Kentik - Network Observability
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Network AF  |  Season 1 - Episode 7  |  December 7, 2021

From Julliard to Bare Metal with Zac Smith

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On this episode of Network AF, Avi talks with Zac Smith, Bare Metal Managing Director at Equinix. Zac is a graduate of Juilliard, has started multiple networking companies, and is an Operating Board Member of Pursuit. This nonprofit program teaches and mentors underrepresented communities, creating opportunities in the tech and networking space.

Today, Zac shares his journey from Juilliard to networking and how PC repair helped him financially while in school. He and Avi discuss open source in networking, sustainability, and how cloud vs. a traditional set up works. Zac's passion for mentorship shows in today's episode not only through his volunteer work at Pursuit but when he shares his philosophy on investing in people in the workplace. Tune in now!


Hi, and welcome to this edition of Network A. F. We have Zack Smith.

Zach is, has started multiple companies in networking, and we're gonna talk about how to get into networking, how we learn, open source in networking cloud versus traditional networks and, sustainability as well.

Hi, and welcome to network a f.

I'd like to welcome my friend and fellow networker, Zach Smith. Zach actually is responsible for helping me found Kintech indirectly in that he introduced me to one of my co founders, Justin Bighle, when Zach thought that I was still in hosting Cololo Cloud, and Justin was looking to stay in Justin, in, in hosting and cloud. And, introduced us. Justin discovered I was not doing that anymore and was like, what is this analytics stuff?

And What is this amazing network stuff where I don't have to take all the server calls? That's right. And I'm not in the middle of the path, you know, if if things die or and companies don't tell me to get all my servers and leave them know, move them from the building because Google has just bought it. So, well, thanks again, Zach.

And, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you're what you're up to, what you do now? Sure. Awesome. Hey, Avi.

It's so good. I'm I'm a kind of, like, a little flattered to be included in the network you know, guys thing with with you, but, because I wouldn't normally call myself that. But, a little bit about me. So, yeah, my name is Zach Smith.

I live in New York. I've been working working in and out of the kinda internet plumbing business for about twenty some years. I landed into it, like most people, totally on accident.

Had a, you know, kind of formal training as a classical musician, and then needed a job, like all, you know, well trained classical musicians. And, ended up getting into the web hosting business in two thousand one. After that, I had to learn around networks and build some things because, you know, wasn't so easy back then. You had to, like, hike up the data center stairs both ways, pills or whatever it was, cable your own cat five.

Yeah, we had to build I I didn't do that. I believe Cat five should be extruded from from the from the back of the machine. I don't know. Right.

I did a couple punch downs in in polished some fiber here and there, but not very well. Yeah, so I worked, you know, kind of learning the stuff and figuring it out along the way, building some networks and peering or at least around people who were doing so. And, kinda couldn't get out, spend the last, six years building a startup called Packett. Where we automated single tenant hardware, around the world.

And in March of two thousand twenty, business was acquired by Equinix. So now I work at Equinix, where I run, the Equinix metal business. And what we do is basically help our customers access the kind of global reach of Equinix. So two hundred and forty eight centers all across the world, with less friction.

Than what you do with colo. And so we're kinda building an automated colo product attached to our interconnection capabilities. So that's what I do these days. Awesome.

I'm a customer of Equinix, those are most of my customers. And Thank you very much. One environment lives in packet. So thank you very much.

So, how did you get started? You know, you talk about that? What was the transition from music to, music to networking, which I know other people who have done also. But You know, we have this kind of, we do a an all hands every Monday, and it's increasingly number of people, and we started to put on during the pandemic.

Tiny fortress concerts. So, you know, the Equinix thing is like a fortress. Right? So instead of the tiny desk concerts, we do tiny fortress concerts.

And, like, every week or every other week, we highlight a musician in our ranks because it turns out there's tons of musicians well. Who work in, you know, networks and whatever. I I kind of have this thesis that most people in the plumbing of the internet either were, like, the stagehands and musical theater in high school or like My brother? Yeah.

