Episode Show Notes & Transcript
- Google Cloud: https://cloud.google.com/devops
- Not Your Dad’s IT: http://www.notyourdadsit.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/nathaniel_avery
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathaniel-avery-2a43574/
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, and my guest today is Nate Avery, who’s an outbound product manager over at Google Cloud. Nate, thank you for joining me.
Nate: Thank you for having me. This is really a pretty high honor. I’m super thrilled to be here.
Corey: One of my questions that I have about any large company when I start talking to them and getting to know people who work over there, pretty quickly emerges, which is, “What’s the deal with your job title?” And it really doesn’t matter what the person does, what the company is, there’s always this strange nuance that tends to wind up creeping into the company. What is an outbound product manager and what is it you say it is you do here?
Nate: Okay. That’s an interesting question because I’ve been here for about a year now and I think I’m finally starting to figure it out. Sure, I should have known more when I applied for the job, [laugh] but there’s what’s on the paper and then there’s what you do in reality. And so, what it appears to be, where I’m taking this thing now, is I talk to folks about our products and I try to figure out what it is they like, what it is they don’t like, and then how do we make it better? I take that information back to our engineers, we huddle up, and we figure out what we can do, how to do it better, how to set the appropriate targets when it comes to our roadmaps. We look at others in the industry, where we are, where they are, where we think we can maybe have an advantage, and then we try to make it happen. That’s really what it is.
Corey: One of the strange things that happens at big companies, at least from my perspective, given that I’ve spent most of my career in small ones, is that everyone has a niche. There are very few people at large companies whose job description is yeah, I basically do everything. Where do you start? And where do you stop because Google Cloud, even bounding it to that business unit, is kind of enormous? You’ve [got 00:02:47] products that are outbound that you manage. And I feel like I should also call out that a product being outbound is not the same thing as being outgoing. I know that people are always wondering, what’s Google going to turn off next, but Google Cloud mostly does the right thing in that respect. Good work.
Nate: [laugh]. Nice. So, the products I focus on are the DevOps products. So, those are Cloud Build, Cloud Deploy, Artifact Registry, Artifact Analysis. I also work with some of our other dev tooling such as Cloud Workstations. That’s in public preview right now, but maybe by the time this goes to air, it’ll actually be in general availability.
And then I also will talk about some of our other lesser-known tools like Skaffold or maybe on occasion, I’ll throw out something about minikube. And also, Cloud Code, which is a really deep browser plugin for your IDE that gives you access to lots of different Google tools. So yeah, that’s sort of my area.
Nate: Yeah. That’s an interesting one. When it works, it works and it’s magical. And those are those experiences where you say, “I’m going to do this thing forever and ever I’m never going to go back.” And then when it doesn’t work, you find yourself going back and then you maybe say, “Well, heck, that was horrible. Why’d I ever even go down this path?”
I will say everyone’s working on something along those lines. I don’t think that that’s much of a secret. And there are just so many different avenues at getting there. And I think that this is so early in the game that where we are today isn’t where we’re going to be.
Corey: Oh, just—it’s accelerating. Watching the innovation right now in the generative AI space is incredible. My light bulb moment that finally got me to start paying attention to this and viewing it as something other than hype that people are trying to sell us on conference stages was when I use one of them to spit out just, from a comment in VS Code, “Write a Python script that will connect to AWS pricing API and tell me what something costs, sorted from most to least expensive regions.” Because doing that manually would have taken a couple hours because their data structures are a sad joke and that API is garbage. And it sat and spun for a second and then it did it. But if I tell that story as, “This is the transformative moment that opened my eyes,” I sound incredibly sad and pathetic.
Nate: No, I don’t think so. I think that what it does, is it… one, it will open up more eyes, but the other thing that it does is you have to take that to the next level, which is great. That’s great work, gone. Now that I have this information, what do I do with it? That’s really where we need to be going and where we need to think about what this AI revolution is going to allow us to do, and that’s to actually put this stuff into context.
