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Meet The New CEO Of Gremlin

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Guests: Josh Leslie (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Kolton Andrus (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Company: Gremlin (Twitter)
Show: Let’s Talk

Gremlin, the Chaos Engineering company, has brought on Josh Leslie, the former CEO of Cumulus Networks, as its CEO. Kolton Andrus, who co-founded the company in 2016, has taken on the role of CTO to drive the company’s product and engineering organizations. We invited Leslie and Andrus to our show Let’s Talk to discuss more about the company, Chaos Engineering and its cultural aspect, the leadership change, and more.

Some bytes from this show:

  • What is Gremlin all about?

“Gremlin has driven this idea of Chaos Engineering in the marketplace. It’s really all about building resilient systems, resilient applications, and reliability into your engineering process”- Josh Leslie

  • Role of chaos engineering

“[Chaos engineering] helps customers with a tool to be more reliable versus just the ability to observe or to see” – Josh Leslie

  • Cultural impact of chaos engineering

“When we have a planned event where we get several teams from the company together in a room or virtually, what we do is create a place to have a discussion and an opportunity to raise risks and concerns where we can address and act upon them as opposed to bringing them up later when it’s less effective.” – Kolton Andrus

  • What’s driving this change of role at the company?

“…Bringing in somebody that has a lot of depth and experience in running and operating these infrastructure companies makes a lot of business sense to help us scale and be more effective and efficient” – Kolton Andrus

  • Josh’s vision for the company

“Gremlin, as a company, has really captured some major customers and this technology is starting to seep into mainstream acceptance. I believe that there’s an opportunity to build a very large company here that is really a standard way of how people think about building infrastructure in the future.”

  • Role of Kolton as CTO

“People are hungry for a more holistic approach and view about the reliability of their systems. The engineers are in need of a more prescriptive, guided approach to get started. I feel my dedicated time and attention will help those efforts yield a better product” – Kolton Andrus

  • Security; preaching vs practice

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how awareness has grown over the past two to three years. It’s rare now that I’m explaining what chaos engineering is” – Kolton Andrus

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Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host Swapnil Bhartiya and welcome. Let’s talk. Gremlin has named Josh Leslie as the new Chief executive officer of the company and Kolton Andrus, also the co-founder, has taken over the role of the chief technology officer or CTO. And today we have both Josh and Kolton on our show, and there are so many things to talk about, but before we go there. First of all, Josh, Kolton, congratulations on your roles.

Josh Leslie: Thank you.

Kolton Andrus:  Thank you. Excited.

Swapnil Bhartiya: As you let know, we have been covering Gremlin on a regular basis, our audience knows about it, but I’ll just throw this question to Josh. What is Gremlin all about?

Josh Leslie: It’s a trick question since Kolton’s the founder has been there for a really long time, and it’s my fifth day. Fortunately for me I got to get involved with the company 18 months ago, so I’ve had a bit of time to get to know Kolton and to get to know the company. As you well know Gremlin originated and has driven this idea of chaos engineering in the marketplace, an idea that Kolton obviously has incredible history driving this technology and this movement. It’s really all about building resilient systems, building resilient applications, building reliability into your engineering process.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since we have been hearing from Kolton. I wanted to hear your opinion so you can see a fresh perspective of the company. And since you brought in chaos engineering, I feel in today’s world, chaos engineering is a very integral, principle practice, whatever you all call it. And depending on how you look at it for the reliability and a lot of things, I don’t want to go into the history of Netflix, Amazon, and everything else. But I do want to talk about the present and future. What role is chaos engineering playing when it comes to, so that companies are prepared though. The fact is that even if the term is chaos engineering, there’s nothing chaotic about it. It’s very structured. It’s very organized. So talk about that.

