Screaming in the Cloud
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The Startup Inside IBM with Sachin Agarwal
Episode Summary
Sachin Agarwal is the worldwide product management lead at IBM Aspera. He’s also an organizer at Empower Platform and the founder and CEO of Braid, a project management solution built inside Gmail, Google Calendar, and Slack. Previously, Sachin worked as a principal product manager at LaunchDarkly, vice president of product and operations at Nylas, and director of financials product management and strategy at Oracle, among other positions.

Join Corey and Sachin as they discuss what it’s like to work at Aspera, the startup inside the larger IBM behemoth; the lessons learned from the recent IBM Cloud outage; why Sachin tends to leave companies every two years; what the Red Hat acquisition means for IBM and why Sachin believes IBM has done a great job of letting Red Hat be Red Hat; how IBM prides itself on client service and strives to take care of customers on an individual basis; how “legacy” is code for “it makes money;” and more.
Episode Show Notes and Transcript
About Sachin Agarwal

Sachin Agarwal is the Worldwide Product Management Lead at IBM Aspera where he is responsible for leading up the portfolio's strategy and roadmap. Prior to joining IBM, he held various product ownership positions including Principal Product Manager at LaunchDarkly, VP of Product and Operations at Nylas, and Director of Product Management at Oracle. Sachin's post-career goal is to retire in Hawai'i, where he plans to open a great Chicago-themed gastropub/cocktail bar.



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Transcript


Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist 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.



This episode is sponsored by a personal favorite: Retool. Retool allows you to build fully functional tools for your business in hours, not days or weeks. No front end frameworks to figure out or access controls to manage; just ship the tools that will move your business forward fast. Okay, let's talk about what this really is. It's Visual Basic for interfaces. Say I needed a tool to, I don't know, assemble a whole bunch of links into a weekly sarcastic newsletter that I send to everyone. I can drag various components onto a canvas: buttons, checkboxes, tables, etc. Then I can wire all of those things up to queries with all kinds of different parameters, post, get, put, delete, etc. It all connects to virtually every database natively, or you can do what I did, and build a whole crap ton of lambda functions, shove them behind some API’s gateway and use that instead. It speaks MySQL, Postgres, Dynamo—not Route 53 in a notable oversight; but nothing's perfect. Any given component then lets me tell it which query to run when I invoke it. Then it lets me wire up all of those disparate APIs into sensible interfaces. And I don't know frontend; that's the most important part here: Retool is transformational for those of us who aren't front end types. It unlocks a capability I didn't have until I found this product. I honestly haven't been this enthusiastic about a tool for a long time. Sure they're sponsoring this, but I'm also a customer and a super happy one at that. Learn more and try it for free at retool.com/lastweekinaws. That's retool.com/lastweekinaws, and tell them Corey sent you because they are about to be hearing way more from me.



Corey: Normally, I like to snark about the various sponsors that sponsored these episodes, but I'm faced with a bit of a challenge because this episode is sponsored in part by A Cloud Guru. They're the company that's sort of famous for teaching the world to cloud. And it's very, very hard to come up with anything meaningfully insulting about them. So I'm not really going to try. They've recently improved their platform significantly, and it brings both the benefits of A Cloud Guru that we all know and love as well as the recently acquired Linux Academy together. That means that there's now an effective hands on and comprehensive skills development platform for AWS Azure, Google cloud and beyond yes and beyond is doing a lot of heavy lifting right there. In that sentence, they have a bunch of new courses and labs that are available. For my purposes, they have terrific learn by doing experience that you absolutely want to take a look at. And they also have business offerings as well under ACG for business, check them out, visit  acloudguru.com to learn more. Tell them Cory sent you and wait for them to instinctively flinch. That's acloudguru.com.




Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Sachin Agarwal, currently at IBM Aspera. Sachin, welcome to the show.



Sachin: Corey. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.



Corey: So, before we get started, one thing that you just called out during the pre-show is something I always do, but it never occurred to me to talk about publicly, and that is going back and forth with a guest to make sure I pronounce your name correctly. I always assumed it was one of those baseline decency things that doesn't need to be called out, but you raised a very interesting point, specifically that call these things out and normalize it because it's important. There's sort of this spectrum of how important it is to get someone's name right. At some points is, “Steve. Call me Steve.” I'm putting an order in at Starbucks, this is not a long term relationship. The other failure mode, though, is welcome to a podcast or a keynote, I'm going to guess at your pronunciation of your name and wing it, which is awful.



