Cloud Therapy with Bobby Allen

Episode Summary

Bobby Allen is the Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Turbonomic, where he helps companies automate cloud application resource management. He’s also a Pastor of Stewardship at Wellspring Church. Previously, Bobby worked as CTO and Chief Marketing Evangelist at CloudGenera, a project manager at ServiceMesh, a vice president and technical project manager at Bank of America, and a systems analyst at Intel, among other positions. Join Corey and Bobby as they talk about cloud therapy and what it entails, how folks almost have a level of PTSD after large cloud transformation projects, how humility is the hardest part of cloud projects (i.e., asking for help), why things aren’t necessarily bad just because they are old, what exactly it is Turbonomic does, what it was like managing a building renovation problem for a church, what attracted Bobby to becoming a pastor, why people need to listen to their spouses more often, how to evaluate better vs. different, how being a pastor helps Bobby thrive as a cloud therapist, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Bobby

Bobby Allen serves as VP of Strategic Alliances for Turbonomic. Bobby is a veteran of Intel, Bank of America, TIAA and multiple startups including one that was successfully acquired by the former CSC (now DXC). He went into corporate America after being an Intel fellow at the University of Michigan (MS in Computer Science and Engineering) and a Meyerhoff scholar at UMBC (BS in Computer Science). Bobby has been involved in cloud computing startups since 2012. 

He frequently advises CXO’s on cloud strategy and logical equivalents in cloud technology. His goal is to provide data-driven output to move decision-makers from information to clarity to insight. Bobby has been a featured speaker in various events and digital formats including VMworld, AWS re:Invent, theCube, crowdchat, The CTOAdvisor and Gigaom’s Voices in the cloud. He’s equally skilled talking to analysts or technical teams but most enjoys helping customers separate fact from fiction.

Bobby also serves as Stewardship Pastor of Wellspring Church – a Gospel centered, multi-ethnic community in Charlotte, NC. Bobby is a member of the preaching team at Wellspring and is responsible for technology, finances and facilities. He’s grateful to be part of the team that helped complete a multi-year building purchase and remodeling project. Wellspring moved into their new home in December 2019. 


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. My promoted guest today works for Turbonomic. Now, Bobby Allen is the VP of Strategic Alliances, but on LinkedIn he’s something else entirely: A cloud therapist. As someone who called himself a cloud economist once upon a time because I figured no one would know what that means, great. That appealed to me. And I like the idea of someone calling themselves what appears to basically be unique in the universe, a cloud therapist. Bobby, welcome to the show, and what is a cloud therapist?

Bobby: Yeah, thank you, Corey. Thank you for having me on the program, first of all. Love the format and all the great guests who’ve had. And I kind of took a page from you, Corey, I kind of made up my own title and some of my own job description. So, I call myself a cloud therapist on LinkedIn.

Corey: Hang on. While I’m sitting here, I’m going to do a search. And as it turns out, if LinkedIn cooperates, yeah, there are—ooh, there is a second person calling themselves a cloud therapist.

Bobby: Interesting.

Corey: Well, someone in AWS, which is good. I had the same problem as well because when I was a cloud economist, someone was calling themselves that as well, at AWS. And well, I can let that skate because AWS inherently is terrible at naming things, and job titles, presumably are going to fall into the same bucket. It’ll be great. But I’m curious, what is a cloud therapist? How does that work?

Bobby: So, a cloud therapist to me, Corey, is really about listening because the reality is, there are a lot of things that happened before I got there. A lot of them honestly, they went very badly. And I’ve noticed that a lot of people have almost a level of PTSD, especially from big transformation projects. So, cloud therapy to me is really two things. One, I’m focused more on how I can help you than what I can sell you, and number two, I’m there to tell you what you need to know now what you want to hear.

Corey: A somewhat similar line that I’ve been using for the economic side of the world has been that I largely view myself as a marriage counselor between engineering and finance. Because that does seem to be two folks who struggle to articulate a common love language if you’ll forgive the allusion. And I feel like the more I look at this, it’s less about math, and it’s less about being able to prove things with technical correctness, it’s not about the technology, it’s not about the tools, it always goes back to the people. And if I were to start my business over again, four years ago, I would almost certainly align it more directly with that ethos in mind.