That’s what humans do, which the computers are not always great at. And so, for instance, I see a lot of posts online about, “Hey, you know, I used to do job X, where I wrote up all these things,” or, “I used to write a blog and now because of AI, my boss wants me to write, you know, five times the output.” And I’m thinking, “Well, maybe the thing that you’re writing doesn’t need to be written if it can be easily queried and generated on the fly.” You know? Maybe those blog posts just don’t have that much value anymore. So, what is it that we really should concentrate on in order to help us do better stuff, to have a higher order of importance in the world? That’s where I think a lot of this really will wind up going is… you know, just as people, we’ve got to be better. And this will help us get there.
Corey: One area of nuance on this, though, is—you’re right when I talked about this with some of my developer friends, some of their responses were basically to become immediately defensive. Like, “Sure, it’s great for the easy stuff, but it’s not going to solve the high-level stuff that senior engineers are good at.” And I get that. This ridiculous thing that I had to do is not a threat to a senior engineer, but it is arguably a threat to someone I find on Upwork or Fiverr or whatnot to go and write this simple script for me.
Nate: Oh yeah.
Corey: Now, the concern that I have is one of approachability and accessibility because. Senior engineers don’t form fully created from the forehead of some God somewhere that emerges from Google. They start off as simply people who have no idea what they’re doing and have a burning curiosity about something, in many cases. Where is the next generation going to get the experience of writing a lot of that the small-scale stuff, if it’s done for them? And I know that sounds alarmist, and oh, no, the sky is falling, and are the children going to be all right, as most people my age start to get into. But I do wonder what the future holds.
Nate: That’s legit. That’s a totally legit question because it’s always kind of hanging out there. I look at what my kids have access to today. They have freaking Oracle, the Oracle at Delphi on their phone; you know, and—
Corey: If Oracle the database on their phone, I would hate to imagine what the cost of raising your kids to adulthood would be.
Nate: Oh, it’s mighty, mighty high [laugh]. But no, they have all of this stuff at their hands and then even just in the air, right? There’s ambient computing, there’s any question you want answered, you could speak it into the air and it’ll come out. And it’ll be, let’s just say, I don’t know, at least 85% accurate. But my kids still ask me [laugh].
Corey: Having my kids, who are relatively young, still argue and exhaust their patience on a robot with infinite patience instead of me who has no patience? Transformative. “How do I spell whatever it is?” “Ask Alexa,” becomes a story instead of, “Look it up in the dictionary,” like my parents used to tell me. It’s, “If I knew how to spell it, I would need to look it up in the dictionary, but I don’t, so I can’t.”
Nate: Right. And I would never need to spell it again because I have the AI write my whole thing for me.
Corey: That is a bit of concern for me when—some of the high school teachers are freaking out about students are writing essays with this thing. And, yeah, on the one hand, I absolutely see this as alarmism, where, oh, no, I’m going to have to do my job, on some level. But the reason you write so many of those boring, pointless essays in English class over the course of the K through 12 experience is ideally, it’s teaching you how to frame your discussions, how to frame an argument, how to tell a compelling story. And, frankly, I think that’s something that a lot of folks in the engineering cycle struggle with mightily. You’re a product slash program manager at this point; I sort of assume that I don’t need to explain to you that engineers are sometimes really bad at explaining what they mean.
Nate: Yeah. Dude, I came up in tech. I’m… bad at it too sometimes [laugh]. Or when I think I’m doing a great job and then I look over and I see a… you know, the little blanky, blanky face, it goes, “Oh. Oh, hold on. I’ll recalibrate that for you.” It’s a thing.
Corey: It’s such a bad trope that they have now decided that they are calling describing what you actually mean slash want is now an entire field called prompt engineering.
Nate: Dude, I hate that. I don’t understand how this is going to be a job. It seems to be the most ridiculous thing in the world. If you say, “I sit down for six hours a day and I ask my computer questions,” I got to ask, “Well, why?” [laugh]. You know? And really, that’s the thing. It gets back—
Corey: Well, most of us do that all day long. It’s just in Microsoft Excel or they use SQL to do it.