Or were were in the band. Was, yeah, that crew. That crew. One or the other.

But, so, yeah, my my story was, not that glamorous when I was working here in New York City. To pay my way through college, I spent a bunch of time basically doing PC repair, in this avenue apartments for for for ritual ladies. And so I figured out that I could make more money, getting, people connected to the internet with AOL discs. And figuring out why their printers didn't work than, working at the box office at Juliet handing out tickets for minimum wage. So, that was kinda my intro into computers. I'd always liked computers, some of my friends when I was younger were really into gaming. So I was the guy who, like, lugged around the the PC, you know, and and they were the ones who did all the gaming.

But it it's cool. So I have been, like, comfortable with you know, technology in in a little bit of way, but never really thought about it as a career. I was studying for music. So after Juliet, I needed a job, and I ended up working a night shift at a bank doing PowerPoint.

I was at six PM to four AM working on PowerPoint back for for bankers who who actually never showed up to work. They were out with customers. And I was sitting there. You couldn't leave.

Because they might come back, and they needed to have you, like, update all the prices and the pitch deck before the next morning or whatever. And so I had a ton of time and access to the internet. And so I started thinking this was just before September eleventh, and they were paying kind of ungodly amount of money for us sit there and do nothing. And I was like, this is not gonna last.

So I had to figure out a real job or some some sort of thing Yeah. Something. I was like, I can get ahead of this.

And so I said I'll start a business because nobody would hire a Juliet grad into, like, a real career. And so I, I, I called a friend of mine. His name is John Laroux, and he was a family friend. The only person I knew who had ever kinda started a business or whatnot, and my parents were both in kind of, you know, trade businesses or or whatnot.

And, he had started to see, like, called PAC West Telecom back in the in the mid nineties. Yeah. And providing, like, dial a pack call and things like that. And I said, hey, John.

I'm thinking of getting into business. Should I start a phone company? And he's like, absolutely not. Do not start a phone company.

But he said do start something, with recurring revenue. Because if you you know, charge people, sell them once, and then you don't mess up. Just treat them well. They'll usually pay you every month. And that's a good business model. And so I basically decided I was gonna sell web hosting to musicians.

Twenty dollar home pages, put them on the internet. Everybody needed a business card on the internet at the time. And, and so I went to web hosting Talk dot com and posted at two AM in the morning on somebody who could sell me a lunix server.

A lunix? A lunix server because I didn't know I had heard the word, but I didn't know how to spell That's great. I need a lunix distribution. I needed a lunix Linux distribution. And, And lo and behold, Raj dot messaged me back, from this hosting company up in Troy, New York called Xul and said, you know, sold me a server, basically, because I had, you know, some time and money, and he had servers. And knew knew a thing or two about Linux, it turns out.

And so that's kinda what got me in. And a couple I remember. It was a couple months later. I had sold it turns out I was pretty good at selling.

So you know, I had sold a a couple hundred twenty dollar a month web hosting accounts to musicians. I was I was kind of like the hookup for, you know, you know, cheap websites on the internet, for musicians in New York. And so I I I put on a suit and I drove up to Troy New York. To go meet, you know.

To see Raj. Okay. To see Raj. I was gonna go and, like, see what this big company was about and see if I could, you know, really do some business and whatever, and I show up there.

That's just it's Raj and Matt and a couple of his roommates. Raj was late, you know, by a while.

And they were just, you know, college kids who were kind of either at RPI or a dropout of RPI. I couldn't really tell.

And, so we decided to go into business together. It took a while, but, I became partners and, I did a lot of the operations and success selling. Side, and Raj is, you know, running all the product and making all the good stuff. And and we created, a pretty cool cloud company, TDN, And, that's where we really got into networks because, you know, turns out at the time, IP transit was expensive.

And and the question was always like, wait, I need to put a lot of servers at twenty five Broadway telehouse, but they don't have a lot of power.

So where am I gonna put the servers that can be near the network?

