The Man Behind the Cloud Curtain with Jeremy Tangren

Episode Summary

Jeremy Tangren, Director of Media Operations at The Duckbill Group, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud to discuss how he went from being a Project Manager in IT to running Media Operations at a cloud costs consultancy. Jeremy provides insight into how his background as a Project Manager has helped him tackle everything that’s necessary in a media production environment, as well as what it was like to shift from a career on the IT side to working at a company that is purely cloud-focused. Corey and Jeremy also discuss the coordination of large events like re:Invent, and what attendance is really like when you’re producing the highlight reels that other people get to watch from the comfort of their own homes. 

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Jeremy

With over 15 years of experience in big tech, Jeremy brings a unique perspective to The Duckbill Group and its Media Team. Jeremy handles all things Media Operations. From organizing the team and projects to making sure publications go out on time, Jeremy does a bit of everything!

Links Referenced:


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.

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. Today’s guest is one of those behind-the-scenes type of people who generally doesn’t emerge much into the public eye. Now, that’s a weird thing to say about most folks, except in this case, I know for a fact that it’s true because that’s kind of how his job was designed. Jeremy Tangren is the Director of Media Operations here at The Duckbill Group. Jeremy, thank you for letting me drag you into the spotlight.

Jeremy: Of course. I’m happy to be here, Corey.

Corey: So, you’ve been here, what, it feels like we’re coming up on the two-year mark or pretty close to it. I know that I had you on as a contractor to assist with a re:Invent a couple years back and it went so well, it’s, “How do we get you in here full time? Oh, we can hire you.” And the rest sort of snowballed from there.

Jeremy: Yes. January will be two years, in fact.

Corey: I think that it’s one of the hardest things to do for you professionally has always been to articulate the value that you bring because I’ve been working with you here for two years and I still do a pretty poor job of doing it, other than to say, once you get brought into a project, all of the weird things that cause a disjoint or friction along the way or cause the wheels to fall off magically go away. But I still struggle to articulate what that is in a context that doesn’t just make it sound like I’m pumping up my buddy, so to speak. How do you define what it is that you do? I mean, now Director of Media Operations is one of those titles that can cover an awful lot of ground, and because of a small company, it obviously does. But how do you frame what you do?

Jeremy: Well, I am a professional hat juggler, for starters. There are many moving parts and I come from a history of project management, a long, long history of project management. And I’ve worked with projects from small scale to the large scale spanning globally and I always understand that there are many moving parts that have to be tracked and handled, and there are many people involved in that process. And that’s what I bring here to The Duckbill Group is that experience of managing the small details while also understanding the larger picture.

Corey: It’s one of those hard-to-nail-down type of roles. It’s sort of one of those glue positions where, in isolation, it’s well, there’s not a whole lot that gets done when it is just you. I felt the same thing my entire career as a sysadmin turned other things that are basically fancy titles but still distilled down to systems administrator. And that is, well step one, I need a web property or some site or something that is going to absorb significant traffic and have developers building it. Because, “Oh, I’m going to run some servers.” “Okay, for what purpose?” “I don’t know.”

I was never good at coming up with the application that rode on top of these things. But give me someone else’s application, I could make it scale and a bunch of exciting ways, back when that was trickier to do at smaller scale. These days, the providers out there make it a heck of a lot easier and all I really wind up doing is—these days—making fun of other people’s hard work. It keeps things simpler, somehow.

Jeremy: There always has to be a voice leading that development and understanding what you’re trying to achieve at the end. And that’s what a project manager, or in my role as Director of Media Operations, that’s what I do is I see our vision to the end and I bring in the people and resources necessary to make it happen.

Corey: Your background is kind of interesting. You have done a lot of things that a lot of places, mostly large companies, and mostly on the corporate IT side of the world. But to my understanding, this is the first time you’ve really gone into anything approaching significant depth with things that are cloud-oriented. What’s it been like for you?

Jeremy: It’s a new experience. As you said, I’ve had experience all over the industry. I come from traditional data centers and networking. I’m originally trained in Cisco networking from way back in the day, and then I moved on into virtual reality development and other infrastructure management. But getting into the cloud has been something new and it’s been a shift from old-school data centers in a way that is complicated to wrap your head around.