Nate: Yeah… it is, but you don’t spend your day asking the question of your computer, “Why.” Or really, most of us ask the question, “How?” That’s really what it is we’re doing.
Corey: Yeah. And that is where I think it’s going to start being problematic for some folks who are like, “Well, what is the point of writing blog posts if Chat-GIPITY can do it?” And yes, that’s how I pronounce it: Chat-GIPITY. And the response is, “Look, if you’re just going to rehash the documentation, you’re right. There’s no point in doing it.”
Don’t tell me how to do something. Tell me why. Tell me when I should consider using this tool, that tool, why this is interesting to me, why it exists. Because the how, one way or another, there are a myriad ways to find out the answer to something, but you’ve got to care first and convincing people to care is something computers still have not figured out.
Nate: Bingo. And that gets back to your question about the engineers, right? Yeah. Okay. So sure, the little low-level tasks of, “Hey I need you to write this API.” All right, so maybe that stuff does get farmed out.
However, the overall architecture still has to be considered by someone, someone still has to figure out where and how, and when things should be placed and the order in which these things should be connected. That never really goes away. And then there’s also the act of creation. And by creation, I mean, just new ideas, things that—you know, that stroke of creativity and brilliance where you just say, “Man, I think there’s a better way to do this thing.” Until I see that from one of these generative AI products, I don’t know if anyone should truly feel threatened.
Corey: I would argue that people shouldn’t necessarily feel threatened regardless because things always change; that’s the nature of it. I saw a headline on Hacker News recently where it said that 90% of my skills are worthless, but 10% of them are 10x what they were was worth. And I think that there’s a lot of truth to that because it’s, if you want a job where you never have to—you don’t have to keep up with the continuing field, there are options. Not to besmirch them, but accountants are a terrific example of this. Yes, there’s change to accountancy rules, but it happens slowly and methodically. You don’t go on vacation for two years as an accountant—or a sabbatical—come back and discover that everything’s different and math doesn’t work the way it once did. Computers on the other hand, it really does feel like it’s keep up or you never will.
Nate: Unless you’re a COBOL guy and you get called back for y2k.
Corey: Oh, of course. And I’m sure—and now you’re sitting around, you’re waiting because when the epic time problem hits in 2038, you’re going to get your next call out. And until then, it’s kind of a sad life. You’re the Maytag repair person.
Nate: Yeah. I’m bad at humor, by the way, in case you have noticed. So, you touched on something there about the rate of change and how things change and whether or not these generative AI models are going to be able to—you know, just how far can they go? And I think that there’s a—something happened over the last week or so that really got me thinking about this. There was a posting of a fake AI-generated song, I think from Drake.
And say what you want about cultural appropriation, all that sort of thing, and how horrible that is, what struck me was the idea that these sorts of endeavors can only go so far because in any genre where there’s language, and current language that morphs and changes and has subtlety to it, the generative AI would have to somehow be able to mimic that. And not to say that it could never get there, but again, I see us having some situations where folks are worried about a lot of things that they don’t need to worry about, you know, just at this moment.
Corey: I’m curious to figure out what your take is on how you see the larger industry because for a long time—and yes, it’s starting to fade on some level, because it’s not 2006 anymore, but there was a lot of hero worship going on with respect to Google, in particular. It was the mythical city on the hill where all the smart people went and people’s entire college education was centered around the idea of, well, I’m going to get a job at Google when I graduate or I’m doomed. And it never seems to work out that way. I feel like there’s a much more broad awareness these days that there’s no one magical company that has the answers and there are a lot of different paths. But if you’re giving guidance to someone who’s starting down that path today, what would it be?
Nate: Do what you love. Find something that you love, figure out who does the thing that you love, and go there. Or go to a place that does a thing that you love poorly. Go there. See if you can make a difference. But either way, you’re working on something that you like to do.