Josh Leslie: We’re in a bit of a golden age here in terms of cloud infrastructure. We’ve all been following the news and seeing what companies like Microsoft Azure and Amazon web services have been reporting in terms of the growth of their business. Every company becoming a software company. Every company building applications and the downtime or the uptime of those applications has never been more important, and the consequence for downtime and challenges in those applications becoming really significant. The economic consequence of simply not being available, but also the consequence of your image, your brand, the customer experience you deliver. This stuff has never been more complex. It’s never been more important and, customers are, as they have been for many years, looking for help, looking for solutions from the smartest technology companies in the world who can make things more resilient, easier, more automated.

And I think automation is really, as these companies mature in how they think about applications and how they think about architecture and how they think about building they really want to have structure and automation and how they do everything. And this is where we really see the big opportunity for Gremlin long term is to be a pillar of that. And what we’ve done in the early days of the company is we’ve really established this idea of chaos engineering as an important technology. Really the only technology that is starting to really become prominent in the marketplace that gives customers a tool to be more reliable versus just the ability to observe or to see. And so the big opportunity is how do we build that into the standard way in which customers think about architecting and designing applications and infrastructure.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Thanks. Now, I want to hear your perspective also, which I am assuming will be more on the technical set as well, that what tool do you, CT engineer playing? And as he, Josh said in today’s work most of the companies…not most, almost every company is software company. You cannot survive without software. So you have to ensure that things are predictable. So please talk about the role of chaos engineering.

Kolton Andrus: Yeah, you nailed it. I think both comments are correct that the world where we exist today, especially the last two years, we’ve seen this increased focus on everything being online and being able to conduct our lives in an online fashion. That’s still relatively new for society. We love to be forward leaning and think of the world we live in the future, but it’s still early days, it’s still fairly rudimentary. And one of the ways we see that is the frequency in which things fail or have issues and impact customers. And so to me, I look at it a lot, like our bridges, our highways, our buildings that we have, our physical infrastructure, this is going to be critical to society to be able to operate in a smooth and efficient way moving forward.

And this shift from let’s innovate as fast as possible, let’s move fast and break things is of necessity switching into let’s build long lasting infrastructure that is going to be reliable that our customers can count on. And that’s the key when our businesses, when our finances, when our government, when our travel, when most everything we do has an online component, the ability for it to impact our day to, to day lives goes up drastically. And the companies that are going to win. We don’t have to go too much into the past, but the reason that Amazon and Netflix invested in this is it was a competitive advantage to help them innovate quickly, but deliver reliable quality software. And I think we’re going to see that even more so over the next 10 years, the early adopters and the folks that have come into this space have come in a very serious way that, they understand the importance of what they’re doing and the value of it. And they’re looking to play the long game. They’re looking to build long-term infrastructure that’s going to be reliable that customers you count on.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. I quickly want to get you a couple of things, but before I also want to understand the cultural aspect, the role that chaos engineering can play. As much as we like to say, “Hey cloud,” and all these new technologies, they are breaking new silos of all these, but we are kind of also creating new silos. We still have teams that work in their own silos with security teams, but I feel that sometimes chaos engineering also kind of brings the teams together. Or actually when things break, something is compromised and all the teams come together. Hey, what went wrong? How do we fix that? So talk about the cultural impact of chaos engineering as well.

Kolton Andrus: Yeah. Though, you may meet all of the teams who are adjacent to your software on an outage call. And if that’s the first time you’ve met those teams, that’s not ideal. You want to have met them when there isn’t a fire. When you can talk through things calmly and rationally, when you can build some of that relationship and some of that trust. And so that’s, that’s very much the case. There’s a beauty in the microservice architecture of allowing teams to operate on their own, to move quickly and independently, but you’re highlighting one of the, the costs and trade offs of that, which is that ability to understand what the rest of the system, the rest of the team is doing.I loved your comment on chaos earlier. It’s not about chaos, it’s about eliminating chaos.