Sachin: Yeah, we've all seen that, right? Like, people have gone up there and they've completely butchered it. I've had teachers butcher it, and every Indian person in America has a Starbucks name. Mine is ‘Sachin’ which is different than ‘Suchin,’ but my middle name is actually Dave, which is not short for David; it’s just Dave. And if you're Indian, Sachin Dave is a reasonable name. When you put it in Roman letters, and it's Dave, that's hella weird. And so, thanks dad for doing that to me.



Corey: In the before times when I used to go to Starbucks, my Starbucks name that I gave always was Spartacus because I had hoped one day of 15 people all trying to claim that drink like the old Spartacus movie. So, far, no luck and everyone looks at me strangely, but what I have learned is that there is an entire universe of different ways to spell Spartacus.



Sachin: I can only imagine. Do they at least all start with an ’S?’



Corey: Mostly, I think someone tried at once with a ‘C’ but I don't want to go too far down that path, my God. So, back to the actual reason that you're here. So, you have an interesting career path. Historically, you were at places like [Nylas] and LaunchDarkly—in fact, Heidi from LaunchDarkly was the number one inaugural guest of this show, once upon a time—and you also worked at places like Oracle and SAP and now you are the worldwide product management lead at IBM Aspera, which means you're pretty much Benjamin Button-ing your career. And I can only assume your swan song will be taking a role at the DMV someday.



Sachin: The DMV is a good place to be. And the California DMV is incredibly under-appreciated for the hard work that they do.



Corey: Truly.



Sachin: I was very happy to get my RealID during these times from the California DMV. It is possible online.



Corey: That must have been an experience.



Sachin: You upload your files online and you get your stuff. It works.



Corey: That is revolutionary. But back to the topic. Snark aside, you are at IBM, this is presumably an intentional choice on some level?



Sachin: It is.



Corey: What do you do there, and what was appealing about IBM specifically, Aspera—am I pronouncing Aspera correctly? I ask about people, never the company.



Sachin: I believe it's also pronounced Aspera, so if we're wrong, we can be wrong together.



Corey: We could go Aspera. We could wind up pronouncing IBM is basically one word instead of an acronym; all kinds of different things we could do. But what are you doing there? What brought you to IBM in this decade?



Sachin: Yeah, so it's a really interesting thing. So, Aspera is a startup that IBM acquired about five years ago. And the founders of Aspera were solving a very deep, hard, technical problem, which is moving data over bad internet connections, or bad network connections more generically. And essentially, Aspera has this technology called FASP, which stands for Fast Adaptive Secure Protocol. And they solve, essentially, the TCP and the UDP joke problems. So, everyone who listened to this is familiar with the TCP joke and the UDP joke and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and Aspera solves that. And IBM scooped them up and made them part of the broader IBM behemoth. 



And so for me, it's really interesting because I'm a startup guy, but I'm also comfortable in big companies. And hey, there's this startup that lives inside of IBM. And they have really cool technology; the people there are really smart and really passionate and amazing. And the office happens to be walkable from my house. I can go in, I can do a bunch of good stuff, I can foot in both sides, and leading product for really cool, technically amazing stuff is kind of my wheelhouse right? Nylas, LaunchDarkly, those are dev tools companies. And thinking about Aspera as a dev tools company is really interesting and exciting for me.



Corey: It's easy to sometimes get lost in the weeds of the snark in the various things that I do. I am snarky and sarcastic about every large multinational company out there because my belief has always been punching up is fine, punching down is not. There's a reason I'm not here making jokes about LaunchDarkly or Nylas in the same way because those are small, scrappy startups that are doing well and doing great things, but me crapping on them in public does not lead anywhere positive in the same way that making fun of a company that is over a century old, in IBM’s case, does. That said, you can make fun of companies, but not people. I don't believe in inviting folks from these companies onto the show and then blaming them for their company’s failings. 



To be very clear, this may change if I wind up getting your CEO on, for example, or a board member, but almost no one I speak to here is generally in a position to unilaterally set multinational company strategy. So, if people are wondering about why I'm not really putting your feet to the fire on any of IBM’s various missteps, well, it's because I'm not naive enough to fall into my old pattern of believing that a big company was 200 people, and everyone had an impact on everything the company did. So, you'll forgive me if I don't blame you for every failing, real or perceived, that IBM has about it in the past century and a half.



