Join Corey, Pete, and Amy as they say goodbye to Pete in his last show as a host of Fridays from the Field before he moves on to his next endeavor. Tune in to learn about how Pete wound up at The Duckbill Group by luck, how even if you think you know your way around AWS you’ll quickly find out how little you really understand when you become an AWS cloud economist, how effective written communication is essentially a superpower, how cloud economics is the intersection of architecture and cost, and more.
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Jesse: Today, on a very special episode of AWS Morning Brief: Fridays From the Field, we say our goodbyes to Pete Cheslock.
Amy: Oh, no. Did the ops bus finally get him?
Jesse: No. Wait, what? What? No. No, he’s not—
Amy: You know, the ops bus, the one that takes out all of the ops people, which is why you need data recovery plans.
Jesse: [laugh]. I mean, I have plans for other reasons, but no. No, Pete, Pete’s not dead. He’s just—I mean, he’s dead to me, but he’s just not going to be here anymore.
Amy: Only on the inside.
Jesse: Welcome to AWS Morning Brief: Fridays From the Field. I’m Jesse DeRose.
Amy: I’m Amy Arumbulo Negrette.
Pete: I am Pete Cheslock. I’m here for one last, beautiful, glorious time.
Jesse: I feel like this is going to be like Breakfast Club but in the data center server room.
Pete: Yeah. A little bit. I think so. We will all sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle, share our thoughts and feelings. And maybe some sushi. There were sushi in that movie. And that was, like, really advanced back then in the ’80s.
Jesse: Yeah, I like that. So Pete, you want to give us a little bit of background about why you will be moving on from this podcast?
Pete: Moving on to a whole new world. Yes. Sadly, I am not dead. The ops bus did not get me, and I was not eaten by my smoker, my meat smoker.
Jesse: [laugh]. Although at this point, it’s probably overdue.
Pete: You know, the odds of all three of those are pretty high out, to be really perfectly honest, given this pandemic and everything else going on in this world.
Amy: Isn’t that how it works? You eventually become the smoked meat.
Pete: Yeah, yeah.
Pete: All the time. You know, you are what you eat. And if you eat junk and whatnot—so I eat smoked meats, eventually, I’m just going to become, you know, smoked meats, I guess. But no, I am moving on from The Duckbill Group. Just bittersweet is the best word I can come up with. Very sad, but also very excited.
I’m moving on to a new role at a new company that was just kind of an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. And I’m really excited for something new, but really sad because I don’t get to work with two of my three favorite cloud economists, Jesse, and Amy. Yeah, Corey is one, too, and yes, it’s fun to work with him. But it’s also fun to rag on him a little bit as well.
Jesse: I’m pretty sure you still have the opportunity to rag on him no matter where you go.
Pete: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, we’re Twitter connected. So, I can just slide into his DMs as needed. Yeah.
Amy: And really, what else is Twitter for—
Amy: —than roasting former coworkers and bosses?
Pete: Yeah, I expect a constant stream of Twitter DMs every time you find something, some little fun nugget that I’ve left behind.
Jesse: I feel like that’s appropriate. So today, Pete, I have two questions for you now that you will be moving on from Duckbill Group, moving on from this podcast, I want to know, looking back at your time here working with Duckbill Group, what did you learn? What are the things that surprised you, that you didn’t expect? And what would you say to somebody who wanted to start working in this space, maybe start a career in cloud economics on their own?
Pete: Yeah, so this kind of feels like an exit interview a little bit.
Jesse: [laugh]. And a very public exit interview at that. So, make sure that we bleep all the swear words.
Pete: I think it’s in Duckbill fashion to do a public—a very public-facing exit interview, right? That is Duckbill in a nutshell.
Jesse: I think the only thing more public is if Corey asks you to hold the exit interview on Twitter.
Pete: [laugh]. I mean, we might have to do that, now. I like that idea. Yeah, so I think those are great questions, and I love the opportunity to talk about it. Because Duckbill is a fantastic company, and coming into Duckbill last year was totally by luck.
Not really—no, not—luck is maybe not the right word. But I had been doing some consulting on my own, and the pandemic and some other forces caused a bunch of my consulting work to dry up really quickly. And I was sitting at home and I’m like, “Wow, I should get a real job.” And I saw a tweet from Mike on Twitter that was like, “Oh, we’re growing The Duckbill Group.” And Mike and Corey and I have known each other for such a long time.
We’ve always said it’d be great to work together at some point in the future, but it’s so hard [laugh] to do. You know, to kind of work with your friends, and timing, and circumstance, and schedule, and everything else. And so when I saw that, I was like, wow, like that might be a lot of fun working with that crew. And I’ve got a lot of experience in AWS and I’ve—my title at one of my previous companies was Captain COGS—for Cost Of Goods Sold—because I was so diligent with the Amazon bill. So, it’s kind of one of those things where I felt like I could be useful and helpful to the organization, and talking with Mike and Corey, it just made a ton of sense.