And so when we have a planned event where we get several teams from the company together in a room or virtually, and we talk about what could go wrong, what we do is create a place to have a discussion and an opportunity to raise risks and concerns where we can address them and act upon them as opposed to bringing them up after the fact where it’s less effective, and the isn’t necessarily, saying what you knew, something was going to break ahead of time is a lot better than saying you knew it broke after it broke.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Once again. Excellent commentary there. Now I want to switch gears and talk about the company, the movement, these new, not shuffle exactly, but this movement, that is the thing at the top level. Talk about what was the reason that you are bringing in the CEO. And then of course, Josh, I like to hear from your perspective, what is your vision, but let’s start with this change of role. What’s driving this?

Kolton Andrus: Yeah, there’s a couple of factors at play. Number one is I’ve had the opportunity to have Josh’s advice and help as an advisor in the board member. I’ve gotten to know him, he’s built trust and respect with me. We’re very aligned in how we approach problems and what we think the right outcomes are. Second, we’ve crossed this milestone over the past year as a business where we’re really moving out of early startup stage and into a growth stage company. And bringing in somebody that has a lot of depth and experience in running and operating these infrastructure companies makes a lot of business sense to help us scale and be more effective and efficient. Myself, engineer by trade, bachelor’s and masters in computer science, spend a lot of time at tech companies. As I look at what can I do to best prepare the company for success over the next five, 10 years, it’s really doubling down on my role as a technologist, the public speaking, the advocacy, helping to build the right product, spending time with customers to help them implement it in a way that drives value and success for them.

And so, as we look at the confluence of the events, it felt like a very organic, natural timing and a great opportunity, both for me, for the company and I think for the chaos engineering market as a whole.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Thanks. Now Josh, I want to hear your thoughts on what brilliance do you bring? As you said, you have been working with the team for 18 months or more, even if you are kind of fresher at five days or six days or whatever it is, but let’s talk about your vision for the company.

Josh Leslie: Yeah, as Kolton said, I feel very fortunate that we’ve had a chance to evolve my participation in the company and my relationship with Kolton and I’ve had an opportunity over the last 18 months to learn about the market, to learn about the team, to see the company progress. And the company’s just made fabulous progress in the last one year, which has been a big reason for my being excited about the business. I’ve spent my whole professional life in the infrastructure software industry. Right? So whether it be at Cumulus doing open white box switching routing or at Vmware. I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to see this market evolve, to see the rise of the public clouds, to see the way customers have been responding to see this shift that COVID has accelerated from really every company being focused on building technology and Gremlin, I just feel has worked very hard to build this early marketplace and has this very unique position in the marketplace.

They really have taken this concept of chaos engineering and built a business around it built this following of early customers, very large, very successful companies that have made really significant investments in Gremlin. And as a consequence, the company has established this very early leadership position in the segment of the market that has an opportunity to be ubiquitous. If you think right now the company has 100 customers, 105 customers, but if you look at typical, classic infrastructure companies there are thousands, tens of thousands of people that are building infrastructure today in public cloud. There’s not one single organization, that’s building infrastructure that doesn’t need help, or that wouldn’t value the opportunity to have a more structured and more resilient, more reliable, more automated approach to how they do things. Over the time I spent with a cut, I’ve seen the company really emerge, really capture some really major customers. I’ve really seen this, this technology start to seep into mainstream acceptance. It’s just become very clear to me that there’s an opportunity to build a very, very large company here that is really a standard way of how people think about building infrastructure in the future.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Thank you, Kolton, I’ll come to you now, you said preparing the company for success. And I also want understand from your switching the rule, how much it will change your day to day activity. You touch upon some briefly. So as a CTO, what is your vision to prepare the company for success and what would be the definition of success for you or for Gremlin?

Kolton Andrus: Yeah. Great question. On one hand we’ve done a lot in building awareness of the practice and teaching people what we’ve learned along the way on the advocacy front, but there’s still a lot of work to be done there. People need to be able to understand it in an easily approachable way that, Hey, how can I listen to this, get a little information and then turn it into value in a relatively quick way. So I think that’s one area where I have done a fair amount of public speaking, but I’m excited to have more bandwidth to be able to invest in that and to, to spend time there. The second piece goes along very similar to the first. We have a great I don’t know what you want to call it, V1 V2 product. It covers a lot of the bases.