Whereas in a data center before, it was really clear you had shelves of hardware, you had your racks, you had your disks, you had finite resources, and this is what you did; you built your applications on top of it and that was the end of the conversation. Now, the application is the primary part of the conversation, and scaling is third, fourth, fifth in the conversation. It’s barely even mentioned because obviously we’re going to put this in the cloud and obviously we’re going to scale this out. And that’s a power and capability that I had not seen in past companies, past infrastructures. And so, learning about the cloud, learning about the numerous AWS [laugh] services that exist and how they interact, has been a can of worms to understand and slowly take one worm out at a time and work with it and become its friend.

Corey: I was recently reminded of a time before cloud where I got to go hang out with the founders at Oxide over in Oakland. I’d forgotten so much of the painful day-to-day minutia of what it took to get servers up and running in a data center, of the cabling nonsense, of slicing your fingers to ribbons on rack nuts, on waiting weeks on end for the server you ordered to show up, ideally in the right configuration, of getting 12 servers and 11 of them provision correctly and the 12th doesn’t for whatever godforsaken reason. So, much of that had just sort of slipped my mind. And, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That’s what the whole magic of cloud was.”

Conversely, I’ve done a fair bit of IoT stuff at home for the past year or so, just out of basically looking for a hobby, and it feels different, for whatever reason, to be running something that I’m not paying a third party by the hour for. The actual money that we’re talking about in either case is nothing, but there’s a difference psychologically and I’m wondering how much the current cloud story is really shaping the way that an entire generation is viewing computers.

Jeremy: I would believe that it is completely shifted how we view computers. If you know internet and computing history, we’re kind of traveling back to the old ways of the centrally managed server and a bunch of nodes hanging off of it, and they basically being dummy nodes that access that central resource. And so, with the centralization of AWS resources and kind of a lot of the internet there, we’ve turned everyone into just a node that accesses this centralized resource. And with more and more applications moving to the web, like, natively the web, it’s changing the need for compute on the consumer side in such a way that we’ve never seen, ever. We have gone from a standard two-and-a-half, three-foot tall tower sitting in your living room, and this is the family computer to everybody has their own personal computer to everyone has their own laptops to now, people are moving away from even those pieces of hardware to iPads because all of the resources that they use exist on the internet. So, now you get the youngest generation that’s growing up and the only thing that they’ve ever known as far as computers go is an iPad in their hands. When I talk about a tower, what does that mean to them?

Corey: It’s kind of weird, but I feel like we went through a generation where it felt like the early days of automobiles, where you needed to be pretty close to a mechanic in order to reliably be convinced you could take a car any meaningful distance. And then they became appliances again. And in some cases, because manufacturers don’t want people working on cars, you also have to be more or less a hacker of sorts to wind up getting access to your car. I think, on some level, that we’ve seen computers turn into appliances like that. When I was a kid, I was one of those kids that was deep into computers and would help the teachers get their overhead projector-style thing working and whatnot.

And I think we might be backing away from that, on some level, just because it’s not necessary to have that level of insight into how a system works to use it effectively. And I’m not trying to hold back the tide of progress. I just find it interesting as far as how we are relating with these things differently. It’s a rising tide that absolutely lifts all ships, and that’s a positive thing.

Jeremy: Well, to carry your analogy further with cars, it used to be, especially in the United States, that in order to drive a car you had to understand a manual transmission, how to shift through all those gears, which gave you some understanding of what a clutch was and how the car moved. You had a basic understanding of how the car functions. And now in the United States, we all have automatic transmissions, and if I ask a regular person, “Do you understand how an engine works?” They’ll just tell me straight, “No, I have no idea. My car gets me from A to B.”

And computers have very much become that way, especially with this iPad generation that we’re talking about, where it’s a tool to access resources to get you from A to B, to get you from your fingertips to whatever the tools are that you’re trying to access that are probably on the internet. And it changes the focus of what you need to learn as you’re growing up and as you get into the industry. Because, say, for me, and you, Corey, we grew up with computers in their infancy and being those kids in the classroom, helping the teachers, helping our family members with whatever tech problem that they may have. Those were us. And we had to learn a lot about the technology and we had to learn a lot of troubleshooting skills in order to fix our family’s problems, to help the classroom teacher, whatever it was. So, that’s the set of skills that we learned through that generation of computers that the current generation isn’t having to deal with as far as the complexity and the systems are concerned. So, they’re able to learn different skills. They’re able to interact with things more natively than you were I ever imagined.

