I have spent a lifetime pushing myself onto new adventures and gritting my teeth through the pain of it all. I know I can accomplish realistically whatever I want, as long as I set my mind on it. This has given me a superpower, as well as a substantial amount of humility. I can identify my next goal, and work backwards from there. It takes a lot of effort, and I am not always successful on the first try - however, I am fairly confident I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to.
In 2018 I was in an alpine climbing accident on the north side of Tahoma (Mount Rainier) and I almost lost my left hand to a rock slide. In hindsight I made some fairly obvious mistakes. However, I learned from my accident. I grew wiser as a climber. 2 years later I returned and stood on top of the mountain. I intend to do so again next year.
Everything I know about leadership I learned from mountain climbing and leading teams of my friends, family, and strangers through dangerous situations. There have been many times in my climbing career, as well as in my professional career when I have had to remind myself and those around me that there is no shame in safely returning to the parking lot without a summit. The mountain isn't going anywhere. There is a familiar saying that comes to mind with regard to conservative climbing practices.
There are old climbers. There are bold climbers. There are no old, bold climbers.
Climbing has taught me self awareness with my risk tolerance, as well as given me a master class in judgment of hazardous situations. I spent many months considering the economic climate, social climate, my own aspirations and wants, and my family's needs to come to some very exciting conclusions that I will share with you all today.
Moving on From Twilio
Recently I made the decision to move on after an enlightening sprint at working as the lead platform engineer at Twilio. Sincerely, the folks I worked with at Twilio are some of the most brilliant engineers I have had the pleasure of calling my partners.
I was inches away from making this move earlier this summer. At the time, my hope was to start a company with some brilliant colleagues of mine from Heptio. My dream for the company was to tackle the node in distributed systems. A lot of my original thoughts and code later turned into an open source project: Aurae.
Flirting with Venture Capital
Over the summer I ended up in Silicon Valley on two occasions talking to venture firms. The pressure to take advantage of the economic instability and "cheap money" was certainly front of mind. It felt like the time to jump was upon me.
Ultimately I made the decision not to take any funding at this time for a few reasons.
1. The Team
I am realizing that I am not going to follow the "paved path" for venture funding, or really anything in my life. The normal startup model likely wasn't going work for me.
What I discovered was that the team I was searching for needed to have a similar risk tolerance as myself - however, more importantly they needed to possess the ability to have judgement with regard to risk and communicate well about it. Additionally I wanted to have some experience working with them, on my terms. I wanted them to see the problems with the node, and find value in a system like Aurae.
What I discovered is that I am yearning for co-founders who also have had the realization that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to - just like I have. I am craving pioneers - adventure partners. I want "technical alpinists" who are willing to travel quickly, and take calculated risks in exchange for great reward - but are smart enough to prepare themselves for the hazards and unknown that lay ahead. More importantly I need them to communicate about the hazards objectively.
In other words I am searching for people I trust, who are willing to take risks and are also open to doing things outside of the norm. I wasn't convinced I had found that just yet.
2. The Time
I have been thinking of large platforms, and specifically the software running on a node since I first started running Kubernetes in production in 2016. Aurae is the outcome of my relationship with large enterprise platforms and our needs at scale. I realized that Aurae will take many years to build and get right. Aurae will be the closest thing I have to show for my life's work as an engineer and I want to do it "right".
Looking at the escalated startup timeline and operating runway, I don't think it was the right move to both embark on an endurance open source project while also trying to sprint with a company and a product line. The two methodologies were at odds with each other. In my opinion the open source would inevitably become controlled by a single vendor (me/us) and would turn into a product. I have seen it happen too many times.
I am convinced that I need to begin Aurae in the open in a vendor neutral and financial unbiased way. I want to let it grow sustainably first. Maybe there will be an opportunity to capitalize on it in the future? Maybe. That doesn't matter right now.
Regardless. In my mind, today is not that day to start a company around a project that is still as young as Aurae is.
Right now my top priority is my family and building up a nest egg. We recently bought a new house in Seattle that will serve as our long term home while I get back to climbing and we get some health issues taken care of.
I want to be able to take a large risk and found a company one day - when the time is right - when I identify the right team. I also will insist that my company is sustainable. Most likely going beyond a B Corp. I do not believe another hyped product cycle is worth the consequences to future generations of technologists, the industry, or our planet.