Bobby: Corey, I couldn’t agree more. I think you and I are so aligned on that. Part of my personal mantra for last year and this year has been—the short version—is that tech is the easy part. The longer version is that tech is the easy part, people are the best part, behavior is the hard part, and humility is the worst part. We don’t like raising our hand to admit that we need help.

Corey: No. And part of the problem too is that, on some level, we live in a society that winds up penalizing people when they raise their hand and say, “I don’t know something.” For better or worse, I figured, well, I have no technical credibility to speak of, so why not admit when I don’t understand something? It sort of snowballed from there where other people started speaking up too;, “Yeah, I don’t get it either.” And, “Oh, good. I see you had to wait for someone to speak up, but all right.” It became an interesting story. And I’m starting to realize now that there’s more psychology that goes into so much of this than I ever would have believed previously.

Bobby: Again, I couldn’t agree more, Corey. I think the thing is the soul of technology goes back to people. It’s so easy to forget that why are we tinkering with things? Why are we playing around with new stuff? It’s got to come back to are we solving a problem for a person or an organization to make life better for someone?

And I think, when I kind of step back at some of the conversations I have with executives, this is one thing I’ll throw out for the audience. I’m a big believer that everything new isn’t good, and everything old isn’t bad. Wisdom is about knowing which new things to embrace and which old things to retain. I call that mastering the remix. And if you’re not willing to ask for help and you’re overwhelmed, that mix of old and new is probably crushing you right now.

Corey: That’s a really astute way of framing it. I want to come back to that, but before we do, this is a promoted guest episode by your employer, Turbonomic.

Bobby: Yes.

Corey: My question for you is why Turbonomic? Now, this isn’t just a ‘what does Turbonomic do?’ We’ll get there in a moment. But you have an interesting and storied history as far as things you’ve done. You were at CloudGenera for a long time, and you wound up doing a bit of a tease as far as, ‘oh, where am I going to go next?’ at the beginning of this year, and the answer was Turbonomic. Where were you, and what made you decide that this was the next thing for you to do?

Bobby: Yeah, it’s a great, great question, Corey. We’ll hopefully get into automation a little bit more in the topic. I’ve got a different take on automation, maybe the [many. 00:05:15]. But I used to be a person, Corey, that talked about—folks would say, “I’m drowning in information,” and I would say, “No, no. What you really need is to move from information to clarity to insight.”

And I think the revelation I had within the past year or so is the gap, Corey, is not from information to insight, it’s really from intent to execution. Even if I tell you what you need to do, do you have the time and the attention to do it, or do you really need me to do it for you? So, the automation that Turbo does kind of helps free you up to go focus on the next thing.

Corey: I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with an awful lot of the cloud cost optimization tooling. And generally speaking, we don’t have a whole lot of them on the show, we don’t have a whole lot of them sponsoring our stuff because of a really strange divide that we’ve found over the years. Either I wind up actively insulting the tool or product—which is not a great look when people sponsor things so that’s a problem—or the other is I wind up saying great things about it; it’s perceived as a full-throated endorsement. And that’s impossible for me to do in this space just because, as we’ve discussed already, I don’t think that it is inherently a tooling problem nearly as much as it is a people problem. That said, one of the things I do appreciate about Turbonomic when I took a whirlwind tour through it was that in many cases, it is hands-off—you configure it to do certain things, and then you don’t have to mess with it anymore. It just works, and it’s a disappears-into-the-background offering. And that is, in many respects exactly what people need around a lot of things that Turbonomic does.

Bobby: Mm-hm. So, I agree, Corey. I think the other part is Turbonomic can kind of meet you halfway because sometimes the things you want to automate still need to be routed through something like a ServiceNow, to get people to bless it, so I think that part is really cool. But I’ll give this analogy to the audience, Corey. So, Turbonomic is not a cost optimization company.

We’re really a performance company focused on applications. And so here’s the difference; I’ll use a gym analogy. There’s a healthy way to lose weight, and there’s an unhealthy way to lose weight. So, for a layman, the way I would sum up Turbonomic is we’re optimization without unintended consequences. We’re not the diet pill you take to drop 50 pounds and your kidneys fail.

