Kendall Miller is the president at Fairwinds, a shop that helps teams optimize containerized apps and get the most out of Kubernetes that was formerly called ReactiveOps. He's also the host of Authority Issues, a podcast about leadership. Prior to these positions, Kendall was a sales consultant for Odyssey Industrial Solutions and also worked for an international non-profit based in China for 11 years.
Join Corey and Kendall as they talk about their long-lasting friendship, why Kendall believes Corey should ditch the "cloud economist" moniker and go with "personality" instead, why Kendall believes you don't need operational excellence if your infrastructure is simple enough, what it's like to change a company's name and some lessons the Fairwinds team learned the hard way, how there comes a point in time where organizations eventually need Kubernetes, why Corey thinks there are three or four great reasons to run on Kubernetes and 5,000 terrible ones, and more.
Kendall was the first hire at Fairwinds and has been in almost every role in the company. Today he works to establish Fairwinds as a essential name in kubernetes—offering software, services, and open source. Kendall has four kids, a dog, and three weasels. He also co-hosts a podcast on leadership with his friend Rachel at https://authorityissu.es
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at the Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. I’m joined this week by Kendall Miller, president of Fairwinds
and, due to a lapse in judgment and both of our parts, one of my longtime friends. Kendall, welcome to the show.
Kendall: Thank you, Corey. I’m pleased to be here and continue that lack of judgment.
Corey: Excellent. So, we go back, and we will get into that story in a bit. But I’ve known you longer than I’ve been an independent consultant. You were there in my early formative years as a new manager. And I manage people in interesting ways.
There was a lot of empathy to it, but there was a lot of, shall we say, personality, and you had the good graces not to call me a jerk to my face, in so many words. Thanks. I wanted to make sure we got that in before I proceed to destroy what you’re currently doing professionally.
Kendall: Well, first of all, I appreciate that I also—even right there, I want to jump in with a story that, one time, in San Francisco, at a brewery or a bar or something with like, 25 friends, I had a friend who doesn’t work in tech show up and I was walking around the table introducing who everyone was, and this person works there, this person works there, this is what their title is, this is what they do. And I got to you. And I said, “This is Corey Quinn. He’s… a personality.” And I think that’s what you just described yourself as, and I do think that’s still maybe should be your title instead of cloud economist, just ‘personality.’
Corey: Yes, the problem is that ‘personality’ has a lot of implications to it, most of which are absolutely correct, but I prefer to let people discover that on their own. It was not in a bar or a brewpub. What it really was, was at a Chinese restaurant. And I remember this very firmly because we’re sitting around the typical white tech bros, as we are, surrounded by our friends who are fortunately not all looking like us. And the waiter comes by and you turn to the waiter mid-sentence, and completely switch languages and order in—I believe it was Mandarin, but it may have been Cantonese.
Kendall: Mandarin. Yes, probably.
Corey: Yes. And for the longest time, I had to do a fair bit of research to figure out whether or not that was actual legitimate Mandarin or an elaborate prank that you had staged just to make me fall for this and tell the story someday, I actually went in the back room had them send a different waitperson out who you would not have had time to bribe and yeah, sure enough, you can speak Mandarin. So, that was one in a long series of ways in which you surprise me. Every time I think I’ve got you dialed in, you go in a new direction, and I am forced to expand the ever-increasing multi-dimensional representation I have of Kendall Miller.
Kendall: I like to think that it’s all respect-based. But normally, I go into a restaurant like that beforehand and ask a few of them to speak Chinese to me and to listen to me speak and then tell everyone at the table that I actually speak Chinese when I really don’t.
Corey: Exactly. You know, there are dumber things people could do.
Kendall: [laugh]. If impressing friends, it takes a little bit of preparation, I’m in for it.
Corey: Exactly. So, all of that said, while we’re on the topic of dumb things, you are at Fairwinds, which is awesome. And you’re—the tagline for the company is, “Kubernetes done right,” but I checked the page very thoroughly. And you do in fact do Kubernetes which, from my perspective, is not doing it right. The only winning move is of course not to play. What’s the deal with that?
Kendall: Well, for a guy who spends his life criticizing AWS, if you believe that Heroku is the answer and solution to all things, wonderful. I mean, it does run on AWS, and you—marry those two things for me, what is the perfect solution, Corey? Is it all serverless all the time? Is it Heroku all the time? Because if it’s not Kubernetes, if Kubernetes is not your savior, then what are you betting on?
Corey: Operational excellence is sort of the short answer there. But Fairwinds is an interesting company—
Kendall: Bullshit. Whoa, whoa, wait, wait. Can I cuss on this?
Corey: By all means. By all means.
Kendall: [laugh] so, so bullshit. I mean, ‘operational excellence?’ You don’t need operational excellence if you have a simple enough infrastructure.
Corey: Yes] because if there’s one thing for which Kubernetes is renowned, it’s simplicity.
Kendall: Oh, that’s what I’m saying. You need operational excellence if you’re going to run Kubernetes. But if you’re not running Kubernetes, you don’t need operational excellence. If you’re on Heroku you just need a really good understanding of UI.
