The Auth0 Ambassador Program was created to empower the developer community and help make the Internet a safer place for everyone. Our ambassadors give talks at conferences, host workshops at local meetups, and create all sorts of content to help developers learn about the latest standards and best practices when it comes to identity, authentication, and security.
The Interviews with Ambassadors series shines a light into who are ambassadors are, how they got here, and what they are doing next. Our inaugural interview is with Mercedes Wyss, one of our earliest and most active ambassadors. She has won the highly coveted Ambassador of Month award three times so far. Let’s get into it.
Interview with Auth0 Ambassador Mercedes Wyss
Hi Mercedes, thank you for taking the time, can you tell me a little about yourself?
Of course. I will tell you some things that people don’t usually know about me. I am a software engineer and community leader, working with communities locally and abroad, but how I got there is kind of unique.
I never finished university, in fact I studied three different careers, first Software Engineering, then Aquaculture, and finally Fine Arts with Music Specialization. I studied music for 7 years, my specialization being the piano. I did theater, contemporary dance, I played chess, and ran a science and astronomy club at the university. We even had an observatory and did astrophotography.
I always like to say to others "don’t be afraid to be different", because maybe we are not what the world wants, but we are what the world needs and the only way to create a different and better world is by being different.
That is so interesting. I often find that leaders in the tech community generally don’t come from a traditional Computer Science background. What made you want to join the Auth0 Ambassador Program?
When I attended Java One in 2016, I met representatives from Auth0 at the sponsors' exhibition hall. I didn’t know what Auth0 was, but they had free t-shirts, so I approached and asked: "What do you do?"
"We are an identity management platform, we manage logins, and make it easy to add social integrations like Facebook."
"That is freaking awesome!" I said, because from experience, building your own integrations with Facebook is a nightmare. But more than that, it was about this amazing platform that made managing it all so simple.
In 2013, I found myself fighting with Facebook integration on a project, and like any frustrated developer copying and pasting code for my users module implementation until something worked. I even proposed to the company where I worked that we develop a platform for user management and integrations with Facebook so developers wouldn’t have to implement it themselves, so imagine my surprise when I came across Auth0.
Auth0 represents that, only bigger, better, and more awesome. When I saw the call for ambassadors on Twitter, I didn’t think twice, I submitted an application. To be part of the Auth0 Ambassador program is to be part of that freaking awesome platform, that makes working with identity management easy, safe, and fast.
Well we are very happy to have you as an ambassador and the stuff you’ve been doing is freaking awesome! What have been some of your favorite experiences with the Ambassador Program?
The opportunity to inspire others.
Since I get to travel and speak at international conferences, people come up to me and say, "If Mercedes can, we can too." At least three friends that I made over the last year have been inspired to get out there and try. I am happy to see more Guatemalans and Latin American speakers at conferences.
Last year, I talked about JWTs and now I see many people trying to better understand how JWTs work and all the possible scenarios where they can use them.
After inspiring others, being able to support the community, travel, and discover new places is a huge plus.
What has been your favorite conference to attend in the last year?
Java One — it’s the biggest Java conference and people from all over the world attend. What I really love about Java One is that there is so much opportunity to interact with developers, last year I had about 8 different activities ranging from talks, Open Spaces, interviews, and volunteering opportunities.
Besides speaking at conferences, you do a lot of work with local communities in Guatemala. Can you tell me a little bit more about the work you do there?
I run two communities in Guatemala, the first one is Devs+502, a community mainly focusing on Google technologies. We meet the second and fourth Monday of every month and most of the time I am the speaker. Protip: To grow and maintain a successful community, a stable and periodic schedule such as having the meetups be at the same place on the same day really helps. With Devs+502 we also run an Android conference called AFest across three of the most important cities in Guatemala.
I also run a JDuchess chapter. JDuchess are the female Java chapters, focusing on increasing women participation in Java related technologies. In Guatemala, there are very few women in tech, and even less so working with Java, so JDuchess is open to any technology and the main focus is to increase women participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). With JDuchess, we host three kinds of activities. The first is the typical meetups every two months. Next, we are combating women leaving tech by creating community branches in Universities to motivate and increase participation in local communities. Finally, we are running technological inclusion activities for girls in elementary schools.
Increasing diversity and getting more women in tech is a goal many aspire to. How can we as a community and industry improve in this regard?
This is a somewhat of a difficult subject and often a topic of discussion in the JDuchess community. While evaluating strategies one of the ladies made a great point when she said: "it is probable that women don’t come to us, so we must go to them".
To attract more women to tech, one strategy is to provide strong role models and motivate women inside the industry to participate more in the community. Increasing women participation in strategic positions is another goal, but a tough one as these positions are usually occupied by friends, or acquaintances of the company. This reminds me of an article I read about increasing women participation in the industry, and a case of two companies. The first one hired their first woman as employee number 100. When asked why, they responded "because we have hired only our acquaintances". In the second company, they hired the first woman as employee number 4. When asked why, they responded "because we have hired people we do not know".
The next aspect is the focus on community. In order to increase the number of women in technology, we must inspire them. One of the things that makes many women not interested in technology, are the parenting patterns. For example, buying boys legos and girls dolls. We cannot change this much, but we can tell the girls that they are future women who can develop technology. If you can’t run activities with girls for tech, then teach them about technology , look for outside communities and groups that do and support however you can. These groups always need materials, tools, and other things.
What can conference/meetup organizers do to help?
The most important thing that conference and meetup organizers can do is offer a safe environment for everyone.