Sachin: That is a reasonable and measured take. I appreciate that Corey.



Corey: We do our best to make this a friendly, welcoming place. But, so let's talk about the somewhat recent IBM Cloud outage that went around the internet three times. Now, I want to be clear that first, Aspera is not—to my understanding—part of the IBM Cloud group, but you do use aspects of it. And secondly, of course, you are not speaking on behalf of IBM here, you are speaking on behalf of yourself.



Sachin: I am speaking indeed on behalf of myself. And indeed Aspera is a customer of IBM Cloud, same as any other customer would be. So, obviously, yes, that happened. It was unfortunate for everyone involved. You know, we went down, everyone else went down. The folks there really do their best. I appreciate the hard challenges of doing this. The Cloud is just someone else's computer, and in this case, it was IBM’s, or our computer. And I think the team learned a lot from it. 



There are changes that have happened because of it, but I think the team actually performed reasonably well. They were really on top of it. It wasn't that anyone was left unawares. The machine worked the way that it was intended and supposed to work, and the machine is better off today than it was in the past. You know, one of the things that's interesting about IBM from the outside, or being new to IBM, is that that client-service mentality is really deep and ingrained. 



And so when you have a client-service mentality, and you really care about each and every individual customer as a client and not just as a set of customers, it's very familiar to me as an ex-investment banker—way, way back in the day—is that there is some basic set of decency and some basic set of being circumspect. And so IBM did a very good job of communicating with its customers—Aspera internally, or other folks externally—for those who asked questions, those who wanted to know, keeping us up to date. And IBM’s culture is very much better at doing that one-to-one when someone has a question or talking to clients. IBM has gotten better at doing things a little bit more publicly. You can see—you know, there was a small, minor incident earlier this week, and the IBM Cloud Twitter account correctly went out there, the status page was very quickly updated, folks had a level of certainty as to what was going on.



Corey: For those who are wondering we're recording on Friday, July 17 of 2020. It will be a bit of a production delay before this makes it out during these unprecedented times. That's right, these times are no longer precedented.



Sachin: So, from my perspective, I feel heartened by what I've seen as a result of it, right? All you can ask is that when things go badly, people do their best, they make things work, they do the root cause analysis, the post mortems, they ask themselves, “How can we do better?” And the folks at IBM Cloud honestly have hit every single one of those. And again, I'm speaking for myself, I'm not here to be speaking on behalf of other folks in the organization, but I am proud of what they've done.



Corey: I disagree with aspects of your experience, as it does not match what I'm hearing from some other IBM customers but again, the point of this show is not to drag you, get you in trouble, or call you to account for frankly, a division for which the only thing you have in common with is the name on the paycheck and remarkably little else. There's a whole universe of criticisms, arguments, user experience stories, et cetera I could levy against IBM Cloud, but again, you don't speak for them, I wouldn't expect you to speak for them. And if the only thing I knew about you was your IBM.com email address, it's easy for that vision to get lost in the weeds. What I would rather talk to you about—if it's all right—is, tell me about the idea of a startup getting acquired by IBM, and specifically, what it is you folks do because when we first met, I was skeptical, but we started talking and it's, “This is kind of amazing. How come we aren't hearing more about it?” So, tell me what it is you do?



Sachin: Sure. So, at Aspera, we move data over the public internet faster than anything else on Earth. So, that protocol FASP stands for fast, stands for adaptive, stands for secure. And one of the things that we're really excited about is that we actually have a multi-tenant, hybrid multi-cloud thing called Aspera on Cloud where we actually run our software in all four of the major public clouds. Yes, IBM Cloud, but also AWS, Microsoft, Azure, and Google Cloud. 



So, we're in all four of those places where we run compute, so that way customers of ours can literally just attach their storage to our servers, and move data into and out of public cloud storage, super-duper fast, you know, tens, hundreds, even sometimes thousands of times faster than TCP-based protocol, so your standard stuff. You can imagine that when that happens, that you end up having implications of workflow changes and business model changes. You go from doing batch processing to real-time processing; you go from everyone must be co-located to people can be wherever they want, because I can get this file to you across the world as fast as I could across the office. And so it's really interesting, sort of, things where, as you end up in a more distributed environment, we end up in these, people are doing compute in one place but running their ML models on the copy of that data in a different cloud. You want to be able to have that information at the place where it matters as soon as possible, and Aspera kind of like magically handles that for folks. And so it's really interesting to have this really cool technology and be able to leverage it and present it to folks. It's interesting when you say, “Why haven't I heard about it?” Well, thank you for having me on, so at least this way, the few dozen folks who listen to this podcast will have heard about it. But that's my job.