Corey: And you also need to have outsourced that operational excellence to someone else, which is not an invalid strategy.
Kendall: Oh, no, no. It’s actually an excellent strategy. If Heroku works for you, never ever, ever, ever leave.
Corey: No, Heroku works super well, credit where due—I’m not being snarky—right up until the point where it doesn’t. That point is further out than a lot of people think it is, but I’m—I have no problem with Heroku. If you’re on Heroku and think I’m bagging on you, I assure you, I’m not. We have built some stuff at The Duckbill Group on Heroku for very good reason.
Kendall: I’m with you. Yes. Well, and I regularly tell companies if it doesn’t cost you too much, and it’s not overly simplistic for your needs, never ever leave. It is a great place to be. But, [laugh] you touch on Kubernetes, and how can that even be done right?
And is that the non-starter for even doing things? It may be for certain people. And for a lot of companies, there is a serverless, or a Heroku, or something that is the right solution because be as no-ops as you can, by all means. Like, design things as simple, on great automated self-managed hosted systems wherever possible. I mean, the beauty of the cloud is you don’t have to turn the machine on and off yourself; Amazon will do that for you—or Google, or Azure, or whoever your third-tier cloud may be, as the case may be—but why not carry that all the way through to, they will make sure the service is up and running for you, they will make sure the connections are working for you?
By all means leverage all the things that you can. It’s just that at some point, companies reach a point where they require the ability to dig into that complexity and be hands-on themselves. And when that happens, where would you send them if not Kubernetes, Corey?
Corey: Well, I do want to call out, first and foremost, that there is a potential perceived conflict of interest that I want to be very clear that we express. I was an advisor to ReactiveOps—once upon a time—for almost a year when you were the president of that company. Then I stopped advising you folks, and it became pretty clear because you looked around and said, “Huh. What’s the biggest problem with the name of this place being ReactiveOps? That’s right, people have heard of it, so we’re going to call ourselves ‘Fairwinds’ without even throwing in a following seas joke to go with it.” And it is, in fact, the same company, correct?
Kendall: It is, in fact, the same company. Yes.
Corey: Because there was some great branding there, the pajama pants at KubeCon that were labeled ‘ReactiveOps.’ Genius. I love that idea. I wish I could steal credit for it, but I can’t.
Kendall: You have said to me—and I’ve thought about this a lot—you said ‘ReactiveOps’ wasn’t a great name, but Fairwinds is also not a great name and you forget about it by the time you get to the end of your sentence. And I don’t think you’re wrong, but I also think it was the right decision to change names. Now, we could have done it better. There’s a number of things we could have handled better on the SEO side. Like, don’t get me wrong; changing a name is complicated, messy, we learned some lessons, the hard way that I wish we hadn’t.
But at the end of the day, internal marketing matters a lot. Like, I think a lot about GitLab. GitLab is a really impressive product. In fact, it’s a really impressive suite of products, but most people don’t know that because the name is GitLab. And they’re the—
Corey: Oh, the fact that it has ‘lab’ in the name sounds like a science project or an experiment that’s still waiting to see its viability. It’s like, “Oh, GitLab. Is that GitHub’s development group?” Like, “No, it’s not. Well, well, kind of, but no.” And yeah, the fact that they’re toying with IPO, apparently, and are a multi-billion dollar company, they still have the word lab in the name.
Kendall: Well, and it’s still heavily focused on Git even though everybody knows it’s all SVN under the hood.
Corey: I want to be fair, Fairwinds—to be fair—Fairwinds is not a terrible name in the universe that contains things like AWS Trainium, or Systems Manager Sessions Manager. There’s always going to be a bad name that’s worse.
Kendall: Someone who names things worse than you? Yes.
Kendall: No, I appreciate that.
Corey: It’s just, I got to be direct, uninspiring.
Kendall: It is uninspiring until it’s been around enough and it has enough market traction, that it doesn’t matter. I mean, I am a big believer that this was a good decision. And I like working for a company that’s not called ReactiveOps. I was the first hire at ReactiveOps, and I asked in my interview, “Why is it called ReactiveOps, not ProactiveOps?”
Corey: Because ProactiveOps was taken.
Kendall: [laugh] well, and then throughout many, many years—I mean, there’s a reason it was called ReactiveOps. And it was a great name, it was the right thing to be called for a while. We were able to get the domain, we were able to grow to a certain number. Fairwinds, we had to buy the domain—it wasn’t free, right—and—like, the same way ReactiveOps was because it was catchier, even if it’s—has problems. But the beauty is, we can grow into it, and it can be anything.
And internally, we are allowed to think of ourselves as anything, inclusive of being an ops company, but not exclusive of everything else. Does that make sense? That’s why I really think it matters is the internal naming really matters a lot because people are affected by internal marketing. It’s hard to think outside the box.