And so, it was a lot of fun to come on board. So, but then once you’re kind of in, and you start doing this type of work—and you know, Amy and Jesse, you’ve both experienced this—I think no matter how much knowledge you have of Amazon, very, very quickly, you realize that you actually don’t know as much as you really think you did, right?
Pete: Because it’s so—there’s just so much.
Amy: And it changes once every five minutes.
Jesse: Oh, yeah.
Amy: Literally if you—well, just keep an eye on that changelog, you can watch your day get ruined as time goes on.
Pete: [laugh]. It’s—yeah, it’s a real-time day ruining. And that’s the new. It’s like Amazon Kinesis: It’s all real-time.
Pete: Yeah, it’s so true. And I think the reason behind it is, you know, one of the first things I kind of realized is that when you are working inside of a business and you’re trying to understand, like, an Amazon service, you don’t necessarily go that deep because you’ve got a real job and other stuff to do. And when you’re finally, like—let’s say you’re in Cost Explorer; this is actually my favorite one because learning this took us a while. The documents aren’t very good. But in Cost Explorer, there’s a dropdown box that can show you your charges in different ways: unblended view, blended view, amortized view—if I’m saying that word really incorrectly—net-amortized view, net-unblended view. Like, what do all these mean?
Most people just are like, unblended, move on with their lives. But at some point, you kind of need to know and answer that question, and then understand the impact, and all those things, and spending more hours than I care to count trying to correlate the bill and Cost Explorer to look the same. Something that simple, why is that so hard? You know, it’s things like that.
Amy: Why is that so hard? I do not understand it. It is exhausting. [laugh].
Jesse: It drives me absolutely crazy, and it’s something that in previous roles, you could just say, “Well, this isn’t my responsibility, so I’m not going to worry about it.” But now we’ve got clients who are asking us these questions because it is our responsibility and we do need to worry about it.
Pete: Yeah, exactly. So, I think that’s just, kind of, one example. Now, there was a ton that I learned. I mean, just in how discounts might be applied when you look at charges in an account whether if you have an enterprise discount program, or private pricing in some way. I think one of my favorite ones—and this is actually something that catches a lot of people up—is especially in Cost Explorer, there’s kind of two ways that you can view a charge.
So, let’s say you’re looking at S3, and you are trying to find your usage by the usage type. Like, I want to compare standard storage to maybe data transfer or something like that. And you go and group by usage type, and they’ll show you, “Hey, for your S3 for this month or day or whatever, you’ll have some spend associated storage and data transfer,” and you’re like, “That’s neat.” And then you say to yourself, “Now, I want to look at it by API.” And maybe you’ll see, wow, there’s a ton of spend associated with GETs or PUTs.
And you’ll think that that is actually a request charge. And it’s totally not. It’s like, when you group by API, it’s the API that started the charge, not the charge itself. So, you could have a PUT that started the charge, but the charge itself is actually storage. It’s the little things like that, where you might glance at it in your account and go, “Oh, okay.” But then when you actually need to get down to the per penny on spend and share it with a client, you go even further down the rabbit hole.
Jesse: Because why would all of the billing information across different sources be accurate?
Amy: And also, why would things be named the same between the bill, and Cost Explorer, and the curve? Having those names be the same, that would just make it too easy, and just streamline the process too much, and be too logical. No, let’s work for it. We have to work for it. It’s a pillar of excellence; we have to work for it.
Pete: [laugh]. Exactly. So yeah, I think it’s those types of things that you just start seeing the edge cases. But because of, kind of, the work we do, we keep going. We’re not just, “Oh, wow. Haha, silly Amazon.”
But then we keep diving in deeper and deeper to figure out the why. And the reason for that really just comes down to the fact that we’ll need to communicate that in some effective way to the client to get them to understand it. And actually, that kind of leads me to the other thing that I think is probably the most important skill of being a cloud economist, of being in finops, is your ability to write long-form writing, being able to write clear, concise information explaining why the spend is what it is, explaining all of these edge cases, all these interesting parts of cloud cost management, and being able to write that down in such a way that anyone could read it; like a CFO could understand how the charges are happening, just like a head of engineering, who has maybe more impact to the spend.
Jesse: Being able to communicate, the differences between different AWS services, between different billing modes, to different audiences is so critical to the work that we do because we’re ultimately going to be working with different people with different backgrounds at every single client that we work with. So, we need to be able to speak the language of different audiences.
Amy: And it’s really different, how different C Suites, different departments, their goals are going to be different, too, because they have requirements that they have to fulfill. Finance is very concerned about the literal cost of things, while engineering is—they understand that their architecture comes at a price, and so long as they have the budget for it, they’re cool with it. And you just have to align what those goals are, and have that translate as like, into the document as, “They built it this way for this reason, which was fine at that stage. But as you grow, you need to make sure that it also fulfills these other external expectations.”