And it turns out That was really expensive. So I needed to put the servers. We needed to put the servers someplace different from the network. And we had to start getting into some VWDM and, you know, building a little Metro ring and figuring out how we could backhaul to the right places. So That's how that's how the deep dark hole began.

That's awesome. You you make me remember when I used to go to computer shows and buy computer parts and put them together for people. And I remember a moment of crystal clarity when I told the first customer, because, of course, then they all wanted help with their discus full and they can't use AOL or whatever.

Because you're at a computer, a micro center and buy a compact with a three year warranty. It'll be cheaper, and you'll be happier. And, like, no. No.

No. We need to buy it from you. I remember when they bought my ISP and and and the company that bought the company, they bought the company, finally down the Shell accounts, people, like, you need to do a shell business. I'm like, go get a VPS.

It'd be much happier. And, it'd be so much easier.

Yes. Like you, I discovered the joy of recurring revenue. This is the first SAS Kentic, but, you know, recurring revenue, as you said, if you do a good job. Don't view customers as a nuisance. Right.

You know, I sort of laugh at this whole network as a service thing now, which I'm sure you do have a product for. Right.

Was it it wasn't it always a service? Exactly. But it's it's the modern approach of, hey, I have a service that means I invest in the customer you know, and things go well. Well, maybe it kinda born from the whole, like, when you had to be my customer because I was the only network Right.

That it wasn't really a service. It was just like hole. You know? Right. Yeah. Well, yes.

I mean, in monopoly subsidies and all that. So, and it's funny because I had Elliot Nasthon who's at two cows, and I remember almost ten years ago, he's like, oh, do you wanna help me do, like, fiber ISP? I'm like, ISP. Who wants to do that anymore?

And he's like, no, no, no, it's it's it's and, you know, it is a Mitzvah. Like, it it really is, you know, to Back. To help. But, yeah, no.

I mean, it is a thing, and I it's funny because I I was at Akama. I remember hearing about Vauxhall and like, you wound up getting, a number of really good people. I remember when TCAP was involved with you, I'm like, what? They're building a CDN.

Who built the CDN?

And, storage. You know, we were talking about object storage and all this stuff, you know, ProtoCloud.

And, And, of course, the testament is you look at what's come out of that.

So grafana, you know, Raj, as you mentioned, NSOne, you know, packet, we're I I I I consider myself an honorary voxel obvious adjusted as well. Oh, obviously. That's so cool. So, Was that was that a challenge doing so many different things, you know, in a company?

How big was how many people was Vauxhall, you know, if you can share, you know, some I think at our I think at our peak when we sold the Internet in two thousand eleven, I think we're, like, ninety people or something. And, yeah, we we had a lot of products. It was kinda interesting because, I've been thinking about this, recently because one of the things that Raj and I as as, founders or as partners were very different. I always considered us to be like oil and water, and I I thought that was a negative.

Actually, it was a super positive looking back at arrears, like, with more space and time between you and more maturity because we were, like, twenty something year old punks at the time. Right?

Is, you know, we had very different strengths. And one of the things that I was always focused on, I was kind of I'm the kinda kid who wore my socks to bed, just so I could get up and put my shoes on. I didn't want to be late for school. Right?

That that's a little bit different with Raj or is maybe focused on, like, the ideas in the creative. He frankly was a very, very creative individual, and I was very, like, well, what how are we gonna solve this problem? Where's the process for that? And, like, you know, whatever?

And so, I was always really focused on the now in our business. And how could we make money with this? How could we make sure to just stick to this thing? And Raj was always forward thinking, you know, and he, frankly, when in arrears, when I look back, he was already thinking well into, you know, how a cloud was gonna work.

You know, in two thousand three and four when we started hacking with Zen when we had no business hacking on Zen, you know, in higher And I remember That was, like, like, object storage. I'm like, why isn't ISP thinking about object storage? That's all I love talking about object storage, but Totally. We were investing in swift and and committing on that way too early for our own good.

