogs run in and out of the frame. There are personal objects, there's clutter. Sometimes, there's chaos. The sound isn't perfect. The lighting's not great, and we are really focused on what matters, which is keeping our business kind of on a sound footing and our products in a good place so that our customers can use them for what matters to them. These are the right values, the best values that we can have in a time of ruthless kind of prioritization of what matters most.

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. I think actually that's one thing that has really struck me in this whole experience. I've worked remotely for about three years, so I am quite used to it, but this does feel different working remotely. I think a big part of it is on one hand, it's almost like the idea that I don't mind being at home all day. I quite like it. I hang out with my cats, I go to the gym, I go running, but as soon as you take away a couple of facets of that, I can't go to the gym now. It's like, "Oh gosh, I feel this tension there." I think that one of the things I've really loved has been that vulnerability of seeing vignettes of people's lives that you wouldn't otherwise see, and people being a little bit more open with their spaces, open with how they're feeling, their experiences. I can't count the number of video calls I've done that have cats and babies in them, and I love cats and I love babies. It's great.

Charlie: I know it's coming out of a really horrible thing and I don't want to downplay how serious the situation is, but I think that when you're looking for levity or you're looking for a connection, and I mean people have their lives going on at the same time as well. One of my team members is trying to close on his house and everything's been delayed and he has a newborn baby, and that's been hard. When we talk, I think there's a vulnerability in the way that we talk to each other about how we're feeling that we wouldn't necessarily have done before. I think that's so important, and I hope that's something that continues after this, after the dust settles of this kind of incredible, unprecedented bananas time is that hopefully some of that vulnerability and openness kind of continues because I think that it is worth so much in the way that it helps us understand each other.

Margaret: I do too. Heroku in particular has always had a really open and collaborative kind of culture this way. It is not unusual to see an SRE engineer doing a demo with a baby strapped to his belly. This is normal for us. This is fine. I think the un-doneness of it all now is what is a little bit more shocking because when you're used to remote work and you've got a good schedule and your daycare pickups are in your calendar, life's kind of chugging along quite normally, but now your wife is home and she's working remote from the next room and you can hear each other's calls and this is new and someone's got to get lunch. We're all out of our routine. We're all out of our routine, whether it was remote or in the office in ways that are extremely uncomfortable.

Margaret: Though I will say, my sister called me the other day and she said, "What are you doing right now and why don't you turn your camera on?" I said, "Well, I've just put leave in conditioner in my hair." She's like, "What does that bustling noise?" I was like, "Well, I'm in my garage and I'm moving a box around because I want to fix up my home office out there." She said, "Margaret, it would take a pandemic for you to use a beauty product that required more than three seconds or clean your garage. That's exactly what it would take." Things are more undone than they usually are in all of our lives, in terms of how we look and how we feel and the pleasure and the comfort that we get from routines that take us out of our homes.

Margaret: It's just that part is really hard. The home haircut views have been absolutely historic. I don't know what's happening in your life on Hangouts right now, but yesterday we had a staff meeting. We were talking about our product roadmap for the year and kind of being really thoughtful about what we commit to in a time of reduced operational execution capacity. One of my product managers who had really been looking very 70s. He'd gotten quite long haired over the past few weeks, appeared with an absolutely military, almost buzz cut and thought that perhaps it would be better if he did not have any more home haircuts until the pandemic was over because it was such a subject of tension between himself and his girlfriend getting it done that he just thought for domestic harmony would be better if they didn't cut each other's hair anymore, but everyone's either very short or very long these days or they're like me and they've got leaving conditioner and they're still, because they forgot to take it out.

Charlie: Two nights ago my husband was like, "I'm going to cut your hair." I thought, we've just covered two things about each other in this experience. One is that he can't cut hair and the other, I am not a bad cook because of lack of practice. I just cannot. It was an absolute bloodbath. He was trying to... I looked sort of almost Danny Devito-esque. It was sort of peeking at the side and then the other side was gone. Then he was like, "Does that look right?" I thought, are we looking at the same head, and I just thought, Oh my gosh, this is weird experience.

Charlie: In a way, I mean it's still the funniest thing that's ever happened, but it is so short. It's like proper crew cut. It's outrageous. Proper house cut, I should say. Oh my gosh. I think that's, I mean, one of the things that you kind of touched on there is cleaning the garage. I think that it's funny the things that you kind of end up doing in these situations. I know we both have a real shared love of reading, but what kind of keeps you focused and feeling together and feeling kind of in control at the moment?