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Pete: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, it’s just—and can you imagine, you have some knowledge you want to share around something as complex as the Amazon bill. I mean we ask for a PDF of your bill when you start working with Duckbill Group. That could be hundreds of pages long, and you’re trying to distill that down into something that, really, anyone can understand. It’s a true superpower to be able to write long-form content like that really well.
And I never used to like writing. I was never—never really enjoyed it that much and over the last year, that muscle that you’re working out, now, the ability to write many, many pages around this type of content, just it comes so much more easily. So, I think that’s another big aspect, right? The more you work on it, obviously the easier it gets.
Jesse: I don’t know about you, but now that I have focused more on flexing that writing and communication muscle, I’ve noticed it more in both everyone that I work with day-to-day with Duckbill Group and also in my daily life, just watching how people communicate with each other, and how effectively people communicate with each other; it’s both amazing and nerve-wracking all at the same time.
Pete: [laugh]. I know. And even—not to say that whenever we sit down to write our reports that we give to our clients, we don’t go through the wave of emotions between the back and forth of, like, “I don’t know what to write,” and then, “Oh, I know of a lot of stuff to write. Let me just get something down.” And then you can’t stop writing. It’s just—it’s this emotional roller coaster that I feel like no matter how many times we need to write a lot of detailed information down, everyone always goes through.
Amy: And we really do have a highly collaborative process here, too, where we’re all in the same document, writing, and the person who owns any given report will always have the same stage at the end when all of the sections are filled out, where they go to one of the other people on the team and go, “Every word I put down is absolute garbage. Please help me trim it down, take it out. I don’t even care anymore. Just look at it and tell me that I wrote down words that are in some kind of human language.” [laugh].
Pete: [laugh]. Oh, the plight of the writer. It’s, like, the imposter syndrome that affects the writer. It’s like, “Okay. I wrote a bunch of stuff. I think it’s terrible.” And then you sleep on it, you come back the next day, and you’re like, “Actually, this is pretty good.” [laugh].
Amy: I explained concepts. It was fine. I didn’t use a single comma for three pages, but it’s probably fine. [laugh].
Pete: You can take one of mine. Usually, all of my draft documents are commas and M-dashes, just all over the place. Yeah, so I think that’s honestly a big superpower. And I think the last two things that—this is actually something that I’ve looked for in people that I’ve wanted to work with, and people I was hiring, and I see it here as well as these, kind of, two concepts of intellectual curiosity and aptitude to learn, where if you have a base knowledge around Amazon and you have those other attributes—that curiosity and truly enjoying learning—you can accelerate your ability to understand this so incredibly quickly because there’s such a wealth of information out there, and there’s so many documents, there’s so much stuff. It just requires someone who really cares enough to dive in and really want to understand.
That’s something that I think we’ve seen here is that the folks who are most successful are just—they want to know why, and they’re not satisfied until they can explain it in a simple way to someone else. That’s the key, right? The attribute of a true expert is someone who can explain something very difficult in a simple way. And I think that’s something that would be critical if you were joining Duckbill, if you were building your own finops or cloud finance team, it is so complex. It’s the intersection of technical architecture and cost, and it touches almost the entire business. So, I think those are some other attributes that I think are just incredibly helpful.
Jesse: We’re also usually not entirely satisfied until we’ve either opened a support case with AWS, responded to one of their feedback icons in the AWS documentation—the public AWS documentation—or trolled somebody on Twitter saying, “Shame on you, AWS, for writing documentation that doesn’t make sense.”
Amy: It’ll be fine. Someone in your mentions will go, “Did you check the region?” And you would have, and then it’ll still be wrong.
Amy: And it’ll be fine. [laugh]. Eventually, we’ll fix it.
Pete: That one—
Jesse: Too soon.
Pete: —that one still hurts, when we—oh, I’m just like, “Why do the numbers not line up?” And then someone was like—
Amy: It's a thing I check for, even if it’s like, “It’s a global resource.” I don’t care. Just tell me. Just tell me it’s fine. [laugh].
Pete: “Are you in the right region?” Like—“Dammit, no, I’m not. Oh.” [laugh]. Yeah, that happens to the best of us.
Amy: I did, unfortunately, burn so many hours, I think it was last week trying to find out where someone had put their resources. It’s like, “Oh, not us-west-2. It’s us-west-1. Of course.” [laugh].
Jesse: So, annoying. Well, I would just like to say, Pete, it has been a joy and a pleasure working with you, it has been a joy and a pleasure complaining about AWS with you, on this podcast, so thank you for your time. That sounded really… really, really standoffish. I didn’t mean it quite as bad as it came off there. [laugh].
Pete: Well, you know, I think we need to thank Corey for having a child and thus needing to offload some of his podcast duties over to us, and then the fact that we just never gave him the podcast back, and we just took it over.
Jesse: Well, if you’ve got questions that you’d like us to answer, you can go to lastweekinaws.com/QA
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Pete: Thanks for coming in.
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