Corey: They absolutely are. It seems like a weird juxtaposition because, credit where due, while the name is uninspiring, the company, in fact, is. The people I have met who work there have been nothing short of stellar in every case. It really set the model—to be direct—with how I wound up staffing The Duckbill Group. Like Fairwinds, we are full remote and we’re built that way from the beginning, not having it bolted on after the fact so you have basically two tiers of employees, or remote in the way that, surprise, everything’s now remote because of the deadly pandemic. No, no. We were full remote in the before times, as were you.
Corey: And that really led to some interesting conversations and some amazing hires you, quite frankly, otherwise would never have been able to get.
Kendall: Yep, agreed. Well, so I’m a leader in this organization; I know all of our warts inside and out. And there’s no such thing as a company that’s firing on all cylinders and perfect in every way. Although I’m pretty damn proud of where we are, and what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it with. And I tell people in interviews, we don’t hire everyone.
In fact, it’s a difficult job to get, but if you make it through the process, you’re going to like the people you work with. I can almost guarantee that. And to a person, we have a great team of people that are compassionate, that take care of one another; it’s an inclusive environment; there are no stupid questions. There was, one time about two years ago, where somebody said something passive-aggressive in Slack, and the company response was actually just laughter, throughout. I mean, just people DM-ing this around, just, just howling with laughter because nobody ever says something passive-aggressive in Slack. We have a culture of respect and I’m proud of that. So, we do a lot of things, right. The people that work here are one of those things. Very much.
Corey: And as I always said, the best way to run Kubernetes is not to, but if someone forces me to deploy Kubernetes, there are really two options. The one that I would prefer would be to go with you folks. I’ve seen how you run this stuff; it just makes sense. And it covers some of the reasons that people run Kubernetes, but not all of them.
Kendall: Well, so Kubernetes is hard, but part of the reason Kubernetes is hard is because it’s still new to most people the same way that moving from a Windows machine to a Linux machine is hard because you’re not familiar with Linux. And in the early days of Linux, you spent all of your time just trying to get it to work, right? Trying to make sure your screen actually had the right driver installed and had all the right settings. And I mean, it was a huge pain in the ass, I spent a lot of my childhood just trying to get different Linux distributions to work on my old Tiger Machines computer because that was entertaining, just trying to get it right. But you don’t want to have to do that with a production environment for a product that you’re running.
And so if it’s new, and the new is complicated, yeah, just look for help; we offer that help. But now, I mean, we’ve really changed a lot, Corey, even since you worked with us where we were heavily focused on services, and now we have a software product that gives people confidence they’re using it right. So, rather than go hire the experts to make the problem go away—please go hire the experts. Make the problem go away—but if that’s not going to be what you’re going to do, install a piece of software—I mean, we have an open-source solution out there called Polaris. It is widely adopted in the Kubernetes ecosystem, especially the open-source ecosystem. You run this on your cluster and it tells you things you’re doing well, and things you’re doing wrong, and it gives you a score.
And then we’ve built on top of that, including a bunch of other open-source tools heavily focused on security and policy enforcement, et cetera, so that large-scale enterprises can actually roll out Kubernetes with confidence because their engineers don’t know what they’re doing. They are giving people the ability to deploy things into Kubernetes that are horribly, horribly configured unless they have good policy in place and a software tool that enables that enforcement. Because at the end of the day, the reason this exists is we can build great infrastructure for people, but if what people are deploying into that infrastructure is terrible, it only gets you so far. And Kubernetes is difficult like you’re saying, but it doesn’t have to be if you got the right team behind you or the right software to help you. And that’s the end of my plug. No, it’s not. I’m probably going to say all the things [crosstalk 00:13:19].
Corey: Oh, of course—oh, you’re going to be self-promotional the whole way. If not, frankly, you’re not doing your job. But let’s be serious here. I don’t disagree with anything you just said. In fact, I endorse it. The problem I have is with the fundamental conceit of the entire argument, which is that people are attempting to use Kubernetes to get actual work done instead of dicking around. It seems to me that the reason that a lot of folks are going with Kubernetes is because they can’t pass Google’s interview but still want to cause play as a Google SRE.
Kendall: So, it’s resume-driven development? RDD?
Corey: Exactly. There are three or four great reasons to run Kubernetes and five thousand terrible ones. And it’s very often it feels that it is incredibly hype-driven in many respects because every time I tend to see it—that’s not fair. Most times that I see it in the wild, and I start talking to the people who have rolled it out on why you’re running Kubernetes. It goes back to talking points that do not ever tie back to an actual business constraint or problem that they were faced with. I mean yes, if I’m trying to run something hyperscale and I need to make sure that no individual system or rack or even data center could take down that service, yeah, something like Kubernetes makes a hell of a lot of sense.
But I’m trying to run a WordPress blog here and baby seals get more hits than this thing does, some weeks. So, for me, it is stupendous, stupendous overkill. But I see things that are about my level of complexity running in Kubernetes all the time, or let’s be fair, they’re not running in Kubernetes; they’re attempting to run in Kubernetes. Change my mind.
Kendall: So, well, there’s a couple things there. Is it hype-driven? Absolutely. But a lot of the hype is deserved. I mean, when our company was founded, when ReactiveOps started, we set out to build a framework for Infrastructure as Code, and we wrote a shit ton of Ansible and a little bit of Terraform, to go solve the problem of having automated deploys, blue-green deploys.