Corey: Oh, those are just the ones that angrily dial in and respond.



Sachin: Ah, do they take their answers off air? That's really the important part.



Corey: Yes, sometimes they're delivered by brick through window.



Sachin: Oh, there's a Microsoft Windows joke here and I can't find it in time.



Corey: Yeah, there's a Databricks meets Microsoft Windows story in there somewhere, but who has time to look for all of the puns we could come up with on those?



Sachin: I'm just not at the dad level that I aspire to be.



Corey: So, one of the challenges, I think, whenever you start talking about multi-cloud stories around, oh, there’s the thing that improves data transfer stories, it fixes some of the economic stories about it, but what it inevitably does is it takes an already extraordinarily complex story, and then adds an additional layer of complexity on top of it. Whether that takes the form of an abstraction layer that purports to simplify it or not, it does act as a underlying complexifying factor, and that has always been a source of aversion for a number of companies, at least at a scale where they still imagine that one person could theoretically hold their entire software stack in their head; at enterprise scale that falls by the wayside. So, I'm curious as to how do you view that, and who do you end up targeting from a market segmentation perspective?



Sachin: Yeah, sure. So, how we handle it, God bless SREs, God bless our engineers, God bless our networking folks. Like, it is a hard, complex topology, right? One of the things, Corey, that I've heard you say is that people should pick a cloud, stick with it and take advantage of the uniqueness of whatever cloud they pick. For us, we want to move data to anywhere from anywhere. We're on those four major public clouds, but Aspera is also embedded into Akamai storage and a bunch of other things that are out there. We wanted to make sure that we were as agnostic as possible about where folks wanted to store their stuff, so the topology that we run is crazy. And so it's very, very difficult.



And from a market segmentation perspective, it's actually really interesting. So, yes, we're part of IBM, but we actually have a [paygo] option where you can get up running on your own, without talking to an IBM seller. Aspera on Cloud is actually in the Google Cloud Platform marketplace, and we're working very hard to get into other cloud marketplaces as well. And so from a market segmentation perspective, everyone says, “We want everyone.” I'm actually working very hard with our team to be everywhere that people are looking to solve these sorts of problems so they can choose to buy, get started, trial, whatever they want—Aspera in the way that they're comfortable with.



So, for folks that are big, large enterprises, who really want to have a sales conversation with a seller, and a technical expert, and go through the topology and read through all the reports, we've got that. For someone who's just like, “I’ve got 10 petabytes on my laptop, and I need to move this up to S3, and I got to get it there now.” We've got to click through, push-button, do it right now, sign up, five minutes, attach your S3 bucket, go. We try to do it all. Obviously, when you try to do it all, things fall through, you have to make trade-offs, and that's actually kind of the fun part of product management is really being intentional about what you choose to do, what problems you choose to solve, who you choose to solve for, the emotional benefit states that you end up solving when you do your job correctly, and where you want to be. It's a really interesting product management challenge. IBM calls it ‘offering management’ for these reasons, which, honestly is not a bad term, now that I've come around on it. So, yeah, they're hard problems. They're fun problems. That's kind of why I’m excited.



Corey: It's not a lot of fun for anyone to sit here and only solve easy problems for the rest of one's career. Which really brings me to the next point I want to cover with you is, you and I have something in common in that we have never stayed as an employee of a company for longer than a little over two years, in your case, slightly under in mine. I'm curious to get your thoughts on that because there's a certain vocal majority who believes, when they look at people like us, that this says terrible things about our character, about our entire approach to different things, that we are somehow just bad people.



Sachin: Yeah. Obviously, it's an intentional thing for both of us is that we do that. It's not that, oh, we get bored at a place and we leave it in two years. As a people manager, one of the things that I always feel is it is my job to earn your presence at this company on a day to day basis. It is my job to make sure that we are challenging you, and giving you the opportunities to succeed, compensating and recognizing you fairly, and if we don't shame on us. And so it's not that companies that I've worked at haven't done that, but sometimes you find more interesting places in other things. Sometimes circumstances change. 