I also want Aurae to be production ready and well established in the space before I take any substantial risks such as founding a company. There is a lot of work to do in order to make that happen. For example the project is still working out initial API shape and our partnership with tools like SPIFFE/SPIRE, Dapr, Kubernetes, and more. We have a long way to go - Aurae is an endurance project that will take time. A lot of time.
Aurae Must Be Sustainable
I am determined to prioritize the success of Aurae before letting the influence of product capitalization and customer prioritization sway the direction of the project. In order for the industry to build more cohesive higher order platforms I feel we must start with a pure, versatile, and compose-able core that is free from the influence of product gimmicks.
This is why Aurae is Kubernetes agnostic, and is designed to be a building block for higher order schedulers and platform tooling such as Kubernetes.
My plan is to set Aurae up such that even my own venture in the future would have no specific advantage over the project. I will need to protect Aurae even from my own influence at times.
Aurae Adopts Independent Governance
As the project has began growing I knew I needed to make another monumental decision in order to set myself up for long term success both for my career and for Aurae. I need to decide what to do about project governance.
For today I am convinced that keeping Aurae's governance as independent as possible is the right move.
What About Vendor Neutrality and the CNCF?
I believe that a formal governing body introduces a fair amount of risk with regard to product marketing. There is a lot of project overhead and political complexity I feel would be an obstacle for Aurae. I will likely write an entire article on this decision later. In short, I am not convinced that the current culture, and political climate of any of the governing bodies I am familiar with (including the CNCF) will be able to give Aurae what it needs to be successful with regard to sustainability at this time.
While in theory I would want Aurae to be as vendor neutral as possible, I think there is more to the picture than just vendors. I don't want anyone to damage the success of Aurae due to product influence - myself included. I think more importantly than vendor neutrality is sustainability and freedom of financial bias.
I believe Aurae needs to be free of financial bias and product influence all together. I am not convinced any of the gimmicks and tactics I have observed from various governing body, trade associations, and coalitions offer freedom of financial bias. Vendors and projects typically can pay for an advantage for their project. The influence of capitalism is too fraught with these organizations. I want Aurae to truly remain safe from the influence of product marketing and customer deadlines.
Essentially, I want to protect Aurae from the markets while its still young. I don't want Aurae to turn into another product vehicle or another reactive junk drawer that exists to serve the needs of customers before it serves the needs of the technology that sits above it. The core needs to exist for the sake of standardizing and simplifying our distributed systems, and not as a way for hyper scalers to get a dopamine hit on Twitter and make a quick buck.
The longer we can get away with a sustainability-first posture, the more successful Aurae will be in my mind.
So Now What?
Honestly I just want to climb mountains again and fall deeper in love with my partner Quintessence. I have a large endurance open source project in front of me that will take years to build. I know I want to set myself up for the long haul.
My hope is to grow a safe, healthy, and sustainable community around Aurae - and have some fun in my free time. I want to sharpen my skills as a technical leader and have an enormous impact on a corporation as well as the industry. Sincerely, I want to do big things! I will need the experience and an opportunity to make an impact if I ever want to grow as a leader.
Now - Where would I find a large enterprise platform that would benefit from a distributed systems, security, and infrastructure expert? What about finding a home that would understand open source and the value of empowering a community? Somewhere that would support me bringing my best self to the office without the looming fear of Aurae becoming a point of conflict?
What system could I work on that would grow me as a leader, and also allow me to grow Aurae while I also pushed our internal platform and technologies to new heights?
Something tells me that the authors of the BEIPA (Balanced Employee IP Agreement) might understand how critical it is to empower innovation for online communities. I intend to build out a sustainable open source governance model that follows the same BEIPA paradigm of having a flagship definition that others can easily adopt. I intend on leveraging this new project governance model with Aurae.
Joining GitHub 🎉
Very excited to announce my new job working as an engineer at GitHub. I am confident my new role will love and support me in all of my unique and obscure opinionated goodness. I am smiling as I write this.
I am so excited to meet the team and see what is in store. My hope is that as I learn more about my future at GitHub, our products, infrastructure, and goals I can make a huge impact!
So without further adieu. Here is to raising up the entire industry and asynchronous working. We are all in this thing together.