You know, everybody wants logging, monitoring, alerting, a system for their cloud. Everyone’s needs in the DevOps space are all the same. How they accomplish them is a little bit different. So, we wrote a framework. Again, tons of Ansible.
Kubernetes comes along, and we took a look at it, and it was a lot better. There’s a lot of things that does it just make sense? Is the API different? Is it complicated? Yes, especially if you’re new to it. But honestly, the same way, Corey, that you might spin up a simple Linux instance on Linode, or an AWS to go kick the tires on something or spin up a simple server, that’s easy for you because you’ve lived in the Linux water for a long time. And once you get familiar with it, it doesn’t take a long time. Same thing with Kubernetes. Should most people be deploying WordPress onto a Kubernetes cluster? No. [laugh].
Corey: Absolutely not. I’m hard-pressed offhand to come up with a worse idea.
Kendall: No, it is a terrible idea for so many reasons. But if you live in Kubernetes world, or you’re very familiar with it, or you want something to fiddle with, which is a legitimate reason to kick the tires with Linux is because you want something to fiddle with or Kubernetes, it’s a thing that you can go fiddle with; it’s a thing that you can go learn. The paradigms are new, they’re exciting, it’s fun. This is the way that the world’s going. In the future, all the Herokus of the world, every PaaS is going to be underlied by Kubernetes, every service you’re using is going to be Kubernetes almost everywhere, except for the few places where it really doesn’t make sense.
And I don’t think we’re that far away from that. Should you use the PaaS? Yes. But if you need a PaaS that you’ve built yourself, use Kubernetes. It’s the closest thing we have to a foundation or a framework for cloud infrastructure.
Now, that said, it’s really not a foundation. It’s somebody giving you rebar and cement and saying, “Good luck, buddy.” Right? But if what you’re doing with that rebar and with that cement, you can build a really impressive foundation that’s going to meet your needs for your very, very, very custom-built house. If you have a small house, a small family, no big needs, don’t buy a custom house.
If you just need something simple to live in, don’t buy a custom house. But if you’re a large enterprise, and you need to have dramatic control over all the different things and you want it to be a little bit flexible, Kubernetes does a pretty darn good solution, Corey. Change my mind.
Corey: You’re right. The fundamentally—
Kendall: No, what? No. Stop. We can just end the recording right there.
Corey: Oh, where. We’re just—cut it there. Good. We’re done.
Corey: You’re not wrong on a lot of that. And the argument that I see is that you wind up with two sides girding themselves for war, you have the containerized side—which we can distill down to Kubernetes because regardless of what many of us wish happened, it is basically winning in the space—and the other side is, ah, serverless.
Kendall: You—wait, wait. You want a Docker swarm to win?
Corey: No, no. I personally ECS, if you—I still maintain kubernetestheeasyway.com
and I have re-pointed it to the ECS product homepage, I will re-point that to the highest bidder.
Kendall: ECS is going to run on Kubernetes. More and more. It’s all—
Corey: Oh, yes. We’ll have that argument some other [crosstalk 00:17:56]. But there’s serverless on the other side—
Corey: Which is, you just wind up using a bunch of high-level managed services, pay for consumption. And the old-school admins are all very angsty about this. At that point, you’re just handing your availability over to your cloud provider. Well—
Corey: —no, you’re just being honest about it because you’ve been doing that for 15 years.
Kendall: Absolutely. And yeah, I mean, serverless is the absolute—okay, not the abs—I’m sure there’s going to be things that iterate on serverless but in the old days of, I have a computer running my server in my data center, or honestly, not even my data center. I mean, the startup I worked for in 2004, we had a back room, like, literally a closet with a server rack in it. I’ve taken this server with this install of this operating system and all of the things it takes to run my app, and I’ve given it to the cloud on an instance that now I have to manage in the cloud. And they just continue to abstract those pieces away to literally, here’s the workload; make it happen, Amazon; make my problem go away. Brilliant. Way to go cloud. Way to go serverless people. I give credit all the way back to the Fission.io
folks, which I think were Platform9. I don’t think Platform9 talks about that much more, anymore.
Corey: I keep mistaking them with Plan 9. Talk about derivative names. But please, continue.
Kendall: [laugh]. There you go. Well, but—so, I mean, it makes sense. It’s brilliant. The reason to use Kubernetes isn’t because you have a workload you don’t want to worry about. The reason to use Kubernetes is because you have to have fine-grained control over some of the internal networking, some of all the different—you know, I need this to scale up this way, and that to scale up that way, and I need them to talk to each other in this way, and I need to have this control over that thing.
And should you use serverless? Yes. If you can make the whole thing work in serverless, yes, just do it. But in a few years, all the serverless everything is going to be running Kubernetes underneath, and that’s what I’m betting on. So, I don’t care if you run in serverless. Somebody is running that serverless system and it’s probably running on Kubernetes and they’re going to want help.