Think of us as a combination of the nutritionist and the trainer so that you lose weight and add muscle in a healthy way so that your body has the nutrition and the physical makeup that it needs for you to be sustainable and successful.

Corey: It’s effectively teaching people the long-lasting approaches rather than the quick fix of come in and, “All right, flip that button there. Hit that switch there. No, you flipped that switch incorrectly. Do it more like this. Thank you. Pay me.”

And then you vanish and you haven’t really fixed anything. You’ve just caused a minor inflection and made people feel good, but it isn’t building the lasting muscle that you need in these spaces to ultimately fix the root of the problem, which comes down to having communications, effectively, cross-functionally.

Bobby: Corey, you’ve said it well in other formats. Cost is a proxy for value, but cost is a symptom of, typically, something that’s a lot deeper. A bad cloud bill is poor communication, is overprovisioning because you don’t know what the applications need, there are other symptomatic things. And I think, again, back to being a cloud therapist, if you listen to people, they’ll tell you what’s wrong, they won’t necessarily be able to tell you why, and you’ve got to listen to the bigger point of what’s happening. And so sometimes, I’m screaming about the bill but there’s really a bigger issue. I don’t know what resources my apps need. I don’t know where to draw the line. I don’t know what I should be doing. I need some coaching, and I need some automation so that package can help me operate my environment better.

Corey: I think your framing of the question started out on the right path. “Oh, you get a bad cloud bill. Well, hang on a second. Why is it bad?” I mean, theoretically, you can drop the cloud bill to zero by turning everything off, but that is surprisingly unappealing for most companies.

It comes down to is it too high? Is it really that it’s high? Because people accept when they run businesses, that there’s a cost to providing their services or goods, and that’s a natural order of things, but what they don’t understand in many cases is that when finance is complaining about the bill, it’s not that it’s too much, it’s that it doesn’t align with projections. So, what is it that’s really driving that question? Was it that it wasn’t predictable, that it wasn’t planned for, budgeted for or, in many cases, is it the fact that you just hired a data science team and now the bills in the stratosphere while it’s very hard to articulate the value they’re providing for you so far?

Bobby: I think that’s the key, Corey, is that—you know, I’ll use another analogy. When grandma’s transmission goes out in her car and I’m weighing whether I put a $10,000 repair around that vehicle, I’m not going to do that if she’s going to stop driving next year. So, like I said, cost is a proxy for value. In the end, the real issue that we’re struggling with is what is the value of that application? Because applications are the bridge between technology and people, right?

That’s how we’re delivering something to make someone else’s life better. And we’re struggling because the bill may be going up, but the value to our customers and our users isn’t necessarily going up and we’re not aligned. If a Netflix cost goes up, or Disney+ goes up, that cost going up means they’re adding more value and they’ve got more customers. They’re not complaining about that as much.

Corey: Right. It’s you look at these things, and like, oh, wow, Netflix, or Lyft, or whoever it is, that discloses cloud spend in a variety of different ways through their public filings, it’s easy to look at that and, “Oh, what are they spending all that money on?” It’s the rest of the S-1. The business fundamentals that mean that they have successfully gone from harebrained idea to something that is viable in the public markets. That’s also invariably second-place—at best case—compared to the cost of payroll. In some cases, you’re also going to see office real estate trumps that as well, but let’s be realistic in a post-COVID time, that one’s a bit of a question mark in a lot of places.

Bobby: Exactly. Corey, just to kind of segue, communication and people is kind of a common theme I hope the audience is hearing. And I tell customers all the time, missed expectations sink more projects than bad code or broken APIs. We have all this tech, but we’ve gotten lazy in terms of having the right conversations. We went to the cloud, or we did this app this way to make things better.

What does better actually mean to us? Is it cheaper? Is it faster? Is it bigger? I’ll be specific about that for a second, Corey. When we talk about making something better, do I need to do a good thing faster, or make a mediocre thing better? Because a bad recipe at scale is still nasty.

