At Pivotal, we know our greatest assets are our people. Some of the leading programmers, data scientists, and engineers work here, and we think you should get to know them. To that end, we’ve built a new Pivotal People Profile series that will help to introduce the world to some of our talent that is helping to build out our vision of a great company.
Our second profile is about Matthew Reider, product manager on Pivotal’s Cloud Foundry team, the open Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that provides web developers a faster and easier way to deliver applications at web-scale. Reider has some big ideas on how to eliminate a lot of the mundane system maintenance out of the application lifecycle and make developers more productive quickly.
But before we see more about his big product ideas, let’s learn more about what makes Matthew Reider tick in this week’s series.
Q1 | Tell us about you growing up. Where you lived, siblings, school, activities, interests, etc.
A1 | I grew up in the suburbs of Boston but missed out having a Boston accent since my parents are from San Francisco. I am the youngest of three siblings, which meant I was always out of the loop. My parents would plan trips, enroll us in camps, or plan outings, and I was always the last to know. “We are going to Vermont?” I would ask as we were pulling out of the driveway. I think this helped me learn how to embrace change—which has helped me a lot in the corporate world and elsewhere. Big shifts never phase me.
Q2 | Tell us about your work background and how you came to Pivotal? If you can, tell a cool story from your background—big/complex customer problem, patents, open source contributions, etc.
A2 | I joined the Cloud Foundry team in late 2011 when it was sponsored by VMware. A year later we transitioned the team over to Pivotal Labs, the development arm of Pivotal, and the pride of the industry in Agile and Extreme Programming practices.
The biggest lesson Pivotal has taught me, after more than 20 years in the software industry, is that heroism is unproductive. Writing thousands of lines of code, or a 50 page Product Requirements Document, by yourself, without constant collaborative input and adaptation, can create an intractable mess.
In the mid 1990’s, I helped Allaire Corporation with their ColdFusion product. It was one of the most popular means of connecting web pages to SQL databases, preceding Java, Active Server, and PHP.
At some point, we started losing deals to content management tools like Vignette. In response, we wrote a 100 page product specification and built a CMS of our own. It was completely non-agile. We shipped the product, sold a few licenses, but it was eventually cancelled.
Stories like this are common for people over the age of 40. We over engineered things. We built everything up front. Many products succeeded despite themselves because the markets were so green.
Q3 | In your words, what is your role in this new Pivotal organization? What are you most focused on?
A3 | I am a product manager for the Cloud Foundry team. I manage the installation and orchestration aspects of the product.
Q4 | In your words, describe the challenges your product solves. Please cite customer examples if you can.
A4 | When people talk about the cloud, they are usually describing one of three layers. All of these layers are both elastic and on-demand. If you want more, you just click a few buttons or enter your credit card. Most of us use the top layer only, which is called Software as a Service (SaaS). This includes products like Gmail or Flickr.
Underneath SaaS is the bottom layer, called Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which provides an elastic and on-demand supply of CPU, memory, storage, and networking. Examples of IaaS platforms are VMware’s vSphere, Amazon Web Services, and Openstack.
Sandwiched between IaaS and SaaS is the middle piece of the cloud, known as Platform as a Service (PaaS). This is where Cloud Foundry plays. The PaaS layer is for web developers. It manages the IaaS layer’s compute, network and storage, and goes a step further by handling DNS, routing, load balancing, database setup, and security. These are things developers would prefer not to think about as they design the next great SaaS offering.
So, in many ways, we help developers focus on developing software. We let them forget about the tediousness of configuring things all day. Helping this one individual might seem like a small thing, but it symbolizes a colossal change in how quickly an organization can deliver results. As one of our customers put it, “what once took us months now takes a few minutes”.
Q5 | What are you most excited about being able to do in a smaller, more nimble organization?
A5 | When I think of the most nimble, fun, and effective places I have worked—I think about the similarity in their cultures. That’s what I want to do here, help create the kind of culture that leads to three interconnected wins: great software, happy employees and devoted customers.
Q6 | Scott Yara said that one of the strategic things we are doing for Pivotal One is to address the developer. What does that mean to your product line?
A6 | One of my former colleagues owns a digital agency in Manhattan. His engineering team is like a black box. You hand them a colorful website design and they spit out the real thing. Voilà!
Cloud Foundry installs the right bits, in the right way, based on the web application you want to run. All you need is your source code, a URL, a list of back end services, and it does the configuration for you. Now, it really is Voilà!
Q7 | The company focus is on building out Pivotal One, what does that mean for your product? Will it still be available standalone?
