Are we fast approaching cloud-mageddon ?

storm coming

One look at StackShare’s trending technologies, and you’ll discover the exploding growth of languages, webservers, load balancers, databases, caching servers, automation & monitoring tools, continuous integration suites & a broad spectrum of Software as a service solutions.

The choices today boggles the mind. Choice is good, but too much choice can mean trouble too.

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1. What am I actually using?

Erich Schubert wrote a superb piece about the sad state of the sysadmin in the age of containers. Here’s what caught my eye:

Stack is the new term for “I have no idea what I’m actually using”.

That definitely rings true for me. The customers I’m seeing these days have such complicated stacks, that nobody really knows what’s installed. That’s dangerous!

Also: Do today’s startups assemble at their own risk?

2. Embrace failure more broadly

Recently I wrote a blog post asking Is AWS the patient that needs constant medication?. It got a lot of traction, and here’s why I think that happened.

AWS uses very commodity, cheapo components. The assumption is, with an infinitely redundant datacenter, component failure is ok. It’s ordinary & everyday.

Unfortunately most startups, even ones that employ some Ansible & devops, still don’t have Netflix grade automation.

Those regularly everyday failures are still getting detected by old-school manual monitoring. And that’s a recipe for trouble

Also: 5 Things toxic to scalability

3. What are complex systems?

In this excellent deck, James Urquhart talks about emergent behavior in complex systems. It’s worth a quick read.

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Read: How I find entrepreneurial focus

4. What to do? Do you like boring?

Dan McKinley formerly principal engineer at Etsy & now with Stripe wrote a brilliant essay arguing for boring technology.

This comes as a shock to many in the startup world. It sort of smacks in the face of open source, or does it?

I worked in the enterprise space as an Oracle DBA for a decade starting in the mid-nineties. Among DBAs there was always a chuckle when a new version of Oracle came out. No one wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole. Sure we’d install it on test boxes, start learning the new features and so forth. But deploy it? No way, wait a good 2 or even 3 years before upgrading.

Meanwhile management was eager for the latest software. Don’t we want the newest? The Oracle sales guys would be selling the virtues of all sorts of features that nobody needed right away anyway.

Choosing boring components takes discipline to fight sexy new technologies & bleeding edge versions. But staid & stodgy wins you everyday in operations uptime.

Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

5. Use tried & tested components

Do you find your application or stack contains java, ruby, python & PHP? Choose one.

One webserver like nginx, one caching server like memcache or redis, one search server like solr or elasticsearch, one database like MySQL or postgres. Standardize all your components on one image, so you can use that for all your servers, regardless of which you use.

Fewer components will mean fewer interdependencies, less maintenance, & less chaos.

Also: What’s the luckiest thing that’s happened in your career?

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What happens when entrepreneurs treat data as a product?

Sneachta Pix
Sneachta Pix

I’ve been reading DJ Patil’s thoughts on building data products. As the chief data scientist of the united states, he knows a thing or two.

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I also attended a recent Look & Tell event, where Lincoln Ritter talked about Data Democracy at Animoto. He expressed many of Patil’s lessons.

I took away a few key lessons from these that seem to be repeating refrains…

1. UX of data

UX design involves looking at how customers actually use a product in the real world. What parts of the product work for them, how they flow through that product and so on.

That same design sense can be applied to data. At high level that means exposing data in a measured, meaningful & authoritative way. Not all the tables & all the data points but rather key ones that help the business make decisions. Then layering on top discovery tools like Looker to allow the biz-ops to make more informed decisions.

Also: 5 Reasons to move data to Amazon Redshift

2. Be iterative

Clean data, presented to business operations in a meaningful way, allows them to explore the data, and find useful trends. What’s more with good discovery tools, biz-ops is empowered to do their own reporting.

All this reduces the need to go to engineering for each report. It reduces friction and facilitates faster iteration. That’s agile!

Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

3. Be authoritative

Handing the keys to the data kingdom over to business means more eyes on the prize. That may well surface data inconsistencies. Each such case can reduce trust on your data.

Being authoritative means building checks into your data feeds, and identifying where data is amiss. Then fixing it at the source.

Read: Are SQL Databases dead?

4. Spot checks & balances

Spot checks on data are like unit tests on code. They keep you honest. Those rules for how your business works, and what your data should look like, can be captured in code, then applied as tests against source data.

Also: Is Apple betting against big data?

5. Monitoring for data outages

As data is treated as a product, it should be monitored just like other production systems. A data inconsistency or failed spot check then becomes an “outage”. By taking these very seriously, and fire fighting just as you do other production systems, you can build trust in that data, as those fires become less frequent.

Also: Why Airbnb didn’t have to fail

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How I find entrepreneurial focus

Brian K

Relentless focus. This is surely a key to entrepreneurial success. But how to find it? And how to maintain that focus through the ups & downs?

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I’ve found a simple system with a few rules has brought me success. I’ve used it for two decades of as entrepreneurial, and still do.

Here’s how it works…

1. keep a list of small tasks

This is the number one thing I do daily. I start out early in the morning, over coffee. Anything that “needs to get done” goes on the todo list, but I also separate out the things I’ll do today.

Todo list items are not big ones, like “save the world” or “get new job”. They are small nuggets of work that take 15 to 60 minutes. If they’re larger, they need to be broken down.