One of the things that I mentioned is that I can walk to work—you know, back in the old days where we actually went to offices, but I can do that. And so for me, one of the things is when I first moved out to the Bay Area, I was commuting from the city down into the peninsula. Well, as I got older, and my knees stopped working, and my back stopped working, I wanted to be closer and closer to home, and so the combination of things changed for me—my priorities changed—but also I'm intentionally looking at my career and what's best for me and my family. You know, those natural breaks tend to happen, and from my perspective, no one owes a particular loyalty to their employer. That's something I believe strongly, and as a manager, it is your job to make sure the people who work for you are recognized, challenged, and appreciated.



Corey: I would argue that you do owe a particular loyalty to your employer for as long as they remain your employer, but you don't owe them a duty to remain employed there. Just to, I guess, add some nuance to a statement that has the potential to be taken wildly out of context.



Sachin: Thank you, Corey, for helping me keep my job.



Corey: I do my best.



Sachin: You said it better than I did. You're right. You do have a particular loyalty to your employer when you're employed. Exactly.



Corey: Oh, I've been very vocal about my distaste for non-compete agreements, but I haven't been quite as vocal about my support for confidential information clauses, for non-disclosure agreements. I have a sarcastic number of non-disclosure agreements with a wide variety of companies to the point where I don't keep track of them anymore because my default response is without explicit and enthusiastic permission to tell someone's story tied back to them, I can't do that. Just because—even if it's okay, and if there's even the sense that enters the industry of I tell other people's stories, and I can't be trusted, my entire business dies. I take this stuff incredibly seriously just from a—first, a branding, but more importantly from a morality perspective.



Sachin: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. Like, you do the best you can where you are. And you have to be good to the folks that you work with. You have to think about your career, and you have to think about your reputation, and doing what you just said is the right way to handle that long term. And short term. It's the right thing to do.



Corey: In what you might be forgiven for mistaking for a blast from the past, today, I want to talk  about New Relic. They seem to be a relatively legacy monitoring company, and I would have agreed with that assessment up until relatively recently, but they did something a little out there: they reworked everything. They went open source, they made it so you can monitor your whole stack in one place. And most notably from my perspective, they simplified their pricing into something that is much more affordable for almost everyone. There's even a free tier with one user and a hundred gigs per month, totally free.



Check it out at newrelic.com.




Corey: It really seems to be. It's an interesting world, and we're seeing it continue to get more interesting. So, now that I've done some help—you know, helping you keep your job, let's go back again to putting it in peril, again. So, occasionally, I make questionable, weird decisions that, in hindsight, weren't the best. Specifically around my finances, if I'm being honest. I know, this is a weird thing for a cloud economist, but if Apple releases a new product, I'll rush out and buy it, and then I'll look at it and kind of regret overspending. Like, did I really need to spend another thousand dollars on an iPad? Similarly, IBM went out and spent $34 billion buying Red Hat. Can you add any color or context to that acquisition?



Sachin: Sure I can. Obviously Arvind, Ginny, Jim have answered those questions a million times, so there's no reason for me to rehash that. I'll tell you my perspective as someone who works at IBM and interfaces—oh God, I use a technical word. That's 20 bucks—as someone who talks to folks on the Red Hat side, I am very, very happy that Red Hat is a part of IBM. IBM has done, from my perspective, a really, really good job here. And I'm not speaking for IBM, I'm speaking for myself. IBM has done a really good job of letting Red Hat be Red Hat; letting Red Hat be special. 



Red Hat is scrupulously neutral, and that has continued to be there. But IBM biases towards Red Hat. Like that's, I think, a reasonable way of saying it. Like, Red Hat is true to itself, and IBM is biased towards Red Hat. You know, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is really, really good. Red Hat OpenShift is really, really good. The people at Red Hat are really, really good. It is awesome to have those people; those technologies; that customer base; that knowledge; that deep love for open-source; the deep understanding of communities, and network effects, and ecosystems all of that inside of IBM. I think Red Hat is actually influencing IBM a hell of a lot more than IBM is influencing Red Hat, which, frankly, from my perspective is as it should be. So, for me, I'm thrilled about it. That acquisition actually closed before I joined IBM, that's how recent I am to IBM and to Aspera, but I'm thrilled about it just at a personal level because it aligns with, I think, where everyone sees what's happening 2020 and beyond.