Corey: Well, I’m curious to get your perspective on how that’s changed in the ways that you’re interacting with teams from a project management perspective. I mean, obviously, we’ve seen a lot of technological advancement over the course of your career, which is basically the same length as mine, but what have you seen as far as how that affects the interplay of people on various teams? Or has it?

Jeremy: It’s made them more connected and less connected at the same time. I’ve found my most effective teams—generally—worked together in the same location and could turn around and poke the other team member in the back. And that facilitated communication all of the time. But that’s not how every team can function. You have to lay on project management, you have to lay on tools and communication. And that’s where this technology comes in is, how has it improved? How has it changed things?

And interestingly, the web has advanced that, I think, to a significant degree because the old school, old project management style was either we’re going to start planning this in Excel like so many managers do, or we’re going to open up Microsoft Project and we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours in this interface that only the project manager can access and show everyone. So, now we’re in a point where everybody can access the project plan because it exists on the web—Smartsheets or whatever—we have instant communication via chat—whatever our chat of choice is Slack, Discord, IRC—and it allows us to work anywhere and be asynchronous. So, this team that previously I had to have sitting next to each other to poke each other, they can now be spread all over the world. I had a project a number of years ago working in virtual reality that we did exactly that. We had six teams spanned globally, and because we were able to hand off from each other through technology and through competent project management, the project was able to be built and successful rather than us continuing to point fingers at each other trying to understand what the next step is. So yeah, the technology has definitely helped.

Corey: It’s wild to me just seeing how… I guess, the techno-optimism has always been, “Oh, technology will heal the world and make things better,” as if it were this panacea that was going to magically take care of everything. And it’s sort of a “Mo money, mo problems” type of situation where we’ve got, okay, great. Well, we found ways to make the old things that were super hard trivial, and all that’s done is unlock a new level of problem because people remain people, for whatever it is. You work a lot more with people than you do with technology, despite the fact that if you look at the actual ins and outs of what you do, it’s easy to look at that and say, “Oh, clearly, you’re a technical person working on technology.” I would say you’re a people-facing person.

Jeremy: I agree with that, and that’s why I refer to the people participating in my projects or on my team or what have you as people and not resources. Because people contribute to these things, not resources.

Corey: So, what I’m curious about—since everyone seems to have a very disjointed opinion or perspective on how the sausage gets made over here—can you describe what your job is because I’ve talked to people who are surprised I have someone running media operations. Like, “How hard is it? You just sit down in front of a microphone and talk, and that’s the end of it.” And I don’t actually know the answer to that question because all I do is sit down in front of a microphone and talk, and that’s the end of it. You have put process around things that used to vex me mightily and now I don’t really know exist. So, it’s sort of a weird question, but what is it you’d say it is you do exactly?

Jeremy: I’ve actually had to answer this question a lot of times. The really, really simple version is I do everything that Corey doesn’t [laugh]. Corey records and creates the content, he’s the face of the company—you are the face of the company, Corey—and you do what you do. And that leaves everything else that has to be done. Okay, you record an episode of Screaming in the Cloud. What happens next?

Well, it goes off to a team to be edited and then reviewed by the recording guest—to be reviewed by the guest. We have video editing that has to take place every time you go out to a shoot, we coordinate your presence on-site at events, we coordinate the arrival of other people to your events. In its shortest form, everything that is media-related that entails some kind of management or execution that is not creating content, I’m there moving things along or I have one of my teams moving things along.

Corey: Before you showed up, there were times where I would record episodes like this and they wouldn’t get published for three or four months because I would forget to copy the files from the recording off so that the audio processing team could handle that. And small minor process improvements have meant that I’m no longer the critical path for an awful lot of things, which is awesome. It’s one of those invisible things around me that I vaguely know is there most of the time, but don’t stop to think about it in quite the same way. Like, think of it as taking an airline trip somewhere: you get on the plane, you talk to the person at the gate, you [unintelligible 00:17:05] the flight attendants help you with your beverages or bags and whatnot, but you don’t think about all the other moving parts that has to happen around aircraft maintenance, around scheduling, around logistics, around making sure that the seat is clean before you sit down at cetera, et cetera. There’s so much stuff that you’re sort of aware of you stopped to think about it, but it’s not something that you see on a day-to-day basis, and as a result, it’s easy to forget that it’s there.