And really, in this business, if you can’t get in the door at one of those places, then you can make your own door. It’s becoming easier and easier to just sort of shoehorn yourself into this space. And a lot of it, yeah, there’s got to be talent, yeah, you got to believe in yourself, all that sort of thing, but the barriers to entry are really low right now. It’s super easy to start up a website, it costs you nothing to have a GitHub account. I really find it surprising when I talked to my younger cousins or someone else in that age range and they start asking, like, “Well, hey, how do I get into business?”
And I’m like, “Well, what’s your portfolio?” You know? And I ask them, “Do you want to work for someone else? Or would you like to at least try working for yourself first?” There are so many different avenues open to folks that you’re right, you don’t have to go to company X or you will never be anything anymore. That said, I am at [laugh] one of the bigger companies and do there are some brilliant people here. I bump into them and it’s kind of wild. It really, really is.
Corey: Oh, I want to be very clear, despite the shade that I throw at Google—and contemporary peers in the big tech company space—there are an awful lot of people who are freaking brilliant. And more importantly, by far, a lot of people who are extraordinarily kind.
Nate: Yeah. Yeah. So, all right, in this business, there’s that whole trope about, “Yeah, they’re super smart, but they’re such jerks.” It doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t. And it’s neat when you run into a place that has thousands of people who do not fit that horrible stereotype out there of the geek who can’t, you know, who can’t get along well with others. It’s kind of nice.
But I also think that that’s because the industry itself is opening up. I go on to Twitter now and I see so many new faces and I see folks coming in, you know, for whatever reason, they’re attracted to it for reasons, but they’re in. And that’s the really neat part of it. I used to worry that I didn’t see a lot of young people being interested in this space. But I’m starting to notice it now and I think that we’re going to wind up being in good hands.
Corey: The kids are all right, I think, is a good way of framing it. What made you decide to go to Google? Again, you said you’ve been there about a year at this point. And, on some level, there’s always a sense in hindsight of, well, yeah, obviously someone went from this job to that job to that job. There’s a narrative here and it makes sense, but I’ve never once in my life found that it made sense and was clear while you’re making the decision. It feels like it only becomes clear in hindsight.
Nate: Yes, I am an extremely lucky person. I am super fortunate, and I will tell a lot of people, sometimes I have the ability to fall ass-backwards into success. And in this case, I am here because I was asked. I was asked and I didn’t really think that I was the Google type because, I don’t know what I thought the Google type was, just, you know, not me.
And yet, I… talked it out with some folks, a really good, good buddy of mine and [laugh] I’ll be darned, you know, next thing, you know, I’m here. So, gosh, what can I say except, don’t limit yourself [laugh]. We do have a tendency to do that and oh, my God, it’s great to have a champion and what I’d like to do now, now that you mention it and it’s been something that I had on my mind for a bit is, I’ve got to figure out how to, you know how to start, you know, giving back, paying it forward, whatever the phrase it is you want to use? Because—
Corey: I like, “Send the elevator back down.”
Nate: Send the elevator back down? There you go, right? If that escalator stopped, turn it back on.
Corey: Yeah, escalator; temporarily, stairs.
Nate: Yes. You know, there are tons of ways up. But you know, if you can help someone, just go ahead and do it. You’d be surprised what a little bit of kindness can do.
Corey: Well, let’s tie this back to your day job for a bit, on some level. You’re working on, effectively, developer tools. Who’s the developer?
Nate: Who’s the developer? So, there’s a general sense in the industry that anyone who works in IT or anyone who writes code is a developer. Sometimes there’s the very blanket statement out there. I tend to take the view that a developer is the person who writes the code. That is a developer, that’s [unintelligible 00:21:52] their job title. That’s the thing that they do.