A7 | Cloud Foundry is destined to be the connective tissue between discrete Pivotal software products that were once independent. We expect to work hard to make sure all Pivotal One products eventually run natively on demand in Cloud Foundry.
Q8 | What is the major focus for you and the new Pivotal One platform?
A8 | Installing Cloud Foundry has not been easy. I am focused on changing that by managing two different product initiatives: making our command line orchestration tool / installer easy to use, and building a GUI wrapper around the entire thing.
Q9 | What new Pivotal products are you most excited about working with?
A9 | In 2006 I helped some friends from Adobe build an analytics engine that calculated the sentiment of people watching video advertisements across the Internet. We divided into two small product teams. My half of the team wrote software to collect viewing data, the other half did queries on that data using MapReduce and Hadoop. A healthy rivalry developed between the two halves of the company. There was even an agreement to attend the trade shows that one another held most dear. My half was coerced into attending the Hadoop conference, while the other half reluctantly traveled to RubyConf. Everyone had a good time. Since my team was the Ruby side, not the Hadoop one, I started learning the language, and meeting people in the community around it. My career has changed a lot because of that.
A couple years later I joined Engine Yard, which sponsored Ruby on Rails, Rubinius, and JRuby.I have always wondered though, how would my career be different if had attached myself to the Hadoop team instead of the Ruby one? And now, about seven years later, I get to find out! The Pivotal HD team is relying on me, and my team, to provide the same type of installation, orchestration, and automation that we give to Cloud Foundry and its list of supported services. I get to go deeper on Hadoop, and that’s really exciting for me.
Q10 | What do you like to do in your personal time when you aren’t living and breathing Pivotal products?
A10 | There are exactly two things I love to do when I am not working. The first is that I love to be with my family. I have two wonderful kids and a soul mate spouse. There is a lot of laughter in our house. My wife is famous for it, and my youngest child, Zoe, can giggle until she almost wets her pants. Yesterday, for example, I told my wife I needed to go to Home Depot. She thought I said that I needed to buy a bunch of pitch forks. It was weird that she heard that. I am not sure why this gave her the giggles, but it did, and when one person starts, it’s hard for any of us to stop. That’s the first thing I love to do when I am not working. Laugh with my family.
The other thing I love to do is run. Maybe that’s a genetic thing. My dad set the Harvard record for the 2 miler in 1957 in Madison Square Garden. He ran it in 9:20. That’s twice as fast as I am! My brother also runs, as does his son, who competes on the Hamilton College track team. (Go Sam!) When I start my run, my body is in slow motion. It doesn’t feel like I’m going to make it. But within a mile or so, everything has warmed up, my heart is pumping, there’s a nice rhythm to my breath, and the negative thoughts are completely gone. It’s a little like a Hollywood ending. Few things end as perfectly as movies or a great run.
Q11 | What is your favorite developer tool and why?
A11| I love creating website or mobile wireframes / mockups. My process is usually the same. I create a comprehensive Balsamiq mockup, and screenshot each piece of it separately by scrolling around the document. I paste the screenshots into a Google Document, and write brief explanations underneath. Balsamiq looks like a comicbook sketch, which is good, because nobody will ever mistake it for the real thing.
I have also used either jQuery, or JQuery Mobile, to create prototypes that look more polished, and speak for themselves. No need for explaining things in a Google Document if you can click on buttons in a well designed interface. The last prototype I built was over a year ago when a friend asked me for help expressing his idea for a mobile app. I used JQuery Mobile. If I were to do this today I would try Ratchet. It looks like fun, and seems even easier to use.
Q12 | What is your biggest achievement?
A12 | During the 1990’s, I got pretty blue about my career in high tech. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world. I thought a lot about becoming a teacher. I decided that I would regret it if I didn’t try it out.I spent a year re-reading my college science textbooks, and enrolled in a credential program to teach Biology. For two years, I taught in an urban public school in the East Bay. Ultimately, I decided to go back into software. And when I returned, I had gained perspective. I appreciated my high tech career. In no way do I look at this period of my life as a mistake. On the contrary, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I learned an immeasurable amount about myself, and met some wonderful teachers and students. Many are still in my life today. Whenever I hear someone think out loud about changing course, I always encourage them to do it. Start a restaurant, be a teacher, travel to Argentina&do whatever it is that you are pondering. You won’t regret it.
Q13 | What is top on your bucket list of things to do while still on this little rock we call earth?
A13 | I love to write, and enjoy writing about the experience of being a teenager. Part of the reason I became a teacher has something to do with how hard those years were for me, and how well I understand the trials of adolescence. At some point, it would be great to find a good writing coach and give it a shot as an author.
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