Unfortunately, I have been part of communities and events in Guatemala where many of the organizers are stalkers of the highest level. This signal to attendees leads to little or no female participation in the events.
I experienced this situation with a friend of mine. She was harassed by members of a community over a period of about three months. We received threats where they indicated that only round one had passed, nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few beers, or that she should be grateful that they were interested in her at all. The message that impacted me the most was from another woman who said "she is not pretty enough to ask that they not harass her, if you don’t like it, then don’t participate." We had to raise the tone of things to demand that the harassment stop, fortunately that worked and we didn’t have to proceed legally.
But how fix that? The most important thing is to learn the culture of no harassment.
In contrast, let me tell you about my experience at Devnexus, an event organized by the Atlanta Java Users Group, where I have seen a very strong participation of women and a real synergy to make this happen. First of all, they have a Code of Conduct, something I’ve been seeing at conferences more often, where it is stated that harassment is prohibited. Devnexus works very closely with Women Who Code and this really helps promote participation and inclusion. Making strategic alliances can be the key to success, here we can apply the proverb, "Alone you can go faster, but together you can go further."
You’ve won Ambassador of the Month three times so far. How do you balance the Ambassador Program with your regular job?
This can sometimes get a bit complicated, combined with the meetup organization I work with it is like having three part-time jobs. I will certainly confess I may have an advantage over others in that my work contract allows me to work from home which allows me to combine work, meetings, activities and trips much easier.
But I need to be careful with this, as I have a limited number of hours per month that I need to dedicate to accomplishing my work tasks as well as meeting my financial goals. I have a physical to do list — where I write each activity by hand to strengthen the need for execution in the mind, as well as a virtual one powered by Trello. I manage priorities, what things must be done before traveling, and what things I can do during the trip.
Another thing I do to avoid a disaster is to have a highly detailed calendar, with dates of conferences, flights, community meetups, important family activities, vital work meetings, and so on. I try not to cross over important family activities and work with conferences.
In essence this is something really hard, I have found myself working some weekends and on other occasions sleeping only three hours. I try not to do the latter as sleeping is important to be able to function successfully throughout the day, but just as important is to eat well too.
To summarize: organize well, prioritize your activities, sleep and eat well.
Getting accepted to conferences is often a challenge. Do you have any tips and tricks to share for getting accepted?
Everything has a pattern and we must discover it.
When I speak at a conference, it is not about what I want to say, rather more about what I can say that is relevant for the audience of the conference. Many conferences don’t like product pitches, they look for more technology trends. We need to find a way to combine those hot topics with what we want to say.
That is only for choosing the topic, next we need to convince the organizers to accept our talk. A tip here is to go and see the titles and abstracts of the talks from previous years. Look and see if they are funny titles, or very formal and descriptive. Some organizers want to see objectives and exactly what your audience will learn in your abstract, while others want to know what makes you the best choice to give that talk.
Do something that many don’t like to do, read. Many conferences give indications of how to make a successful proposal in their CFPs, what topics they want, how to define your talk and how to develop the abstract. In fact some give up tips on how to make an excellent presentation. So read first, then submit.
Can you share a few tips for aspiring Ambassadors?
Always share your passion, be an ambassador, not only of Auth0 technologies, but in everyday life. Being an Auth0 Ambassador is more than being an expert in the technology, or using it in your day-to-day. It is to show to the world how it inspires you, and that can only be done with passion in the heart.
What are some technologies you’re personally excited about?
I love programming on Android, and I am always looking for what new things we can do there. I am focused on learning and slowly migrating my apps to Kotlin.
I use a lot of Java, and love the Play Framework for both my frontend and backend development. But in Devs+502, we recently learned about Golang — a really fascinating programming language and Angular — an amazing frontend framework. I will not be migrating my backend from Java to Golang just yet, but I will be using Angular for some frontend stuff in the near future.
Right now I am improving my knowledge on Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and I am exploring tools like Tensorflow, Google Assistant, making integrations with Alexa, and we are part of the Visual Recognition API JSR (Java Specification Request) in the JCP (Java Community Process) for improving the use of Java in Computer Science Aspects and making it a standard in the Java Programming Language.
As a huge fan of Golang myself, I just want to give a shoutout and totally agree with you that Go is a fascinating language. Where are you speaking next?
- March 17th, at OUG Paraguay, Encarnación Day, "Serverless in Deep"
- March 27th, at Droidcon Boston, "A More Secure World for Android Apps"
- April 17th, at Oracle Code Boston, "Serverless in Deep"
- April 24th, at Oracle Code Bogotá, "Serverless in Deep"
- April 25th or Thursday 26th, Medellín JUG, "Serverless in Deep"
- May 5th, Java Day Istanbul, "Serverless in Deep"
- June 11th, JBCNConf (Barcelona), "Serverless in Deep"
Looks like you have a very busy schedule ahead of you. Thank you for your time today.
If you are attending any of the above conferences, be sure to stop by and say "Hi" to Mercedes Wyss! That about wraps it up for our first interview in the Interviews with Ambassadors series. Thank you again Mercedes for taking the time to answer our questions today and we can’t wait to see what you do next.
If you are interested in learning more about or joining the Auth0 Ambassador program, check out this Ambassador page on our website.
The Auth0 Identity Platform, a product unit within Okta, takes a modern approach to identity and enables organizations to provide secure access to any application, for any user. Auth0 is a highly customizable platform that is as simple as development teams want, and as flexible as they need. Safeguarding billions of login transactions each month, Auth0 delivers convenience, privacy, and security so customers can focus on innovation. For more information, visit https://auth0.com.