Corey: The problem that I see with a lot of this, too, is that okay, fine. You’ve convinced me. I’m going to run Kubernetes. Now, okay, and how did you say finding each other? Oh, they need to add something Istio or Envoy or—don’t correct me on that—and something else in front of it.
And then I pull up the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s landscape. And some wit on Twitter just took a screenshot of that once, and tweeted it with a caption of, “Jesus Christ.” And it got something like 20,000 retweets because it’s hilariously overwrought. I look at this, and it makes the AWS service listing look reasonable. It’s that complex, and vast, and broad.
And there’s an entire universe contained within the things you need to responsibly run Kubernetes. And I look at it, and my entire position on it is, the hell with this. I can go back to running VMs on top of a cloud provider—or instances or whatever you want to call them—in a standard three-tier architecture, and that worked pretty well back in 2012. The world hasn’t changed that much.
Kendall: Well, so this is—you can blame the CNCF for some of this. Why did they create a landscape that literally includes everything? You want to submit something to the CNCF, you basically can; you have to sign a couple of agreements. But then it makes it look like all those things are the things you need. I mean, this goes to your tweet, just, like, yesterday, or the day before where you complained there is no enterprise Kubernetes distribution that excites you.
OpenShift is overfraught. Tanzu is complicated and it’s hard to understand. And Anthos is just a SKU of a whole bunch of Google products. I get it. I mean, we have something similar. So, we run Kubernetes at scale for lots and lots of companies, mostly leveraging open-source things. There is a finite number of things you need to go from Kubernetes to production-grade Kubernetes, and we have those packaged in a thing, on our website, in GitHub. It’s called Fairwinds Elements
. It’s all open-source. Just go use those things. You don’t need more than that. If you need more than that, go get help. But there is a finite list of all the things you need to go from click a button, get Kubernetes to, click a button, get production-grade Kubernetes. And it should be easy, and nobody’s defining it easily.
Corey: It just feels, on some level, like Kubernetes is really aimed at people who want to cosplay as cloud providers themselves.
Kendall: That’s like saying Linux is disguised as cosplaying people who want to… I don’t know, run servers. I can’t, I can’t finish that. [laugh].
Corey: That is exactly what it’s for. It’s for people who want to run servers. That’s the problem with Linux as a culture.
Kendall: Yeah, well, so I’m just saying like, yes, it’s fixing the need. Now, here’s the question that I have, though, Corey. Talk to me about this. Google bets on Kubernetes—and there’s some debate about whether Google bet on that or the people who founded Kubernetes bet on that. But Google internally is still using Borg.
Talk to me about that. Why have they not bet on Kubernetes? Is it because of all the things you’re saying, that Kubernetes is overcomplicated and Borg is actually the solution, and we should be open-sourcing Borg as-is?
Corey: Borg, to my understanding, is so deeply baked into how Google does things internally, there’s no way it could ever see the light of day. And I also have it on good faith that Kubernetes being open-sourced is perceived as a strategic blunder internally at Google because once it’s an open-source project, they are discovering to their detriment that they can’t deprecate it.
Kendall: But why have they not then bet on it, or at least dogfooded some way significantly, internally? When I talked to a Google engineer, and I ask them about Kubernetes and they say, “I don’t know Kubernetes. I don’t know anything about it because I use Borg.” How’s that not a problem?
Corey: It’s a massive problem. It’s Google had such an advantage with being the home of Kubernetes that they are excitedly squandering as fast as humanly possible, from my perception.
Kendall: I mean, it’s amazing seeing the other cloud providers catch up to GKE because it wasn’t that long ago that we told every client GKE does it better. And there are—
Corey: Oh, my god. EKS was a punchline.
Kendall: [laugh]. I mean, we handle a lot of workloads on EKS now, and it has come a long ways, and it is a completely fine solution for the vast majority of people. And yes, for a long time, it was really, really, really painful. But it’s not anymore. They’ve caught u—I mean, not caught up, but they’re pretty darn close and honestly, sufficiently.
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Corey: They’re not bad, I will say. At this point, there is no way in the world I would want to run Kubernetes myself on top of bare metal. That sounds like pain. I’d want to get some form of distro around it that doesn’t come with a team of seven people wearing suits trying to sell it to me. That’s the wrong kind of distro.
Kendall: But that’s all the fun of Kubernetes. You’re taking away all the fun of Kubernetes. Sorry, keep going.
Corey: I really am. But I want someone to run it for me. I don’t want to think about it. I get some crap for this sometimes. Someone thought that they were pulling a big aha moment that lastweekinaws.com
runs on top of—duh-duh-DUH—GCP because they looked at what was spitting out. And my response was a polite form of, “Yeah, no shit. I pay WP Engine to run WordPress for me because I’m not irresponsible, and I honestly, past that, I don’t care where they put it.” I have so many other things in my life that I care about more than I do that. So, what’s it matter?