Corey: I really, really wish that you could have said that story to some of the institutional kitchens I was at at a bunch of my early educational processes. Oh, my stars. “Yeah, could you fix the recipe first before you scale it?” Ugh. But there’s also this misguided belief that every company holds, every engineering department has, specifically with the idea that after this next sprint completes, then, then, Bobby, we’re going to start making good decisions, and pay off all of our technical debt, and start doing the right thing all the time. And we, of course, will agree on what the right thing is. It’s a ludicrous fantasy that everyone holds, on some level.

Bobby: And you’re right again, Corey. I feel like I’m saying that a lot today because we’re probably agreeing more than we usually do, but that’s cool. In grad school, I had a professor who talked a lot about verification and validation. The first question is, do we do it right, but the more important question is, did we do the right thing? We are not asking that question enough, Corey.

We’re building two-story houses for people that are in wheelchairs. And then we look back and we wonder why people are upset. It goes back to expectations, communication. The technology, all the stuff that we can do, Corey, is making us fall in love with a science fair project and not tying it back to is this what this person or this firm needed me to actually do for them? And then we get upset because we spend a lot of time and effort on things that really weren’t relevant to meet the need.

Corey: So, I want to take a bit of a detour as well where I normally would call this a side project, but that in this case, would be a horrific insult. And that is not at all my intention. You’re very upfront about not just being a cloud therapist, you are also a pastor. And I want to be clear, not a cloud pastor, an actual legitimate pastor. Tell me, first, about, I guess, trying to balance those two worlds, and secondly, how they inform each other.

Bobby: Thank you for the question, Corey. One, I know that’s maybe different territory for your audience, so let me try to sum it up.

Corey: Well, let’s be clear here. It’s also different territory for me. I’m a somewhat secular Jew, and the whole pastor, religious services, faith thing is an area that I always felt like a bit of an outsider in American Christian culture. And if I do, I know other people feel much more so. So, it’s time to start normalizing some of these things and say, “Yeah, I don’t know what I don’t know.” Please, continue.

Bobby: Oh, thank you. So, Corey, I serve as one of the pastors at a multicultural church in the south. I live in Charlotte, which I like to call Silicon South to let people know we’re not just country bumpkins sitting on tractors. And so my church is about half-and-a-half black and white. We have three black pastors and two white pastors.

And I honestly, Corey, feel like my life is better because I get to do life with such a diverse group of people. We have white families, for example, that have adopted black children. We get to process things together, we get to talk about is this racist, or is this ignorant? I’m struggling to find the words that have this conversation. We get to do a lot of those things and I think that’s why for me the pastor part of me wants to make sure that I listen for how people are hurting, I listen for, again, what happened before I got there, and I think about how to apply.

Here’s the key, I think, for the audience, too. A lot of times your passion projects can teach you skills that you can transfer to the enterprise and vice versa. Let me tell you what I mean about that. One of the biggest projects I’ve done—probably hardest thing in my life, short of somebody dying was managing a building renovation project. About the only thing harder than doing building stuff for a church is getting a loan for church, no bank will foreclose on the church so they don’t want to lend any money to you.

Managing that project definitely tapped into skills that I acquired doing things like the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch data conversion, managing schedule, resources, budgets. So, when that came down the line on the pastor side, I said, “I’m built for this.” Bank of America trained me for this CloudGenera and ServiceMesh trained me for this. And it also goes the other way. When I’m managing volunteers at church who don’t owe me their allegiance, I’ve got to lead them and motivate them; that applies to influencing people in the enterprise. So, I think they’re very complementary to each other is the way I’d sum it up.

Corey: It’s fascinating watching fo—at least from my perspective, who have this multidimensional aspect to them. I mean, we all have it to some extent. I spend a lot of time in my off hours—such as they are—being a parent, or indulging myself in cooking and whatnot. But they’re very different than the activities I pursue in my professional slash public life. And it always is, frankly, more than aspirational to find someone who’s I guess, non-public, non-professional aspect of what they do is also devoted towards, I guess, either transformation or in this case, helping people.

Let’s call it explicitly what it is; it’s helping uplift people, which is something I’ve threaded through what I do professionally, at least I try to. But in your case, it’s an explicit calling to my understanding. It is a, in many ways, relatively thankless task that is never done. Is that an unfair characterization?