Jeremy: That’s what happens with people working in the background and making sure that things happen. A good example of this is also re:Quinnvent coming up here in a month, where we’ll be at re:Invent—my production team, Corey, et cetera—where Corey will be recording content and we will be producing it in very short order. And this is an operation that has to occur without Corey’s involvement. These are things that happen in the background in order to produce the content for the audience. There’s always somebody who exists behind the scenes to move things along behind the creator. Because, Corey, you’re a very busy person.

Corey: People forget that I also have this whole, you know, consulting side thing that I do, too—

Jeremy: Yeah.

Corey: You know, the primary purpose of our company?

Jeremy: Yeah. You are one of the busiest people I’ve ever met, Corey. Your calendar is constantly full and you’re constantly speaking to people. There’s no way that you would have the time to go in and edit each of these audio recordings, each of these video recordings, what have you. You have to have force multipliers hiding behind you to make things happen. And that’s the job of the Director of Media Operations at Last Week in AWS.

Corey: I have to ask since last year was your first exposure to it—that was your first re:Invent in person—what do you think of it?

Jeremy: It was a madhouse [laugh]. I had managed re:Quinnvent back in 2021 remotely and I did not have the clear understanding of how far away things are, how convoluted the casinos are, things of that nature. And so, when I was working with you in 2021, Corey, I had to make a lot of assumptions that now I know better now that I’ve been on site. Like, it can take you 30 or 45 minutes to get across the street to one of the other re:Invent locations. It’s really ridiculous.

Corey: That was one of the reasons I had you and also I had Mike go out to re:Invent in person the first year that I was working with either of you on a full-time basis, just because otherwise it turned into, “Oh, it’s just across the street. Just pop on over and say hi. It’ll take you 20 minutes.” No, it’ll take 90 by the time you walk through the casinos, find your way out, get over there, have your meeting, and get back. It’s not one of those things that’s trivial, but it’s impossible to describe without sounding like a lunatic until someone has actually been there before.

Jeremy: That’s absolutely true. The personal experience is absolutely required in order to understand the scale of the situation, the number of people that are there, and the amount of time it’s going to take to get to wherever you need to be, even if you’re on the expo floor. Last year, I needed to deliver some swag to a vendor and it took me the better part of 15, 20 minutes to find that vendor on the expo floor using AWS’s maps. It’s a huge space and it’s super convoluted. You need all the help that you can get. And being there in person was absolutely critical in order to understand the challenges that you’re facing there, Corey.

Corey: People think I’m kidding when I say that, “Oh, you’re not going to re:Invent. I envy you. You must be so happy.” Like, people sometimes, if they haven’t been, think, “Oh, I’m losing out because I don’t have the chance to go to this madhouse event.” It’s not as great as you might believe and there’s no way to convince people of that until they’ve been there.

I’m disheartened to learn that Google Cloud Next is going to be in Las Vegas next year. That means that’s twice a year I’m going to have to schlep there instead of once. At least they’re doing it in April, which is otherwise kind of a conference deadzone. But ugh, I am not looking forward to spending even more of my life in Las Vegas than I already have to. I’m there for eight nights a year. It’s like crappy Cloud Hanukkah.

Jeremy: [laugh]. I second that. To be perfectly honest, San Francisco and Moscone Center, I really enjoy them as venues for these kinds of conferences, but Las Vegas is apparently able to handle things better. I don’t know, I’m not real happy about the Vegas situation either, and it takes a toll.

Corey: Yeah, I tend to book the next week afterwards of just me lying flat on my back not doing anything. Maybe I’ll be sick like I was last year with Covid when we all got it. Maybe I will just be breathing into a bag and trying to recuperate after it. But I know that for mostly the rest of the December, I just don’t want to think about cloud too heavily or do too much with it, just because even for me, it’s been too much and I need some decompression time.

Jeremy: I hear that. I mean, you’ve had three weeks of Amazon just firehosing everyone with new service releases, new updates, just constantly, and re:Invent caps it all off. And then we get back and there’s just no news and everybody’s exhausted from being at re:Invent. Everyone’s probably sick from being in Las Vegas. To add to that Las Vegas point, hey, there’s a bunch of casinos and they’re cigarette smoke-filled. Like, it’s a miserable place to be. Why do they insist on putting these conferences there?