Kendall: If there’s anything that shouldn’t run on AWS, it’s Last Week in AWS
Corey. I mean, the managed service is great, but that’s the thing is it doesn’t matter how great EKS is if everybody’s deploying terrible things into it, that are horribly insecure, that are set to use terribly way too many—you know, are requesting way too many resources and therefore costing you a fortune. Have I come full circle to, “Buy Fairwinds Insights
?” Am I allowed to do that on this podcast? Because I feel like just plugging—
Corey: It’s all about the guest here. By all means, knock yourself out. I’ll talk smack about you on a separate podcast like—
Corey: —at some point I’m going to go through all the previous episodes, get them all lined up and do a mega episode for an hour and a half, “And now I contradict all the crazy horseshit that my previous guests have said, in one conversation.”
Kendall: Yes, well, you’ve been on my podcast and I just want to say that if you do that, I will go back and do the same thing to you. And I have way fewer listeners than you so it’ll work out great for both of us.
Corey: That works out well because—they say, what is the collective noun for white guys is a ‘podcast?’
Kendall: That’s, that’s, yeah—
Corey: Yeah, the collective noun for developers is a ‘merge conflict.’ But, you know, we all take what we can get.
Kendall: I think my favorite comment like that was, “Where do podcasts come from?” And it was saying, “Well, when two white guys like their ideas very much, dot, dot, dot…” and that’s really stuck with me. Well, so anyways, Corey, we’re coming up on time, I think, from your side. What not Kubernetes should we be talking about?
Corey: It’s adorable you think I’m not going to cut the hell out of this. We’re at minute three, Kendall.
Kendall: Oh, you’re totally going to. But I want to talk about something not Kubernetes-related. What are you working on at Duckbill Group that’s driving you crazy right now that you can share, or is really exciting to you that you could share?
Corey: Oh, the things driving me crazy? Talking to people like you. My God. I mean, I thought that would have been obvious.
Kendall: [laugh]. I’m the most delightful thing in your day-to-day.
Corey: It’s a growth year. We’re looking at expanding the audience; we have some things we’ll be launching in the near future. Nothing to disclose on that right now. We’re toying with expanding in different directions. One of the things that I’m setting for myself is that if we do any more newsletters or things of that nature, I’m not writing them. I don’t want to put more weekly toil on my plate. I can write well, or I can write a lot, but it’s hard for me to do both. Consistently.
Kendall: You sit and read through the AWS blog for a living, which sounds like literal torture. Well, so let me ask you this. You’re a personality, going back to my first story, right?
Corey: Jeez, you come on my show and insult me. I don’t get that very often.
Kendall: I—hey, [laugh] if I don’t insult you on your own podcast, am I actually your friend? I feel like you would think, no. [laugh].
Corey: No, no, it’s fine. Beating the crap out of me is kind of my thing. I’m like, basically the personification, you know, of AWS marketing.
Kendall: That’s right. I mean, I want to ask about this. How has being a personality paid off for you because it’s led to you being able to start a business. If Corey Quinn was a nobody when you start Duckbill Group, it would have been a lot harder to get your wheels off the ground, it would have been a lot harder to hire people. You have a brand that’s allowed you to build a company and in a lot of ways that not having a brand wouldn’t do. I mean, can you talk to me just for a second about how beneficial it is to have the brand that you have?
Corey: Uh, it’s a double-edged sword like most things. It’s nice to be able to go out there and tell a story and people are like, “Oh, you’re the guy from whatever.” It does get super hard when no one has heard of me, and it’s, “So, what do you do exactly?” And it’s, take a deep breath, and rattle off the newsletter, the podcast, the consulting, the Twitter shitposting, et cetera, et cetera.
Kendall: That’s why you just tell people you’re a personality. Keep going.
Corey: Yeah, that happens, but—and it is helpful, but it also means that on some level, it’s—this is going to sound weird—it’s very lonely. Everyone’s sort of engaging with a persona, where it’s—and they have this idea of me rather than me as a person. Like, everyone knows me, I have remarkably few friends. It’s a very strange mixed bag, there.
Kendall: I mean, it’s something that I have spent time thinking about, that the complexity of being known is that people come up to you at an event and they want to be in proximity to you, to say that they were rather than to say, “Hi” because they know you know them back. And the larger that percentage is of people who know you that you don’t know—or that ratio is—the more complicated that gets, I can see that as being lonely. I’ll make sure that next time I see you in person, I give you a big hug.
Corey: Oh, good. But as long as the pandemic is over, it’s fine. The other side of it, too, is that you get used to scrutiny a lot. Everything I say is controversial to someone, and it’s differentiating, someone getting upset because I did or did not use an Oxford comma in a tweet—which, frankly, is not an important battle worth fighting. Don’t email me—and the other side of it, which is someone gets upset because I refer to a group of people collectively as “Guys,” which is valid because that’s something that is exclusionary to folks who do not see themselves encapsulated in the term guys. I get it. I eradicated that word from my vocabulary and replaced it with folks and people can deal with it.