Bobby: No, that’s fair, Corey, you’re not a pastor for the compensation package. You’re in it because you care about people.

Corey: Careful how loudly you say that. I’m sure some VC is going to hear that and their ears are going to go on point.

Bobby: [laugh]. You’re in it because you want to help people, and I would sum it up this way: being a pastor shows me how I’m a beautiful mess. I am flawed, I am mistaken, I’ve also learned a lot, parenthetically—thing that goes right along with being a pastor is being a husband of twenty-one-and-a-half years now. I’ve learned a lot of things from my wife, and humility has taught me one of the biggest things that we as men do often too, Corey, is we don’t listen to our wives enough. I’ve said on social media before, listening to your wife doesn’t make you less of a man, but not listening to your wife may make you a less successful man.

And being a pastor and seeing how many times I’ve been wrong about things, how many times my wife has been right about things has kind of humbled me to understand that. You know, my wife has been my test audience. I’ve also said that before, many guys say something deep, we did something dumb. So, we need to thank the spouses, partners, and mentors who gave us grace, while we figured stuff out, my wife definitely falls into that category.

Corey: I’m in the same boat. I always feel a little, I guess, ashamed, let’s be honest. Ashamed that so much of what I do and who I am is only possible because my wife has a job as a corporate attorney. And yeah, when I was starting this place out and figuring out how I was going to work, I didn’t have to support the family as I was going through that; that gave me certain amounts of latitude. There’s also the aspect of the constant emotional support, the ability to help pitch in and put the girls to bed when I have a late-night event that goes late.

There’s a lot in there and it’s one of those areas where if I did it, as the husband, I would be lauded for these things to help support my wife. But when my wife does that, for me, culturally, that’s very much a well, that’s what wives do. It’s a double standard and it’s terrible, and I am ashamed for the fact that I don’t do a good enough job of calling that out frequently enough.

Bobby: It’s balanced, Corey, I think the other thing that we’ve got to look at is even when we deal with challenges on the corporate side, it’s still informed by people. Sometimes people are frustrated with their jobs because they’re frustrated at home. It is really tough to like your job when your spouse can stand your job. And sometimes that happens because you’ve been giving your best to your job and they’re getting leftover energy at home. My wife and I are very direct with each other, and she’ll tell me—you know, sometimes, Corey, people will say, “You’re being a rock star at work.”

And my wife has said to me before, “I feel like your company is getting a rock star, but I’m not getting rock star at home.” And before I get offended, I remember what another one of my pastor friends said, you need to sit down and ask your wife, “How often do you have my undivided attention?” And be quiet and listen to whatever she has to say. Don’t be defensive. Suck it up and realize there’s some truth there in that feedback that you probably need to process.

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Corey: You have to sit with that for a while. It’s easy to wind up pointing out specific times and specific weeks for example. Like, during re:Invent as far as my family is concerned, I am basically calling in dead. And that at least becomes something that is time-bound. The more pernicious, the more dangerous aspect is when it slowly starts to become everything.

Because, “Oh, it’s just we’re on a tough sprint right now. I’m going to go ahead and focus on that instead.” Or, “Well, right now is a big deal I’m working on, so once this is done, then I’ll go back and have time to make it up to the family.” And then you turn around and you’re retired and elderly, on some level, assuming we’re all fortunate enough to live that long, and you realize you never made time for the things that matter. You missed watching your children grow up, and you missed being there to support the people who matter.

And, frankly, one of the reasons I started this place that I have to continually remind myself to keep in mind is that I did it because I didn’t want to continue working startup hours in the hopes that someday things pay off. And in fact, most of the people who work here work what amounts to a 40-hour a week-ish—schedule. And when I say ‘ish,’ that’s not at a floor; it’s at a ceiling in many cases, and that’s fine. The reason I do it is because I don’t want to do that grind, I don’t want to play those games, and I don’t want to wind up having these awful scenarios of having to figure out what it is that we’re doing, and promising people, and stringing them along, and burning them out. I want this to be sustainable. I want to build a place where I can enjoy my life and my job doesn’t consume me—unless I want it to—but also for other people as well.