Like, we didn't have resources for that. But, you know, I think Raj really saw where this would go, but we just had bigger eyes than our stomach would allow. Frankly. And that that pushed us, but it also attracted a lot of really great people to the mission of, kind of, utility scale computing and, you know, highly programmatic access to infrastructure primitives, you know, we were kinda pushing that thought process.

I mean, execution was, I think, you know, great due to some individuals, but you know, from a business perspective, I think we maybe didn't capitalize on all of that. But we certainly pushed the limit on where we were thinking and and I also would say that we just, you know, didn't have a lot. How do I until until maybe two thousand seven or eight, we didn't have too much to lose. Also, it was kind of like, yeah, keep re keep re inventing yourself and see what sticks.

And it was a pretty exciting time of early cloud computing. Right? Because I think how many hosting companies were around and how many It was very fragmented. There was just so much going on.

Is obviously consolidated to a large degree, I think, at this point, in the Internet infrastructure space, but individual regional data centers and peering exchanges were popping up. And, like, it was still a little wild west. So you could afford to go out there and further football and see what happened. Yeah.

And I was through probably some some part of my own. I was communicating too technically and not enough at the business level. I was at Akamai, and, you know, for about eight years tried to get us to build something, which is now a thing, native edge computing. Right.

Because we had a Java based edge computing, but, you know, it would have been a different margin profile, a different capital profile in the earlier days. You know, things Different customer profile in a lot of ways. Too. Right?

Just develop our customer. But a lot of our customers ran their origin. So it's like there's some people, right, what to do abstract. If you look at what Akama did with early provisioning system, commit rollback, you know, of systems, auditing, logging, message command.

It looks like a lot of those systems, you know, if you have a planetary scale computer. Yeah. Big distributed system. Yes.

But, could not, could not get that going. So was fun to see that kind of, that kind of innovation.

So, you know, the internet community is a little different maybe than some. There can be some hostility, but there's also, you know, coopetition.

What was it what was it like when you, you know, sort of got in? Did you have mentors, you know, I I don't know whether it was from the investment banking day or days or, you know, in in in the company outside the company, you know, what was it? How did it begin? And Well, we had a really interesting setup.

First and foremost, there was a big culture of open source, at Vauxhall, which was how to contribute and put within the community. We were a big committed to Debbie in, pushing out as many things that we could into into the open, and our first one of the projects that we struggled with, was an open source billing platform called CBMS, which then became a proprietary SaaS platform called Uber Smith. And, the reason why is because, you know, we, we couldn't afford to continue to invest the monetization angles of SAS hadn't really occurred yet. Like, You know, so we were kinda struggling with how to build this, but it was very community driven.

So so for years, I mean, for the entire time that, we ran Fox that we all had this subsidiary called Uber Smith, which armed and provided provided billing platforms and device automation to basically all of our competitors And so, we were, you know, running the the back end of, you know, hundreds of different hosting and cloud companies as well as building our own, And, it was kind of an interesting line to, to, straddle, right, for us. But what I always found in the hosting community and in cloud in general networking, I think, more broadly, is, like, it is a community Right? And that's, like, what I actually align between the early, you know, open source as a thing.

Right? And you can see it in other things network for sure. Like, you know, Nanon people get together. The internet only works if people are figuring it out together.

Right? And it's like the you gotta there's trust there and you gotta build those relationships. And, I mean, one of my first things in networking was establishing, you know, settlement free peering, and and to realize that that was actually built on trust with people. Like, are we going to, you know, basically, like, send traffic to each other's networks?

Is that how that's gonna work? And maintain capacity together, and that's gonna be good for both of us. And so doing things like that, I think you can see it in maybe not as much in cloud, which is more of a I'm gonna call it a a verticalized proprietary. You know, approach to to infrastructure.

And part of the one of the reasons why I started packet was to help, you know, kind of try and normalize that field a little bit. But I see it also weirdly enough in in, the one that reminds me of their my early days in networking and and and hosting is actually, blockchain.