To all the way on the other end of the spectrum, which I’ve never actually had to deal with of, “Wow, your views on race are incredibly problematic.” So, regardless of what you say, or what you do, you’re going to get scrutiny, you’re going to get feedback and disambiguating into where on that spectrum any bit of that feedback falls into of can I safely ignore it because it’s irrelevant, or am I just thinking that because growth is painful, I don’t want to go through that? And are some of the ways that I perceive things actually regressive? It takes time and a commitment to improving, but it’s not easy because you get a lot of feedback. And if you’re not careful in moderating that and taking it to heart and evaluating it on its own merits, it can destroy you.
Kendall: Well, what’s interesting about that is it almost sounds like you had to reach a certain level of fame to have the normal level of scrutiny imposed upon, say, your average woman on Twitter.
Corey: Absolutely. Absolutely. And even now, let’s be fair here, I don’t have anywhere near that level of scrutiny directed at me even now.
Kendall: Sure. Yeah, that’s interesting. And does it give you more empathy, though, for people who make their living in the Twittersphere, that don’t look like you?
Corey: I don’t think I ever was missing that to begin with because I’ve have conversations with a lot of folks who have far more valuable things to say than I ever will and who are, frankly, better people across the board. So, I’ve always been very aware of that. And again, it’s uncomfortable becoming aware of the privileged one carries and that was something that was a definite—it takes an adjustment like anything else. I used to be very different when it comes to my views on these things than I am today. And it just, it takes empathy, it takes walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, and it’s transformative because once you see it, you can’t ever unsee it.
Corey: And frankly, at this point, I wouldn’t want to.
Kendall: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting because now we’re both in positions of power in our organizations, like, actual titles of authority—
Corey: Oh, yeah. I have an authoritative position in the industry, and you have an authoritative position because you’re one of the only people who have gotten Kubernetes to boot up and get the errors to stop scrolling.
Kendall: [laugh]. But it’s the authority in the industry that sets you apart there, too, and it comes with a weight that I know you’re aware of, and I’ve seen you—I mean, one of the things that I like about you, Corey, is I’ve seen a friend call you out for something, you asked a bunch of clarifying questions to understand what it was about what you had said that was wrong, and then you went and removed it because you humbly understood that. And I mean, frankly, that’s a big deal, Corey, not everybody does that. So, if you’re going to be a celebrity, at least carry that weight with a little bit of humility, which now I’m on your podcast brown-nosing. Which, if we can just wrap up, maybe—[laugh].
Corey: No, no. That’s much more expected and normal. We’re used to that. I can handle that.
Kendall: [laugh]. If we can just scroll back now and insert that, you saying, “You’re right. You’re right.” And then just end right there. That would be ideal, probably. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about, Corey?
Corey: No, it’s it’s—you’re the guest, I should be asking you that. Anything else you want to make sure we cover?
Kendall: [laugh]. Um, gosh, what else is going on in the world? I mean, I think it’s really fascinating watching the speed at which Azure is advancing. I think it’s increasingly proof that… I think there’s a lot of ways you can argue Google has some of the best engineering solutions in some of their cloud products. They’re the best—
Corey: Oh, yeah. Just ask them.
Kendall: Well, they’re the best solutions for some of the wrong problems. AWS is willing to build anything, even if it’s the wrong solution, as long as there’s a market for it. And Microsoft can just sell. In fact, it was a Microsoft person who asked me about my different opinions on the clouds, and I was telling them where I thought AWS and Google sat in the market, and they said, “Our only differentiator is that we can sell. We’ve been selling to everyone for forever, and we’re going to continue to be able to sell to everyone for forever.” And it is fascinating to me watching a cloud grow with the speed that Azure is because they have the Rolodex that they do. Nobody has that Rolodex. And that’s fascinating to me. I mean, how long until you launch Last Week in Azure?
Corey: Oh, it exists. When it hits enough subscribers and people care, I’m going to find someone to run it.
Kendall: Oh, wow. Okay.
Corey: I don’t want to keep it. My god. I’m just building the list because enough people will care. lastweekinazure.com
. Sign up.
Kendall: Oh, wow, interesting. Okay, there you go. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. But I’m not surprised. You should, you should be there because, at some point, there’s going to be meaningful competition to AWS. And it looks like it’s coming from Azure, not DigitalOcean.
Corey: I would agree. But I don’t think that that market needs to be served by me. I think it needs to be someone like me in that space. I am not going to become that person. And that’s okay.
Kendall: It’s a different kind of snark to attach to Microsoft than it is to attach to Amazon, given the—
Corey: It’s a different audience.
Corey: It’s a different language in many respects, and there are people who could be much more authoritative in those customer relationships than I can.
Kendall: Yeah, I believe that. Interesting. And do you see any third-party or second-tier or third-tier cloud catching up, ever? Is somebody going to enter the space and make waves? It seems like it’s a little bit too late. It doesn’t seem like Oracle is going to catch up, or DigitalOcean is going to take over.
Corey: Well, yes and no. DigitalOcean and Linode are both doing interesting things. I mean, take a look at them. They’re not shrinking.
Everyone likes to say, “Oh, they’re just withering on the vine.” No, they’re not. They’re everywhere.