And I’ll admit there are times that becomes very challenging, but that’s the beauty of doing things in a bootstrapped way where we’re supported by the magic of revenue and profitability. We don’t have to sprint to hit runway targets before we’re out of business, in the same way.

Bobby: Yeah. That’s why I say we’re beautiful messes, Corey. Especially as husbands and fathers, we’re working on a plane that we’re flying at the same time. And my kids are a little bit older than yours, I’ve got a 12 and a 14-year-old; I’ll give this piece of advice to your audience that may have younger children. I used to think that the kids were going to need me the most when they were younger, right, because babies and toddlers want to talk but don’t have a lot to say.

Teenagers, on the other hand, have a lot to say but don’t want to talk. They need you more as they’re older, where you have to watch body language and what they’re not saying. And again, the way this all comes together, Corey, is being a pastor, being a husband, being a father makes me better at my job, not the other way around. We think that they’re detriments, but learning how to read people, how to connect with them, and how to watch for what they really need, not just what they’re saying, will serve you in any aspect of your career.

Corey: I think that there’s an awful lot that needs to be aligned and built in a way that we start looking at people through the context of whole career. We don’t though. Everything short term; everything is, “Oh, just at this company, I’m going to work like nuts for a few years, and then it’s going to pay off and we’ll hit that equity point.” It’s a lie. It’s always a lie.

Look at how engineering works. We talk about sprints, a two-week sprint. And then what do you do at the end of the sprint? That’s right, you do another sprint. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. If you’re running all the time, you burn out. It always bugged me, back when I first learned how agile is supposed to work, and I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten over it.

Bobby: So, Corey, if I kind of build on that, but connect, kind of, life and technology because I feel like a lot of technology lessons are really life lessons or vice versa. One thing that I’ve been wrestling with, I feel like in tech and in life, Corey, we’re struggling with how to evaluate better versus different. Do I need a faster horse or do I need a car? And the challenge is, in a world of overwhelming options—watch this—how you choose is more important than what you choose. And most of us are overwhelmed I find because we’re focusing on a choice, not a plan.

Because without a plan, you’re one more option away from being overwhelmed or starting over again prematurely. We need things, Corey, that are going to free up our minds to go focus on the next problem. And so, tying this back to my firm for a second, Turbonomic is not a choice; Turbonomic is the way you choose. We need to pursue things in life that free us up to focus on family, to focus on spending time with people, to focus on solving the next challenge. Because other than that, our minds are still occupied spinning on things that we can’t resolve.

Corey: We spend so much time doing those things. You’re right. One of the things I like about what Turbonomic does, as well as a number of other tools, is it almost takes the big reserved instance or savings plan purchase out of the equation in some respects. And again, you can configure it otherwise, but something I’ve seen in my clients is we talk about the psychology and we talk about the math. Well, yeah, it’s pretty mathematically straightforward—especially in the world of savings plans—to go ahead and say, yeah, you should spend about $20 million on that savings plan. That makes sense.

Everyone can agree that, “Okay, well, what if X, X, and X?” And, “All right, fine. We’ll make it 18 or 17, or whatever it is.” Fine. That gets agreed upon. Okay, just click the button in the console, add it to your cart, now click purchase.

And no one does because it turns out that clicking the buy button on a cart item that is more than you’re likely to make in your career is a gut-check moment. And people sit around for nine months because they’re scared to click the button and it's great. Okay, having tooling do that is helpful. The way we approach it is we’re consultants and we’re sitting there next to them and hold their hands, in some ways, through it and where, if you’re still on the fence, cut it in half, buy that now and then we’ll reevaluate in a month and go from there. But you’re going to spend the money anyway, may as well do it at a discount. And that’s the psychology piece of it. I like your approach to taking that out of the critical decision path where people in some cases need to take a strong drink before clicking that button.

Bobby: Right.