Margaret: Very few things make me feel in control at the moment. I can tell you some things I do to try and improve my sanity. The first is I try to make the children laugh in the morning, whether it's a funny video or just their continued incredulity that I don't understand TikTok very well. Digital habits of all of the people in my lives have come so much into focus. It's really interesting. I'm in a mad emailing relationship with the 85 year old man who lives two doors down. We email each other all the time. I would text him but I don't think he knows how and the grandparent divide is real, so making sure that we actually have time to call them or Facebook portal them or FaceTime them or Skype them, depending on which grandparent you're talking about and what level of technological kind of sophistication they can manage, that helps us all feel connected and stay somewhat sane.

Margaret: I feel very in touch with all of the food inventory in my house, and so I made a list of all the things that we currently have the ingredients for and put it on the refrigerator. It's tiramisu, it's daal, whatever the favorite things the children might be and then they can go and sort of say, "You know what? There's less spontaneity in knowing all the things in the house for the next week." At least there can be this moment of joy in thinking about what selection I make here and eating the perfect pear when it's perfect instead of letting it go bad. Having these little moments of anticipation and joy are very important in the day and we have to make them for ourselves because no one else is going to make them for us right now. I have two other things that I'm doing that I think, give me a way to think about the world.

Margaret: The first is, and I'm currently speaking to you from one of my impromptu desk locations, which is a giant stack of books. People make fun of me because I do love to read and I have a lot of books more than fill it in to fit in the house or the garage. At this point, it's kind of a problem. I walk around and I rotate them out so that when I have a moment between Hangouts or whatever, I can kind of browse through things that I've known and loved. I've just rotated out a whole bunch of thrillers for a whole bunch of poetry and that was making me maudlin. I stopped with the poetry and now I've put in a bunch of books that I like because I love the images and they remind me of places I hope to go back to some day. There's an art J for Paris and there's All Over Coffee by Paul Madonna for very intimate views of San Francisco.

Margaret: There's Encore and the original Tales from the Loop, which is a really wonderful book by a Swedish photographer that's just super improbable and an Atlas Obscura, which the book spine details as "An explorer's guide to the world's hidden wonders." It's quite a funny book and I've at a very interesting one, so I might have to go for some humor soon. Some Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, which is a wonderful, wonderful book. The other thing I will say is, I'm from a bit of a prepper family, so I feel in some ways more prepared for this. I really spent a lot of time in my childhood shooting Folgers coffee cans on sticks in the woods. We went to this special survivor's store where you buy canned goods that are packaged to last. These extra heavy cans and they last for years and years. They sell books on how to make your own bow and arrow and shoot deer. All of this feels a little bit like, yes, I'm still reading my zombie apocalypse fiction because honestly, compared to some of the scenarios that are out there, this is all okay for the moment, for those of us that are not active medical crisis.

Margaret: Anyone who wants the complete apocalyptic reading list or anything else should find me on another channel like LinkedIn and I'll give you all of the best doomsday fiction because things are genuinely hard in some parts of the world, but not in the places that you and I are, Charlie. Not in London, not in San Francisco, not in Marin. I think the hardest thing is how do we figure out how to be useful to those people who have less resource and I've not come up with a lot yet. There's money you can give, there's blood you can give. It's still more of a local benefit in a lot of ways and it's hard to find blood drives spots. It's mostly money, I think that I've been able to find as a way to participate with the world that is further than my ZIP code. If there are good ideas out there, I would love to hear about them.

Charlie: Yeah, it's such a... It can feel really disempowering I think as well, because you're seeing it's such a flood. I think the way we consume information is so relentless that you can almost feel overwhelmed by it. I certainly have, and I have found myself more emotional in the last few weeks and I think, and I cry a lot for a human being, but I found myself more emotional and feeling more kind of disempowered. I think one thing that you touched on previously, I worked for a publishing company and I think books are an incredible source of comfort in those times. I also think that you kind of have to forgive yourself for feeling anxious or overwhelmed and then focus on the action after that. I think, I mean, my favorite book of all time, it's The Stand by Stephen King, which is about a pandemic. Those characters are like my... It's what I go to when I'm frustrated or I'm sad or I'm stressed.

Charlie: It's just this book. I was reading it the other day again because there's just like a blanket and half through it I thought, I'm going to give it a break, this feels on the nose. I think that ultimately there is comfort in things that feel... Well, there's comfort in things that are comfortable and there's also a comfort in looking for ways that you can contribute to your communities, be it financially but also one of our coworkers is doing at the moment is building an app for his local town to show which small businesses are open, because a group of them have agreed that people can use this app to ask people to cycle over to these places, get these things and bring them to their house if they can't get out there. I think it's examples like that using our skills where possible. It's not always easy to find those kinds of projects or to find people who are working on those things, but I think that having kind of an open mind to the things that you can contribute to be it financial or otherwise is so important.