Kendall: But they’re not going to catch up either. They’re never going to be number two to Amazon, are they? Or—s I mean, that’s what I’m asking. Will they be?
Corey: Yeah, and isn’t that a sad fate that will only make hundreds of millions instead of many billions in a given quarter. I mean, that’s not a terrible life, from my perspective.
Kendall: It’s true. It is interesting how we measure those things where Google will kill off a product that has more revenue than the vast majority of startups do in their first ten years of business, but it’s such a small number compared to them, they’ll just shut it down. Not to pick on Google, who is infamously shutting things down, but lots of business units that do that in the Apples, in the Googles, in the Amazons. But that’s interesting, the way we measure that.
Corey: There are many paths to success. And I don’t think that it needs to be measured in the context of the GDP of a midsize country.
Kendall: Yeah, yeah. I agree.
Corey: Duckbill won’t get to that kind of revenue for another ten years. That’s okay.
Kendall: Yeah, well, and you’re going to experience an interesting thing, being a bootstrap company who’s trying to make money. And everyone who has venture money around you is going to look down their nose at you, which is a weird thing that—
Corey: And that’s a serious problem if VCs don’t like me. I mean, that—I don’t know what I’m going to do if I wind up in that position. I mean, I need the wisdom that only comes from winning a lottery once and then being able to tell me how I can win a lottery, too, someday.
Kendall: I mean, there’s some nice things about being able to leverage VC money and grow really fast. I get it. I think what’s amusing to me is when a founder backed by VC is looking at a person like you who’s growing a company profitably and thinks to themselves, “Wow, I’m way better at burning money than this guy is at earning money.” And that that somehow gives them an air of superiority. That’s, that’s the thing that amuses me. But our industry is a weird industry and everybody’s all the time trying to size themselves up compared to the next guy. And—
Corey: Oh, I’m an old-fashioned crotchety old man here because I have the kind of business model our grandparents would have understood.
Kendall: [laugh]. It’s true.
Corey: It’s like, “So, you haven’t—where’s your investment all come from?” It’s, yeah, it’s this magical thing called revenue and profitability.
Kendall: Yep, yep, yep.
Corey: Because honestly, I’ve got to be direct here. If I am solving people’s AWS bills and losing money in the process, I don’t think that I would be qualified to do the thing that I do. It’s similar—no joke—back in two years of re:Invent being an in-person thing in Las Vegas, I never would gamble when I was there because I didn’t want the optics of, “Isn’t that the guy that’s supposed to be really good at saving mon—
understanding large, complicated money things sitting at a slot machine?” It’s just the optics aren’t terrific.
Kendall: That’s hilarious. I’ve never thought about that. I’ve been at a re:Invent with you, and I don’t play slot machines because they bore me, as does most gambling, but it never occurred to me that you had the—
Corey: Yeah, if I want to look at flashing lights and get endorphin hits by pushing buttons, that’s what I have Twitter for.
Kendall: [laugh]. That’s right. When somebody hits ‘like.’ The thing is that you have to reach a certain amount of inertia before you get the endorphin hit that you need from Twitter. That’s why so many people fizzle out before they get a reasonable following.
Corey: Credit okay due, it took me seven years to get my first 1500 followers, which is what I was when I launched this place.
Kendall: Yeah, that’s impressive.
Corey: I finally cracked the secret of Twitter. And guess what? Ready? Here it is: be funny. That’s all it is. The end.
Kendall: I mean, is it even that? Doesn’t it show up all the time, and being funny is like a nice to have?
Corey: Okay, be funny frequently. There we go.
Kendall: [laugh]. Be funny, frequently. Yeah. I buy that. That works.
Corey: So, if people want to learn more about what you’re up to, and actually maybe see if your company can solve a real business problem they have, where can they find you?
Kendall: So, the company is Fairwinds. That’s Fairwinds.com
as in, “The winds are fair,” because this is Kubernetes, and everything is nautically themed. See, Corey, there’s more to the name than you thought.
Corey: There is. And people want to keep up with you personally because they make the same terrible series of choices I do, okay can they find you?
Kendall: My Twitter handle is @blatanterror
as in a mistake that was very obvious. And I also host a podcast on leadership, primarily highlighting people who come from underrepresented backgrounds in tech. And the podcast is Authority Issues
. That’s authorityissu.es
if you want to check that out.
Corey: Upon which I have guested, and vastly enjoyed the experience. The host, not so much, but I did.
Kendall: Well. That’s why I have a co-host is so I don’t have to be in your shoes in this situation and come up with all the clever things. I mostly just ask questions, and then when I’m having an off day, she carries the load for me which is delightful.
Corey: Excellent. Well, thank you once again for joining me. I appreciate it, despite what you may think.
Kendall: Thanks for having me, Corey, and I’m a little disappointed because if you didn’t appreciate it, I think I would enjoy the spiting you a little bit more. Spiting the professional spiter.
Corey: Kendall Miller, president of Fairwinds. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you didn’t enjoy this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with a comment explaining how that despite cutting this episode down to five and a half minutes, somehow Kendall still managed to irritate the living piss out of you.
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com
to get started.
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