Corey: That's an interesting glance into the future. There's a lot of good things that have come out of Red Hat. Lord knows, I have friends who work there, and friends who work at IBM—I know that biggest disclosure here, that's the bombshell is that I actually have friends—but what I find interesting about these companies that are targeting market segments that are not as exciting and as appealing to me as some others, namely large enterprises that are still not fully invested in the idea of cloud, then it's easy to be dismissive and look at these companies as a lumbering dinosaurs that are just not suffering from the asteroid impact yet. And that's unfair. It doesn't do me any credit to have those opinions because the people I talk to there are absolutely some of the best in the world at what they do. 



There's a tremendous upside to working at these companies. These are not people making bad decisions, and these aren't people who have just given up on things, despite my snark level at you toward the beginning of this episode. There's something that is incredibly fulfilling, in some ways, about being part of a large company where you are able to focus on a fixed set of scope of a problem, and really dive into that in a way that at smaller companies we never really get to do. So, it's just a different approach, a different way of solving the needs of a different customer base. So, my slings and arrows completely aside, there's a lot of good things, and there's clearly a lot of synergy here, and despite my snark, again, you don't get to drop $34 billion on an acquisition without having a sound strategy aimed at the future. Because I can't see it from the outside, it's in fact, the likelier option that I just don't have the vision or perspective to see it, rather than they didn't have one, or it didn't work out. I think it's far too soon to say.



Sachin: Yeah, I think the larger the acquisition, the longer it takes time. And honestly, Aspera has been acquired for almost five years at this point, and IBM’s still digesting it correctly. It's a phrase called bluewashing, and again, they haven't really bluewashed Red Hat. They've done the right thing by Red Hat, and they've done the right thing by Aspera. Bringing us in where we make sense, letting us to be by ourselves where it makes sense, too. 



One of the things that drew me to this job, and I'll be frank about it is at an individual level, how do I make IBM more nimble? Lou Gerstner wrote the book, Making an Elephant Dance or something, something like that. Everyone understands that IBM is large. Everyone understands that IBM is complex. Everyone understands that IBM is global in nature, has hundreds of different product lines, and all the rest of it, but the folks there are trying to do their best job and trying to make strategies that make sense and, honestly, the caliber of folks at IBM is really, really good. It's really, really high. We hire really good folks; we appreciate them; we invest in them in a way that a lot of other large organizations don't. We appreciate them. There's a lot of good stuff here. And so I think part of it is, for the first year, IBM and Red Hat have been relatively independent. I think, obviously, the digestion happens over time. And I think you're going to see a lot more Red Hat influence in IBM than the other way around, which I think everyone listening to this would be like, “You know what? That's a good idea.”



Corey: One of the things it’s easy to lose sight of—to be blunt—is what does IBM do, exactly? I take a look at the things that were foundational parts of the IBM experience in my career, and they all seem to either been discontinued, or no longer where the interesting parts are. Easy example is I'm a sucker for buckling spring mechanical keyboards; the type Ms and type Fs were great. The whole IBM Selectric typewriters, those were awesome, too. And moving up the stack into the actual things that were serious, and not spun off, necessarily, like the Lenovo sale of the ThinkPad line, we get into things such as the AS/400, also known as I series. 



Well, I started my career selling tape drives into the I series slash AS/400 market. And pro tip: don't do that as a small scrappy startup trying to compete against IBM on backups with an argument of price being the better way to go. Like the old saw, no one ever got fired for buying IBM. Yeah, you absolutely will get fired for scrimping on your backups, my God. Like that is the one thing where you spend all the money if you have a mainframe.



Sachin: Yeah.



Corey: I digress. But these days, you look at these things and it feels like it's legacy technology aimed at a past that sparkles more brightly than the future or the present do. How do you see that? I believe profoundly that you don't take that perspective, or you would not work there.



Sachin: Yeah. Obviously, I don't. And thank you for setting me up with a softball question.



Corey: It wasn't intended to be a softball question. It's one of those—but I said so much in there that you need to—that you technically should push back against, I'm telling you, you don't need to. I'm setting this up as a bit of a gathering the criticisms around this. Again, you know someone in legal or PR is going to listen to this at some point, and those people have no sense of humor of which they are aware. So, I want to be explicitly clear for them, and for the rest of the audience as well, that I am setting up a bit of a straw man for you to knock down. But these are sentiments that have been floated by the larger ecosystem, and me not talking about them doesn't mean that they're not there. But I also don't expect you to be able to refute all of those points, either. Take it away.