That is also really this kind of decentralized distributed community treating thing where it's kind of rising tide reaches all those, make the tent bigger versus you know, capitalize on the thing just for yourself. And, I see a I found a lot of community and partnership, throughout that. And It wasn't always shared, with other maybe hosting companies and whatnot in the earlier days, but I found through open source alignment and then through networking.

That those were very, very inclusive communities. It always wanted to help talk about it. They're passionate. They had, you know, robust communities and knew that they needed to figure out how to work. Otherwise, the whole thing didn't work.

And I think that's been one of the superpowers of of, you know, infrastructure businesses have been that community driven approach. And I'm hopeful that in things like SaaS applications and you know, cloud that that can that can also be a thing, you know, and, but, like, for me, it was always great because I never you had to to get over. And this is something maybe I learned at Juliet, I'd have been like, you have to be okay being the stupidest person in the room. Like, I went to Juliet, and I was like, They're two out of a hundred people who auditioned for the for the double bass thing got in.

So I was like, not bad, but I was absolutely the worst at the school. Let's be clear. Like, they were, like, purchases, and I was kind of, you know, making it along. So you have to be willing to be humble and eat that.

And and when I first got in to, networks and hosting. I don't know anything. But as long as you're willing to ask more questions, I've found that people are really interested to share and help. Which is pretty cool.

I I love saying I don't know yet, you know, and then one of the things I try to advise people to do not just earlier in career or younger is when something was confusing, it can be often you don't want to admit that it was confusing because it's like, oh, well, everyone understands. But it probably means that it should have been explained better. When I got into networking, it was all this still mumbly joke about the, you know, the NLRI Right. Special command that that you had to know.

And or I was talking with someone who works at VMware, and it's like, I had I told him I had to stop reading the yellow bricks blog because, like, I know what the things are, but it's like a stretched vsan blah blah blah, and I'm just like, I don't know. It's but, you know, the open source is is sort of the antithesis in some ways of the vendor ecosystem of everything is you have to fall into the certification whole and and do that. I guess question for you is, is that doing well by doing good? Have you seen a positive I on that at Voxel and and then at packet because I saw you were very aggressive at packet, you know, giving giving resources to open source and recently open sourcing, not re that recently.

COVID creates this, like, air gap I remember in person. Yeah. It's when you did the announcement.

A a reinvent of the of open sourcing, you know, your your your provisioner. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

I mean, I it served me well. I I think that overall the concept of creating bigger ecosystems and more opportunity, generally, like I said, a bigger tent has has proven to be pretty good. Right? And I think especially in technology where it's all about opportunity.

There's more things around the corner. We just need to encourage those to happen.

And so being a part of widening the tent or broadening that has always been a good strategy for me. It's also part of you know, broader mission. Right? If if if your if your goal and your job is to, like, I want to be the number one this that provides all the things for that.

Okay. I mean, that's a that's a goal. Right? There's also a broader goal at least, you know, I've attached myself to is you know, like, we want to enable this for the world.

And however that happens, hopefully, we're gonna play a part in it.

And but we still wanna enable this for the world. And so, like, when we start a packet, the idea was that software was becoming more portable becoming more distributed and more I'm gonna call it open. Right? And yet infrastructure was actually becoming more closed.

It was harder. To use and less accessible. And I thought back in my early days as a career in how we started Vauxhall, like, you we went to Alex Rubin at NAC Yeah. And he gave you know, us, a half rack and a and a borrowed switch and showed us how to be on the internet and helped out.

That would not be very possible.

Today. Like, for somebody to just walk in and get a half rack of colo from somebody who helped them get going on the internet. And, and so in a weird dichotomy, you had this instant easy consumption based access to infrastructure and backbones and thingamajiggers, but you couldn't actually innovate on it at your own pace because you weren't allowed to go play around on a global backbone. You could just use it.

And, You could just you know, connect and break things, but now people don't like it if you break the other way. It turns out. There's, like, real things going on on it. I'm sure we'll get to that later.