It does a lot of the things we needed, but it’s not a complete product. And the fact that there’s a lot of things we want to do, ambitious goals we have. And how do we make it easier to understand your current state of reliability? How do you understand the risks within your environment? One of the places people get stuck, believe it or not is just there’s 100 things that could go wrong. Where do I start my work? How do I prioritize that? So that’s an example of a place that the product can do a better job in helping people understand what could go wrong and prioritize that, so they can begin that work. Similarly, helping people understand the overall reliability posture of their system. Early days, it’s a lot of working with teams and the forward looking teams or organizations that care deeply about this.

But ultimately this is a company-wide problem. If everything is interconnected and everything depends on everything else, you have to make sure you’ve really verified that your bulkhead and the circuit breakers you’ve built, provide the protection that you expect, that the system can gracefully degrade in a way that isn’t just a catastrophic failure. And so that to me is people are hungry for a more holistic approach and view about the reliability of their systems. And the engineers are in need of a more prescriptive, guided approach to get started. And those are both two clear objectives that surprise we’re working on today. But my dedicated time and attention I feel will help those efforts yield a better product.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Let’s just talk about how everybody wants security, everybody wants reliability, but there is a difference between wanting versus actually doing it in practice. How much do you see these things are in practice, which also kind of will help us understand your advocacy, the time you’ll be spending with how much will that go towards actually spreading. If you remember early days of open source, we are telling people why you should use opensource. Now, everybody is using it, now we are telling you how to do it right? So where will most of the time be spent to spend more awareness, or do you think the awareness is already there, we have to just help them become more efficient. Also cloud is a complicated word. So you have to also make the easier for them.

Kolton Andrus: Yeah. That right there, one of our early product principles, if you want people to do the right thing, you need to make it easy. And when you’re solving a complex problem, like the reliability of a distributed system, it’s one of the hardest computer science problems we have. And so there’s a lot of work to make it easy. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how awareness is grown over the past two to three years. It’s rare now that I’m explaining what chaos engineering is. I’m jumping into some of the misnomers or the possible confusion points, but in general, folks are aware of the idea, the concept. Early days, the very early days, the number one question I got is why, why would you do this? This sounds like a bad idea and got very good at talking people through why it was a good idea, why it made our lives better, why it made our systems better not having that conversation as much. I would say the conversation today is dominated by where do I begin? What are the most important things that I should do first? How do I take it from my forward leaning team, that’s done a great job and bring it out to the broader tale within my organization.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. I think we understand your new roles. We talked about chaos engineering, we also touched upon where things are heading. I think I have most of the things covered. Is there anything else that you would like talk about, of course, Robert, you are also there. Is there something we missed or you think that we have a good discussion. Anything else, Josh, Kolton, that you want to go, or you think that we have to hit? I mean, we can always get you folks back on the show but if there is anything else.

Kolton Andrus: It’s better to ask, I think I’m good. But if there’s anything, think Josh wanted to add, I’m more than happy.

Josh Leslie: No. I think you have the broad strokes here. I think we’re just real excited about the team. It’s funny, you talked about the culture in engineering organizations and how chaos engineering brings people together. And when you started talking about culture, my first instinct was that you were asking us about culture inside the company, which to me is even more important, right? How do we build a great product, teach our customers how to build great products and services, what starts by having a great company and having a great culture inside our company. And that starts with collaboration and all those things I think are so connected, right? And for Kolton and I, him really coming from a strong product background, me coming from a stronger go to market by background to come together and try to build this company together, that’s really what we’re excited about and excited about share the results with all of our employees, with all of our stakeholders, with all of our customers in the future. So really great to meet you. Thank you for having us.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Josh, Kolton, thank you so much for taking time out today. And of course, talk about the company, how do you define and more importantly the role of chaos engineering. And as I said, I would love to have your folks back on the show. Thank you.

Kolton Andrus: Love it. Thank you very much. Appreciate the time.

Josh Leslie: Great. Thank you.

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