Corey: It’s surreal. I’ve clicked that button before and every time I quadruple check it. I used to take the weasel’s way out back when I was running ops teams; for those big purchases, I would go ahead and make my Amazon account rep do it on the back end. Because if they mess it up—and spoiler, sometimes they did—it’s on them, and they can unwind it with an apology rather than me begging on my knees to please, please, please don’t get me fired and sued here. It’s a different dynamic there, and I really wish that there were more effective ways to do it.

One thing that GCP gets right, in this case, is the idea of sustained use discounts. Use something for at least x hours a month, and you automatically qualify for a discounted rate on that thing. Awesome. All I have to do is not do anything. Well, I’m great at that.

Bobby: That’s a very under-marketed part of their offering. I agree 100%. I think a lot of people don’t know enough about that. I do want to go back to something you talked about, Corey, with when we look at automation in general—and this may be a little controversial, right in ter—freeing up your mind, freeing up your time is a big thing for me. Automation doesn’t mean that you can stop thinking; it means that you can start thinking about the next thing.

And so I believe, personally, automation was really meant to enable thoughtfulness, not push us towards laziness. And that’s how some of us are using it, right? We talked about better versus different. The key is that you automate better so you can think about different. So, you can’t automate everything in the world.

That’s the other place some people get stuck is hitting the buy button, but then is thinking, “Okay, if we’re going to automate, let’s automate everything.” You can’t automate everything yet. Automate the stuff that’s better; focus on the stuff that’s different.

Corey: And that’s part of the challenge, too. I see this industry-wide, where people are approaching everything through a lens of SaaS. And well, great, can we turn this into something that can only be solved with software where maybe we have a pro services engagement from time to time, but it’s going to be software for that recurring revenue approach. When I talked about starting The Duckbill Group with a bunch of people who were kind enough to sit down and give me their unvarnished opinion. Most people were positive on that.

But one person who wasn’t was a successfully exited founder who had done very well, and their response was, “Yeah, this doesn’t seem that great a business to me because yeah, I can see you making 10 million bucks a year out of this place, but I don’t see a path to a half-billion dollar exit.” And I’m sitting there going, “Well, I appreciate your feedback, first, because feedback is a gift. Thank you. Secondly, exactly how much money do you think I need?” But the thing is, they were right, on some level.

If I want to become a celebrity force, who’s basically famous for being able to buy that fame and have an insulting number of commas in my net worth, I’m in the wrong business and I’m approaching this very differently than I should. That’s an intentional choice. It’s not that, oh, well, Corey, couldn’t find a way to succeed at being a billionaire. Well, first, probably right. But secondly, I was never interested in trying just because it’s—I want prosperity insofar as it is a successful outcome for my family where they never wonder if the roof over their head is going to be there tomorrow, whether food on the table is going to be assured, and have a nice life. And beyond that, I’m not sitting here thinking what I really want? Nesting doll yachts.

Bobby: Right, [laugh]. Right, right. Well, Corey, you hit a good point, though, because the reality is we need advice but we don’t like paying for advice. And I think the dilemma is when we tie that back to cloud, and applications, and the way that we look at technology today, cloud, in my opinion, is at best a teenager that just learned how to drive. It still needs adult supervision, it still needs boundaries.

And that’s what you do via consulting; that’s what my company does via software, but cloud is at a dangerous point, Corey, because the capabilities go beyond the ability to comprehend consequences. Help is needed, and I think that there are some people—I’ve heard this from executives—some people only want to pay for advice. Other people don’t want to pay for advice and only want to pay for products. I think there’s a market for both.

Corey: There absolutely is. And I’m not sitting here suggesting there’s only one right answer here. I want to be very clear on that. There are multiple paths to success, and I’ve always said that there is room for many more Duckbills Group in the world, and that is fine. I have no argument there.

I’m just a believer of things that make it easier for people to improve their situation. And one depressing but fortunate for my business aspect of cloud finance is that the AWS bill never gets smaller on its own. When I reach out to someone like, “Oh, no. We’re set with our bill.” Our response is always, “Great. We’ll talk to you in a few months,” because it gets bigger inherently on its own. And I don’t like that aspect of it because it seems to not make people super happy. But there is the counterargument as well of it does make for a somewhat sustainable and ever-growing total addressable market.

Bobby: It definitely does.

Corey: I would give it up if I had the option to and could wave a wand. I absolutely would. There are other problems I would like to tackle. But now I’m worried that I will retire without this problem ever being solved in a meaningful, global way.

Bobby: Well, I mean, that’s part of the total addressable market, as you talked about. I think Duckbill can have plenty of other little ducks and spin-off companies and ducklings or whatever because they’re going to be other adjacent problems that I think are going to crop up, too. People are going to need help, they’re going to start to embrace humility more, in my opinion, that I can’t do this on my own. I’ve talked about this in other forums, Corey. There’s a difference between self-help and self-service.

One is, “Can I do it on my own?” The other is, “Can I be effective on my own?” And again, if cloud is at best, a teenager that just learned how to drive, I probably can’t be effective on my own. I need to raise my hand and bring in people like The Duckbill Group or Turbonomic, to help me figure this thing out.

Corey: I also want to be clear that, from many people’s perspective of how this stuff works, it’s natural to conclude, oh, you’re a consultant, but Turbonomic is a product, so obviously, your competitors. No. Of course, that’s not true. It turns out that virtually every customer we talk to has some software thing somewhere that is, in many cases vendor-provided that handles aspects of this. We are not ever going to be an automated tool that solves these problems.

We explored that with our DuckTools experiment, and it turns out that what we think the industry needs, and what the industry wants to buy are two different things, so we shuttered the thing because frankly, I don’t have the stomach to sit here first educating people about the problem before then selling them a thing that fixes the problem I just taught them about. It doesn’t work. And that is too much swimming uphill.

Bobby: It is very hard. I mean, again, you’ve got a very successful [pocket 00:31:36], Corey. I think people trust that you have their best interests at heart and that you’re using real-world experience and customer exposure to help them not hit all the potholes. The thing that I think you do a great job of—and I talk to executives about this a lot—you want me to tell you what you didn’t ask that you should have. You don’t want to hit every landmine that the people did before you; they bring you in partially, Corey, because they don’t want to hit every landmine on their own. They want to hear your story so you can coach them on how to fix it ahead of time.

Corey: If we can delve into tech for a minute, there are more services than anyone can shake a stick at when it comes to cloud provider offerings. How do you help companies figure out which ones they should use? Which ones they should avoid?

Bobby: Yeah, great question, Corey. Without going into the weeds, I’ll give you this analogy. I call this ‘chicken in the cloud.’ And it’s all about what do you want to be known for? So, think about there being, kind of, five ways that you can engage with chickens.

So, you can grow it from a baby chicken, you can pluck a dead chicken, you can cut up a chicken that you bought at the store, you can cook a chicken that you bought in a pack, or you can use a rotisserie chicken that is already done. And the reality, Corey, is I believe that a lot of people are not going to pridefully say, “I groomed that little VM from when it was a baby chicken to learn how to walk and chirp.” The reality is cooking and creating are not the same thing, and the question we’ve got to ask ourselves is are we putting time and effort into things that really don’t matter? At the end of the day when that plate goes on the table, the person doesn’t care if I grew that chicken or if I started with a rotisserie chicken; they want to know the recipe and the dish is solid. They don’t care where I started from. So, think about what you want to be known for and let that guide your decision around what you choose to engage with.

Corey: Bobby, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me if people want to learn more about you, about Turbonomic, about anything we’ve talked about, where can they find you?

Bobby: So, my company is at, you can check us out there; there’s all sorts of information. You can find me at I’m also on Twitter; think ballen and Charlotte: @ballen_clt to represent Charlotte. And, Corey, I want to thank you. I want to leave your audience with this. This is, kind of, one of my personal mantras. “Greatness is about what everyone sees. Excellence is about what anyone sees. Faithfulness is about what no one sees.” Seek being faithful over being famous and everything is going to work out.

Corey: And that’s a great point to leave in on. Thank you so much for your time and of course your insight, as always.

Bobby: Thank you, Corey.

Corey: Bobby Allen, VP of Strategic Alliances slash cloud therapist at Turbonomic. 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’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment including your pitch deck for Pastor as a Service that I’m certain is moments away from being funded, as I speak.

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 to get started.

This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
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