A typical day covers five major tasks. You will get sidetracked. You’ll need to answer calls & emails that aren’t captured on the list.

All this sounds simple, but it actually requires a discipline. Both to keep tasks actionable & small. You’ll learn your work pace with practice. But there’s one more thing to remember.

Also: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

2. trust the list

One thing I find myself doing is pushing just because something is on the list.

I don’t do list based on feelings or moods

This requires a lot of habit building, but it becomes valuable. By doing this over time, you begin to trust the list. You know things on it will get done. So you can safely “add it to the list” and forget about it for the moment.

This lets your mind relax and bcomes a real godsend when you have a mountain of work to do.

Just work list because it’s there. And trust that things that need to get done simply go on the list.

Related: Why airbnb didn’t have to fail

3. done with list, done for day

On days where things get hairy, and you work more, you’ll have to slog through to get everything on the list done. But sticking to it will build a habit that’s valuable.

At the same time some days will be easier. Avoid the temptation to add more work to fill the day.

When you’re done with the list, you’re done for the day

This is a discipline too. Pat yourself on the back, and give yourself a break. You did what you said you would do. Time for a beer. :)

Read: Which tech do startups use most?

4. big projects require faith

Anothe lesson I’ve learned is that really large projects, or ones bringing you into new areas, require a lot of faith. For me, with an engineering background, I don’t have an easy time finding that. I want to measure, and dice up everything from the start.

When I was embarking on a project to buy real estate in Brooklyn, I really learned this lesson. There was so much unknown. How do I work with real estate brokers that have a different style of communicating than engineers & corporate professionals? How do I negotiate? What’s the right price? What about mortgages & their brokers? Architect inspections, land surveys, flood zones, crime maps, loans & assets, legal & closing costs. The list of unknown & nebulous areas of expertise was staggering.

Hang around edges to get lay of land

If I would distill this faith idea down for someone embarking on a new career or diving into a pool of unknown depth, I would say start by hanging around the edges. Pick off pieces that you can, and add them to the todo list.

I went to open houses. I asked questions. I researched online, and I always made sure I understood how agents & players were incentivized. That means believing none of the words people speak, but rather, look behind the curtain and make educated guesses about those realities.

Also: Do todays startups assemble at their own risk?

5. break down & do

It is inevitable that you will experience writers block. Or any other kind of block that manifests as procrastination. Don’t over think it.

Continue to break down to smallest viable unit that you *can* do.

get started on anything to get inertia

With writing I find blocks where I don’t have a solid idea formulated. Maybe you have a topic? So then my todo list for the day is “write five bullet points”. This by itself will take some time, but you know you can write something. By moving past your block, I sometimes find I wanna keep writing and finish the piece. This is the kind of habit you want to form.

Also: Is Fred Wilson right to say speed is a feature?

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5 Things I learned from Fred Wilson & Mark Suster

I was recently flipping through AVC.com and saw this interview by Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures. He talks in depth with veteran in the VC world, Fred Wilson.

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Here’s a more in-depth blog post on Mark’s interview with Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures.

1. I’m not into debt

Around the 20:25 in the interview, Fred is discussing a period in his career before some of his first big investments, where things were financially challenging. He makes a rather candid comment about personal debt:

“I’m not that kinda person. I don’t like debt. I’m not into debt”

I think this is key. I also think it frames the whole way people approach business & career.

Also: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

2. Brains & hustle is key

Among the most successful entrepreneurs there are certainly many who are very intellectually astute. Meanwhile there are others who are great speakers, who can sell an idea, and persuade, but perhaps not as deep product wise or deeply technical.

The very best though, tend to have both brains & hustle.

Related: 8 questions to ask an AWS expert

3. Best technology doesn’t win markets

Around 11:45 in the interview, Mark & Fred are discussing Novell & Banyan.

“That was when I learned that best technology doesn’t win markets”

t’s interesting because as you hear the story of how Banyan lost out to Novell, it resonates today with companies that often have the best tech, but don’t win in markets. Interesting.

Read: Why Airbnb didn’t have to fail

4. Find answers through blogging

“It’s like Venus Fly Paper. When I write about topics that are relevant, suddenly anybody with a startup solution in that field will approach us. This works brilliantly.”

Indeed, I’ve found blogging to be crucial myself to career building. It helps in a myriad of ways.

Blogging brings visibility, as your blog gains in popularity. That is certainly big. But also it helps you craft & formalize your voice & your vision. Blogging asks you everyday to think about your perspective, and share it in a way that appeals to a broad audience. And analytics give you real feedback that you are saying something of value to people.

Also: Are SQL databases dead?

5. Listen to the younger generation

Around 1:11:15 in the interview, there’s an interesting point where Mark asks Fred if there were any deals that they regret not getting into. Fred responds that AirBNB was such a deal, as it was a quintessential Union Square ventures company.

As it turns out they didn’t invest because they couldn’t imagine using the service. Meanwhile the younger members of their team had a different perspective.

“We’re not gonna reject anything that we wouldn’t do and the younger team would.”

Interesting point. I think of Venmo as another example of this. I personally wouldn’t use the service, meanwhile it is clearly very popular among teen & twenty something demographic.

Also: 5 Things toxic to scalability

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters