Gonna fly now: why I've left Silicon Valley’s lions for Vultr
Do you ever feel like an underdog? And that sometimes all that’s left is scraps?
If you can relate, then I think you’ll enjoy my story. Perhaps it will even inspire you to choose the road – and the independent infrastructure cloud – a bit less traveled by.
Walking with lions
I’ve been working and living in Silicon Valley since 2002. At age 21, I joined Oracle as a software engineer. When I met Larry Ellison atop one of the now dormant Oracle towers, he was actually quite friendly, at least to me and some fellow interns.
At 24, I joined a wiki startup called JotSpot, in large part to work with its founders, who had previously created the once-popular Excite search engine. I had an absolute blast working with the exciting Joe Kraus and CNET-vet Ken Norton, and for a little while, we kicked Atlassian Confluence’s butt.
After Google acquired JotSpot in 2006, I spent the next nine years working on mega platforms like Google Cloud and Android. I pleaded with CEOs Eric Schmidt and Sundar Pichai about thorny product and marketing issues, and I partied with the one and only Marissa.
I genuinely feel lucky for all of it. I know that many people are suffering right now, and I am part of a very fortunate few.
Still, if I’m being honest with myself, and with you…
As I look back on my career, I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’ve spent much of the past eighteen years staring up at elite members of the Silicon Valley food chain. And at this point, I know that a lion I am not.
Finding purpose after Google
I stayed at Google for nearly a decade because I struggled to find things on the outside that were as interesting as what I might do within the company’s infinitely expanding walls.
But by 2015, I had grown so frustrated with inane debates that I quit.
No joke – I probably lost six months of my life just trying to get Google to name its mobile apps so people could understand what they are (a battle I too often lost).
After I resigned, I didn’t know what to do for a while. Many of the problems my Xoogler friends were solving looked comparatively small, or otherwise uninspiring...food delivery, photo sharing, ad targeting...these were scraps, or so I thought.
Months after leaving Google I finally had an epiphany: maybe I could still work on the same kinds of platforms that Big Tech was building?
Having been an insider, I knew all the ways Big Tech had come to trick developers and users into doing things that weren’t entirely in their interests. Was it possible for independent companies to create these same, vital platforms, but to build them in a way that gives developers and consumer end users a fair deal?
Fighting the good fight
For the past five years, I’ve been a fly nipping at Big Tech’s back.
I started first with a quest to take back the web, as I had seen that Chrome had become the new Internet Explorer (and a platform for mass surveillance). I got in touch with Mozilla, and subsequently spent two years on a Sisyphean quest to try to make Firefox great again. The Quantum plan actually sort of worked.
When DigitalOcean found me a few years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to work from home in SF for a NYC-based company I had respected since I worked on GCP. Ironically, one of the very last things I had done before leaving Google was advocate to make its user experience and marketing for Cloud Platform more simple, much as DO had done.
As my joining Vultr is undoubtedly a shock to my friends at DigitalOcean, allow me to say here how I much enjoyed working with you. Even though I’m working for a competitor now, in a very meaningful way we’re still on the same side: the one that’s simply categorized as “Others” in this somewhat alarming visualization of cloud computing market share.
For Vultr, the sky's the limit
When you look at the above trendlines, you might think me mad for joining Vultr. I’ll confess that when my new employer first reached out to me, I thought I’d have to be nuts to move to an even smaller cloud.
But I firmly believe in the importance of the ‘Others’ group maintaining a healthy market share. If data is the new oil, then AWS, Azure, and GCP are together the new OPEC.
It’s important that the developer community somehow maintain a check on Big Tech.
So when I took my first call from Vultr’s CEO, J.J. Kardwell, I felt that I should hear him out. And as he described the Vultr business and its bootstrapped history, something struck me.
Wow, this company is scrappy – and pretty darn successful!
No VC funding.
Over a million customers.
A lean foundation for further expansion.
His pitch in the end was rather simple: that Vultr might really take flight if only more people knew about it. And with cloud computing being a $130 billion market, the sky was the limit.
A minimalist cloud, in brief
Since many of you had probably never heard of Vultr before reading this, let me quickly characterize its offering.
Vultr is an enterprise-grade infrastructure cloud that any minimalist engineer should love:
- on-demand compute, with a variety of shared, dedicated, and bare metal configurations
- support for popular Linux distributions, Windows Server, custom ISOs, and Marketplace apps
- highly reliable and scalable object and block storage, backed by NVMe SSD
- public and private networking, with BGP and Direct Connect facilitating enterprise migrations, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud set-ups
- integrated DNS hosting, firewalls, and load balancing
- a managed Kubernetes engine with free control plane (now in beta)
You can provision infrastructure in any of Vultr’s 17 global data center locations, which include regions that some other clouds (e.g. DO) lack such as Sydney, Tokyo, and Seoul. You can then administer your systems through a developer-friendly control panel, API, CLI, or Terraform provider.
Oftentimes teams rely on Vultr’s multi-user support and fine-grained access controls to collaborate on projects. Some businesses even enable Single Sign-On (SSO) that connects with corporate directories powered by Okta, OneLogin, or Google Accounts.
Vultr only charges for the resources that you use, at prices that are easy to understand, predict, and comparatively low. All charges are billed for hourly use; you’ll never have to pay up front or get locked into contracts. Savings can be considerable, with total costs commonly 20-50% less than fees from bigger clouds.
If you’d like to give Vultr a try, click here for $100 in free credit .
'V’ is for victory
Now, I get that the Vultr product itself is not dramatically different from what you can find elsewhere. The beauty of open-source software like Linux and Kubernetes is that, with its use, cloud infrastructure becomes something of a commodity.
But to me, it’s not what Vultr is that makes it special – it’s who Vultr is for.
The thrifty business and savvy startup, squeezing out every penny.
The lone developer with a dream.
The starving student, struggling to learn.
Vultr is the cloud for the scrappy ones.
And who doesn’t love a good underdog story? I can’t help but want you to succeed.
So that’s all a very long way of explaining why I've decided to join Vultr.
Still, this is the hardest job move I’ve ever decided to make. I can’t help but worry a little about what my former colleagues might think of me, and if this move somehow places me at a certain spot on the food chain. Does my joining Vultr imply that I’m one of these oft-maligned birds?
I don’t know, and the human food chain is an absurd, artificial construct, anyway.
There is one thing I do know, though, and that’s that the world is full of people who are scratching and clawing along their climb to the top of their Rocky steps.
And rather than criticize them as lowly scavengers, I want to celebrate the moments when they spread their wings into a victorious ‘V’.
Cause those scrappy birds can do one thing that even the biggest land and sea animals can’t.
Interesting. I've never tried DO but I do use Vultr for my personal use, primarily because it is one of the few cloud providers that supports OpenBSD and even Illumos, and in fact I run my entire home broadband connection through a WireGuard VPN terminating in Vultr's London data center (that for unfathomable reasons Google's IP geoloc thinks is in Dubai).
Having spent most of today fighting with CloudFront and its baroque monstrosity called Lambda@Edge to do the simplest thing you could imagine (adding
Permissions-Policy static headers to my Hugo blog), and having tried but failed to get CloudFlare's Pages to work, I'd love to have a managed GSLB static hosting service from Vultr, and I suspect a lot of others using static site generators and Jamstack would as well.
Oh, and while I'm on requests, could the Vultr portal support Webauthn/U2F as hardware two-factor authentication, not just the proprietary Yubikey method, pretty please?
Ryan Pollock Not sure I understand. If you are planning on building a FaaS service like AWS Lambda or Cloudflare Workers, why not, assuming you have a distributed file system it can access, but I was thinking of much more basic CDN functionality.
I don’t use Netlify myself. I used to self-host my blog, but moved it to CloudFront to gain GSLB (my primary mnx.io cloud server is in the US and when I moved to London I couldn’t help but notice how sluggish it felt due to latency). My workflow is Git + Hugo + rclone to upload to S3 and CloudFront, because they don’t have minimum pricing commitments unlike most CDNs.