Margaret: Yeah. Right now, we're trading sourdough starter through holes in the fence and all of that. I have a little bit of a notebook problem. I have like tiny notebooks in all my pockets and purses and I find something about writing things down in notebooks just encodes that information differently in my mind. I often have one that's sort of junky and filled with current work things, and then I have a tiny precious one that's the tiny Moleskine that you use the really nice pen in and it's for the deeper thoughts. In that one, I think a lot about the design considerations that we will have as product managers, product creators, makers of things after COVID-19. A couple of things spring to mind here. The first is supply chain resilience. Supply chain resilience, I have this ongoing eternal debate with my father over whether or not, as a country, the United States should be engaged in food production. He's like, "Well, it's just simply easier to import it from other places." I'm like, "Well, you're just counting the availability of cheap energy and the importance of resilience in the food supply chain."

Margaret: Turns out, our grocery supply chain is pretty good right now, but supply chain resilience is always a thing, not just having a good and efficient one, but really thinking about where you get all of your constituent materials from to make the thing that you want to make. Any home chef knows that everything falls apart if you don't have saffron at the right minute. This is a thing we'll all be thinking about as we'll I think designing for public health. This has been an ongoing fetish of mine. I've never liked touching the big elevator keypad and now we've just given the universe this entire dose of paranoia around shared space, shared air, shared touch in a way that I think will profoundly change the design of things. Think about the time when you accidentally picked up the wrong earbuds and then felt like you couldn't possibly get your ears clean enough afterwards. Some of us were always a little more fetishistic about that than others, but now we have a real public discourse that needs to happen here.

Margaret: I heard Trevor Noah talking about getting in the elevator alone and staying alone. The door's open and other people see you in there and they don't get in and that's a deliberate decision that he and inhabitants of his New York city apartment building have made, and we've all had that moment coming back to the office from lunch or something. The elevator doors open and you're like, I actually don't want to be in that elevator with all those people. It's just too much smell or crowding or touch or whatever and I don't want that. Now, I think we're going to have to think about that in a more systematic and public health oriented way. Ventilation on planes, air filtration on planes, all kinds of things that we will be thinking about more deeply after this. Hopefully, for the improvement of our shared world because it turns out it is a very shared world and money and distance and class and education will really not protect you in the end from that shared human experience. We're all in.

Charlie: Yeah, that's such a good point. I think that the way that we approach so many services as well, how do you get food to your house? Especially in big cities, that may be easier, but there's certain patterns that we have in the way that we consume services. How do you get to the doctor? How do you get advice about your health? England has the NHS, which is public health service, but that's certainly feeling strained and so people are trying to create ways to reduce that strain, but then it's kind of like where do you get advice without overwhelming things? I think it's such a challenge to kind of feel like I want to fix everything all at once. I think that this is going to be a really long process while people discover, and hopefully as well, I think this is kind of on another note, changing the face of creativity and how we express ourselves. More and more, every single person I know has been using video calls more and talking more.

Charlie: I've had friends from Australia where I'm originally from, even though I have the world's weirdest accent, who have rung me, who I haven't spoken to in years. I am a very failed musician, so I've been live streaming terrible, terrible sets and friends have been live streaming comedy and doing pub quizzes online. If video calls ever needed a push to become mainstream and to become normalize, this was it. I'm so curious about how these tools, after we become familiar with them after remote work, we've become familiar with after the way that we communicate with each other changes what the long term effects of that will be because it feels like we were kind of sold a dream of the Internet as being able to revolutionize society and it has in many ways, but there's been these pieces of it that have never quite gone over the line. I'm really curious about how the longer term implications once this stuff kind of becomes the new normal.

Margaret: Yes. There's a good deal of systems thinking that we will have to revisit. The ability to deliver schooling or medical advice via the Internet and the digital world varies pretty widely by societal configuration and economic access. You take a look at, we have a good portion of our workforce at Salesforce in India and they are accustomed to going to the office for reliable Internet because it is not readily available at home. The assumption that you can send all of your white collar workers who write code for a living home and enable them to be effective there by sending an office chair is not going to work in that particular society. What about the children who do not have access to even that online learning that their schools are scrambling to provide right now because we haven't necessarily provided all the devices for the children or all of the access that their homes would need to enable them to take advantage of that. This is a genuine challenge to the nature of our civil society. There's some real systems thinking that I think we're going to have to do.

Margaret: I mean, why does it take a pandemic to get the New York city subway cars cleaned and the Japanese don't understand that, right? There is a cleaning crew that rolls through the Tokyo Express, the Narita Express, every N minutes on a schedule and make sure that it's relatively sanitary and it is a giant cultural gulf between this country and theirs that we don't do the same thing. It's just not even understandable, I think by them that people wouldn't clean public transit things more regularly. There's a lot of, I think systems level considerations that we as a society will have to think through in the wake of this because it turns out that the best way to keep everybody safe is for everybody to be safe to start with, and to be on a relatively equal footing for access to healthcare and the digital world for work and school. If we actually were at a better baseline, then we would not see so much pain in adjustment and so much inequality in health result now and that is a real thinkpiece for the future.

Charlie: Yeah. I do hope that it creates lasting change. I think one of the things that is really, I saw a tweet today, which I'm going to paraphrase, which was about the idea that we're putting out all of these safety nets and we're building up these support networks for people and it's kind of what happens afterwards? Do we take that away and just say, "Don't worry, you've got the Olympics again." It feels like this stuff is being put in place that is taking the pressure off individuals in our society and some of the most vulnerable members of our society. How do we maintain those safety nets for people so that they don't have to, like you said, it's like the best baseline is to be at a good baseline to start with. I think yeah, it's a huge thing to kind of consider that and I mean, I'm sure there will be many incredible conversations and outcomes from this. I hope that people start having.

Margaret: I hope so too. In the meantime, there's a lot of new found appreciation I have for all the little things that make my life really wonderful. The company of my family, the presence of honestly the Internet, the presence of all of my friends and community digitally is an immense help in this time, relative to other major public health crises that have unfolded without these communications technologies. I am learning to love my tiny house. I love that it has so many physical books and art supplies and board games in it. One of the last things that we did actually before we had to stop going outside was stopped at the local art supply store and we were out of brush cleaner, and the children like to paint and we couldn't possibly do anything in acrylic without the right brush cleaning supplies. We stocked up there on that and some watercolor paper, which was also sorely needed.

Margaret: There are so many amazing little miracles of daily life that are close to home. We walk around the neighborhood and we photograph plants and then people come home and draw pictures of them or paint or sketch or create graphic novels depending on which bedroom you look at because each of us has our own style of drawing. It's not so bad in some ways to stop out of the daily life that I spent so much time commuting in and really enjoy my garden in which everything is blooming. There's a lot to love. There's a lot to love in being close to home right now, so I am finding a lot of joy in that where I can't go out though. I have to tell you someday I'm going to put on a dress and a cute pair of shoes and go eat sushi and boogie all night and I will be just delighted to do that. I don't what year it will be. I don't know when it will happen, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Charlie: We had a pajama party at my mate's place. I think it finished at dawn and it was just the wildest party and we keep talking about how when this is all over, we are going to have a party. We're going to blow that out of the way.

Margaret: Yeah. My friend had a wonderful virtual party last night and the funny, or was it two nights ago? I've lost. It's March 37th, right? It was at the end of a hectic day and it was hang out after hang out after hang out to hang out. We all showed up wearing our Burning Man gear at seven o'clock in our kitchens. There were hats, there were vest, there were goggles, there were earrings, there were sparkles and sequins and it was just, and we all had to put in our pictures from the play as our background and imaginatively placed ourselves in the space where we felt free and had to do that for 60 minutes to celebrate the birthday of a friend. It was completely joyful and wonderful. There are those moments that I think we can all take present time, pleasure and energy from during this really unprecedented moment.

Charlie: It's such a good point. I have had such a great time chatting to you and I have so much respect for the way that you are approaching this situation and the way that you're finding comfort and joy and hope in those little moments and those little things that we do. Is there any other advice that you might have or any other closing thoughts for anyone listening out there?

Margaret: I think that we will forever after be grateful when we see our friends and family in person in a way that we were perhaps taking for granted before.

Charlie: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat and for sharing with us. It is beyond appreciated.

Margaret: I thank you for chatting with me too, Charlie.

Charlie: To everyone listening, thank you for taking the time to tune into Code[ish]. Look after yourselves, look after each other, stay safe and stay healthy and thank you. Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Code[ish] podcast. Code[ish] is produced by Heroku, easiest way to deploy, manage and scale your applications in the cloud. If you'd like to learn more about Code[ish] or any of Heroku's podcasts, please visit

About code[ish]

A podcast brought to you by the developer advocate team at Heroku, exploring code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer.

Hosted by


Charlie Gleason

User Interface / User Experience Lead, Heroku

Charlie is a designer, developer, musician, and creative coding enthusiast. He can usually be found somewhere in London, probably on a bike.

With guests


Margaret Francis

SVP & GM, Data Services, Heroku

book addict + adoring parent + aspiring cyclist.

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