The folks who assist developers, the folks who keep the servers up and running, they’re going to have a lot of different names. They’re DevOps admins, they’re platform admins, they’re server admins. Whatever they are, rarely would I call them developers, necessarily. So, I get it. We try to make blanket statement, we try to talk to large groups at a time, but you wouldn’t go into your local county hospital and say that, “I want to talk to the dentist,” when you really mean, like, a heart surgeon.
So, let’s not do that, you know? We’re known for our level of specificity when we discuss things in this field, so let’s try to be a little more specific when we talk about the folks who do what they do. Because I came up on that ops track and I know the type of effort that I put in, and I looked at folks across from me and I know the kind of hours that they put in, I know all of the blood sweat and tears and nightless sleeps and answering the pagers at four in the morning. So, let’s just call them what they are, [laugh] right? And it’s not to say that calling them a developer is an insult in any way, but it’s not a flex either.
Corey: You do work at a large cloud company, so I have to assume that this is a revelation for you, but did you know that words actually mean things? I know, it’s true. You wouldn’t know it from a lot of the product names that wind up getting scattered throughout the world. The trophy for the worst one ever though, is Azure DevOps because someone I was talking to as a hiring manager once thought that they listed that is a thing they did on their resume and was about to can the resume. It’s, “Wow, when your product name is so bad that it impacts other people’s careers, that’s kind of impressively awful.”
But I have found that back when the DevOps movement was getting started, I felt a little offput because I was an operations person; I was a systems administrator. And suddenly, people were asking me about being a developer and what it’s like. And honestly, on some level, I felt like an imposter, just because I write configuration files; I don’t write code. That’s very different. Code is something smart people write and I’m bad at doing that stuff.
And in the fullness of time, I’m still bad at it, but at least now unenthusiastically bad at it. And, on some level, brute force also becomes a viable path forward. But it felt like it was gatekeeping, on some level, and I’ve always felt like the terms people use to describe what I did weren’t aimed at me. I just was sort of against the edge.
Nate: Yeah. And it’s a weird thing that happens around here, how we get to these points, or… or somehow there’s an article that gets written and then all of a sudden, everyone’s life is changed in an industry. You go from your job being, “Hey, can you rack and stack the server?” To, “Hey, I need you to write this YAML code that’s going to virtually instantiate a server and also connect it to a load balancer, and we need these done globally.” It’s a really weird transition that happens in life.
But like you said, that’s part of our job: it morphs, it changes, it grows. And that’s the fun of it. We hope that these changes are actually for the better and then they’re going to make us more productive and they’re going to make our businesses thrive and do things that they couldn’t be before, like maybe be more resilient. You know, you look at the number of customers—customers; I think of them as customers—who had issues because of that horrible day in 9/11 and, you know, their business goes down the tube because there wasn’t an adequate DR or COOP strategy, you know? And I know, I’m going way back in the wayback, but it’s real. And I knew people who were affected by it.
Corey: It is. And the tide is rising. This gets back to what we were talking about where the things that got you here won’t necessarily get you there. And Cloud is a huge part of that. These days, I don’t need to think about load balancers, in many cases, or all of the other infrastructure pieces because Google Cloud—among other companies, as well, lots of them—have moved significantly up the stack.
I mean, people are excited about Kubernetes in a whole bunch of ways, but what an awful lot of enterprises are super excited about is suddenly, a hard drive failure doesn’t mean their application goes down.
Nate: [Isn’t that 00:26:24] kind of awesome?
Corey: Like, that’s a transformative moment for them.
Nate: It totally is. You know, I get here and I look at the things that people are doing and I kind of go, “Wow,” right? I’m in awe. And to be able to contribute to that in some way by saying, “Hey, you know what, we’ll be cool? How about we try this feature?” Is really weird, [laugh] right?
It’s like, “Wow, they listened to me.” But we think about what it is we’re trying to do and a lot of it, strangely enough, is not just helping people, but helping people by getting out of the way. And that is huge, right? You know, because you just want it to work, but more than it just working, you want it to be seamless. What’s easier than putting your key in the ignition and turning it? Well, not having to use a key at all.