Corey: It drives me nuts and it’s one of those things where it’s—I mostly feel for the people at Amazon who have to put this show on because yeah, I complain that I don’t get much of a Thanksgiving because I have this whole looming event happening, but there are large squadrons of people that they send out in advance for weeks at a time to do things like build out the wireless networks, get everything set up, handle logistics, all of it, and those people forget having, [I think 00:23:35], something hanging over their head during Thanksgiving; they’re spending Thanksgiving at… you know, a hotel. That’s not fun.

Jeremy: No, that’s not fun at all. And I understand the stresses that they’re under and what these event coordinators are having to deal with. This is a huge event and it’s super thankless. That networking team, if things don’t work absolutely perfectly and everybody has maximum bandwidth at all times, that poor networking team is going to catch hell, and they just spent weeks getting ready for this. That sucks. I don’t really envy them, but I do applaud them and their effort.

We’ve spent the last two [laugh] Thanksgivings planning our own event to make sure things happen smoothly. These big events take a lot of planning, a lot of coordination, and a lot of people. And I think that folks always underestimate that. They underestimate the level of involvement, the level of investment, and what it takes to put on a big show like this.

Corey: I mean, there is the counterpoint as well, where we still go because it is the epicenter of the AWS universe. Despite all the complaints I have about it, I like the opportunity to talk to people who are doing interesting things who are building stuff that I’m going to be either using or have inflicted upon me over the next year. And even the community folks, just talking to people who are in the trenches as well, figuring out, okay, AWS built this thing and now I’ve got to work with it. There’s really something to be said for having the opportunity to talk to those people face-to-face. I don’t have a whole lot of excuses to go to all the places these people are from, but for one week a year, we all find ourselves in Las Vegas. So, that’s at least the silver lining for me. Did you find any silver linings last time or was it simply, “I finally got to go home?”

Jeremy: [laugh]. No, actually, I did enjoy it. To your point, getting to speak to the service owners, these people who’ve written the code, is an amazing opportunity. For example, I got to run into the DeepRacer folks last year before they set up for the tournament, and they were super helpful and super encouraging to get into the DeepRacer program. I explained, “I don’t know how to code,” and they said, “That’s fine. You can still get into it, you can still learn the basics.”

And that’s super endearing, that’s really supportive, and that’s really emblematic of the community that’s coming to re:Invent. So, this is a great place to be for this experience, to meet these people, and to associate with other users like yourself. In fact, we’re hosting the Atomic Liquors Drink-Up on November 29th for our community who’s coming to re:Invent, and we want everybody who’s able to come so that we can say hi, pay for your drinks and, you know, talk to us.

Corey: Yeah, it starts at 7 p.m. We’re co-hosting with RedMonk. No badge needed, no one will scan anything or try to sell you anything. It’s just if you want to schlep the three miles from the strip out to Atomic Liquors to hang out with people who are like-minded, it’s one of my favorite parts of the show every year. Please, if you’re hearing this, you’re welcome to come.

Jeremy: Absolutely. It’s open. No tickets required. It’s totally free. I’ll be there. Corey will be there—Corey is always there—and it’ll be a great time, so I look forward to seeing you there.

Corey: Indeed. Jeremy, thank you so much for taking the time out of your increasingly busy day as re:Invent looms ever closer to chat with me for about this stuff. If people want to learn more about what we’re up to, where should they go to keep up? I lose track of what URL to send people to.

Jeremy: [laugh]. Yeah, thank you for having me, Corey. And the best place to learn about what we’re doing at re:Invent is actually That’s R-E-Q-U-I-N-N-V-E-N-T dot com.

Corey: And we’ll put a link to that in the [show notes 00:27:33] for sure. Or at least your people will. I have nothing to do with it.

Jeremy: Yes, I’ll make sure they take care of that. Visit the website. That’s where we’ve got our schedule, all the invites, anything you need to know about what we’re doing at re:Invent that week is available on

Corey: Jeremy, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.

Jeremy: Thank you, Corey.

Corey: Jeremy Tangren, Director of Media Operations here at The Duckbill Group. 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 an angry comment that one of these days someone on Jeremy’s team will make it a point to put in front of me. But that day is not today.

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.

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