Sachin: Look, Corey, everything you've said in there is not anything that's new to any one of us who work at IBM, has heard. IBM has been around for a very long time. As a result, IBM has a very large installed base. IBM does a really good job taking care of the folks who have invested in IBM, not over the years, but over—honestly—the decades. IBM’s really proud of the fact—and this gets back to that client-service mentality I talked about earlier of taking care of each and every one of their customers individually. I think that's really a huge credit to IBM. 



And when you talk about other companies, you snark about other folks don't understand enterprise sales. That's the insight. There's no secret sauce, it’s, you solve for the customer—you solve for the problems of the human that's in front of your face that’s asking for your help. And so what does IBM do? IBM tries to scale that, right? We solve hard technical problems that are complex: they require some level of expertise, and whether that's integrations, or making systems work together, it's solving business problems with technology, and that's what IBM is really, really good at. 



And so what IBM tries to do is it tries to build these integrated experiences that have a lot of that. So, you can pick and choose what you need, but everything works together, and then you've got the power of Big Blue behind it which means that if you buy it from IBM, you expect some base level of quality customer support, some base level of security, some base level of documentation, and some base level of future-proofing, meaning you're not going to invest in something that's going to get discontinued without an off-ramp that's gentle or whatever else. When you buy something from IBM, you're buying it for a very long time. And IBM recognizes that because they've been doing this for a very long time. For me as a product manager, it's actually really interesting because I can't go and pivot, and do things, and A/B test API calls. I can't do any of that. Anything that I build, I know I'm building for a very long time. 



And so as a product manager, you have to be really intentional about what it is you choose to solve and what it is you choose not to solve, and be able to make sure all of the things that you do fit in with the IBM customer base, fit in with the way that IBM goes to market. It's actually a really challenging sort of thing. So, I know I took a question about IBM strategy and brought it back to, like, day-to-day life as a product manager or product leader, but it's actually a really interesting set of resources, and capabilities, and artifacts, and benefits, and a fair set of challenges as you pointed out, Corey.



Corey: There's no good answer in some cases for, well, how does this company wind up revolutionizing everything, and become the glamorous darling startup of the ages? You’re IBM; your existing customer base would not stand for that. When you bring in IBM as a vendor, you are aware of a few things, chief among them for many folks is that they're still going to be in business in 20 years and supporting whatever it is they sell you today, whereas the other end of that spectrum, Google Cloud is selling you something that may not still be supported by the end of the day. So, there's a definite—you can trust IBM to continue to have the long-term relationships with you, and support what it is that they sell you far after, let's be frank, you really should be still on whatever it is that they've sold you. Everything has a shelf life, and some companies forget that, and we're still supporting 60-year-old technology.



Sachin: At least they're supporting it, right? And that's kind of an interesting sort of thing.



Corey: Truly.



Sachin: When folks are supporting that stuff, they don't—doing it because they got on the treadmill and forgot to get off. They're doing it because there's a demand for it.



Corey: I've said it before, but legacy means that it makes money.



Sachin: Yes.



Corey: It's one of those, “Oh, that thing's ancient. Why don't you replace it with something new?” And the answer is, “Because it makes $4 billion in revenue for us every year, so unless you have a plan to mitigate that risk, maybe you should shut up and keep supporting that thing.” [laughs]. There's always this story that we somehow fool ourselves into believing, that newer is always better. It's not the case.



Sachin: Well, and the flip side of that is, think about it from a user, or a customer, or a human point of view. No one accidentally pays $4 billion in revenue and invoices. They're doing it because they're getting some benefit.



Corey: Having sent fake invoices for that amount to companies, you're right, they don’t. It only takes one before my entire world changes, but so far, no luck.



Sachin: Unfortunately. If only life were so easy.



Corey: So, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me today. It's deeply appreciated. If people want to hear more about what you have to say, where can they find you?



Sachin: They can find me on Twitter. I'm @sachinag on Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever. And I think if you Google for that, you'll find me, kind of, anywhere else. Otherwise, we'll find me at a bar here in Oakland somewhere sitting outside with a pint.



Corey: Yes. Someday when I leave my house again, I'll have to join you for that pint. Thanks again for taking the time to speak to us about your thoughts, what you're up to, and make a variety of comments that ideally will not get you censured.



Sachin: Perfect. Thanks, Corey.



Corey: Of course, Sachin Agarwal, lead product and platform for Aspera at IBM, I am Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Whereas if you hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts along with a comment about how you will in fact get fired for choosing IBM.



Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at ScreamingintheCloud.com, or wherever fine snark is sold.



This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.



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