So, what are those types of changes that we can bring to these different types of experiences that folks have? If you want to get your application onto a Kubernetes cluster, it shouldn’t be some Herculean feat.
Corey: And running that application responsibly should not require a team of people, each making a quarter million bucks a year, just to be able to do it safely and responsibly. There’s going to be a collapsing down of what you have to know in order to run these things. I mean, web servers used to be something that required a month of your life and a fair bit of attention to run. Now, it’s a checkbox in a cloud console.
Nate: Yeah. And that’s what we’re trying to get it to, right? Why isn’t everything a checkbox? Why can’t you say, “Look, I wrote my app. I did the hard part.” Let’s—you know, I just need to see it go somewhere. You know? Make it go and make it stay up. And how can I do that?
And also, here’s a feature that we’re working on. Came out recently and we want folks to try it. It’s a cloud deploy feature that works for Cloud Run as well as it does for GKE. And it's… I know it’s going to sound super simple: it’s our canary deployment method. But it’s not just canary deployment, but also we can tie it into parallel deployment.
And so, you can have your new version of your app stood up alongside your old version of the app and we can roll it out incrementally in parallel around the world and you can have an actual test that says, “Hey, is this working? Is it not working?” If it does, great, let’s go forward. If it doesn’t, let’s roll back. And some of the stuff sounds like common sense, but it’s been difficult to pull off.
And now we’re trying to do it with just a few lines a YAML. So, you know, is it as simple as it could be? Well, we’re still looking at that. But the features are in there and we’re constantly looking at what we can do to iterate and figure out what the next thing is.
Corey: I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. If people want to learn more, where’s the best place for them to find you?
Nate: Best place for them to find me used to be my blog, it’s Not Your Dad’s IT, However, I’ve been pretty negligent there since doing this whole Google thing, so I would say, just look me up on Twitter at @nathaniel_avery, look me up on Google. You can go to a pretty cool search engine and [laugh]—
Corey: Oh, that’s right. You guys have a search engine now. Good work.
Nate: That’s what I hear [laugh].
Corey: Someday maybe it’ll even come to Google Docs.
Nate: [laugh]. Yes, so yeah, that’s where to find me. You know, just look me up at Nathaniel Avery. I think that handle works for almost everything, Twitter, LinkedIn, wherever, and reach out.
If there’s something you like about our DevOps tools, let me know. If there’s something you hate about our DevOps tools, definitely let me know. Because the only reason we’re doing this is to try and help people. And if we’re not doing that, then we need to know. We need to know why it isn’t working out.
And trust me, I talk to these engineers every day. That’s the thing that really keeps them moving in the morning is knowing that they’re doing something to make things better for folks. Real quick, I’ll close out, and I think I may have mentioned this on some other podcasts. I come from the ops world. I was that guy who had to help get a deployment out on a Friday night and it lasted all weekend long and you’re staring there at your phone at some absurd time on a Sunday night and everyone’s huddled together and you’re trying to figure out, are we going to rollback or are we going to go forward? What are we going to do by Monday?
Corey: I don’t miss those days.
Nate: Oh, oh God no. I don’t miss those days either. But you know what I do want? I took this job because I don’t want anyone else to have those days. That’s really what it is. We want to make sure that these tools give folks the ability to deploy safely and to deploy with confidence and to take that level of risk out of the equation, so that folks can, you know, just get back to doing other things. You know, spend that time with your family, spend the time reading, spend that time prompting ChatGPT with questions, [laugh] whatever it is you want to do, but you shouldn’t have to sit there and wonder, “Oh, my God, is my app working? And what do I do when it doesn’t?”
Corey: I really want to thank you for being as generous with your time and philosophy on this. Thanks again. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.
Nate: Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been a big fan of your work for years.
Corey: [laugh]. Nate Avery, outbound product manager at Google Cloud. 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 hate this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry, insulting comment that you had Chat-GIPITY write for you in YAML.
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.