But so so one of the reason why we had started pocket was this idea that we wanted to enable, you know, easier and better access to technology infrastructure that could be paired with software so that magical things could happen for the world. Sustainability could be achieved through, you know, better use of our resources, innovation could happen that, you know, was maybe inaccessible in in one or the other on on its own.

And I struggled for many years. We tried, then we wrote a blog post back in two thousand fifteen about how we I was like, we're gonna open stack is is is is ready. We're gonna do it. We're gonna get in there with money and resources. We're gonna paramedal provisioning in in openstack, and it turned out no. We weren't.

So In openstack, I have too many choices. Like, right away.

Sometimes you need a little bit of in the middle, like, here's the things here's the way to do it, not, like, five choices for everything. And so, you know, we just we had thought, like, Open was the way. And it was. It was just the wrong place to do it at the time.

And so we ended up creating kind of a proprietary set for automating physical hardware, how to make physical hardware accessible to developers. That was our mission. Right? And, so we ended up creating this, and then we we really wanted to open source it early on in two thousand fifteen, actually.

But we struggled with, well, how do we do that when the community is so niche? I wonder how many people who cared about it. And how could we, like, the worst open source projects are the ones that die alone on the internet, you know? Like, and so how could we do this when when we couldn't find the community.

And so it took us a while to build a community that we knew care deeply about fundamental infrastructure just like we did. And then eventually, we're able to find the resources and support bringing that out. And now it's pretty exciting to see what's at. It's part of the CNCF.

We think fundamental infrastructure paired with portable software is an incredible boon to, you know, not only our business, but tons of others.

And I think we're firmly on the broader bigger tent is going to equal, you know, more awesome things at this point. So if if the open source isn't the core what we've seen or I'd say struggled with is it actually takes more resources to be Oh, yeah. Have that community involvement because, of course, then you get everyone's opinion when we started with it. People are like, oh my god.

You have an awesome column store database. And it's much more efficient elastic. Can we use it? Like, well but then Okay.

Ironically, you have this, the snowflake problem, not that snowflake, but you have the everyone wants to be problem. It's hard managing and building, like, democracies. It's it's a lot of work. It's not always clean.

Right? And so the benevolent dictator, you know, side of thing, you know, might work better. And and that's kind of where we we ended up, which was until we had the resources and a, you know, eight person developer relations team and dedicated engineers whose whole job was to support the community.

We couldn't we couldn't do it and show up with the right integrity, frankly.

Okay. No. That makes sense.

So Is there something that, as you say, looking back, that you think has you've done you and your partners have done.

I'm also old. So sometimes, I say partner instead of co founder.

Have done that has enabled people to be. You're a tech startup forever. It's all good, buddy. I will always be starting to have the ideas.

We need to Again, it's focus. Right? You need to do this. You have focus because there's so many things to do.


Is there something that you've done or or a set of things that has, enabled so many of the people that have sort of worked at Vauxhall, you know, and even a packet to, you know, be the next generation, you know, to start because it it's it's I I sort of think that, one way to judge how you're doing in your career is the people that you've worked with, how are they doing? You know, what are you enabling? It's a nice reflection.

I I I don't know if I have all the answers, but I I like I mean, first off, I love you know, not only creating product. I love creating outcomes for people, and it gets really exciting. And one of the true joys I've had in my career is being able to do that.

I believe that in infrastructure, digital infrastructure, cloud and networks, it's one of those areas that is still kind of apprenticeship driven.

You know? You don't go to, like, get the know, master's degree in cloud computing and then start a cloud computing business. You kind of, like, show up and work next to the person who's running the network, and then you start figuring out how to run the global backbone. And then, you know, like, that's kinda how it goes.

And that to me, that's why I called it internet plumbers, you know, early on because I actually believe that it's a trade that is super lucrative and necessary and exciting and whatnot. So if you have desire and interest and passion, There's plenty of ways to catch up. I always saw new people coming into the industry. Don't worry.

It's all changing in the next one or two years anyways. So you're not that out of date. Right? So it's all good.

And, I think being really open to now we call it at at Equinix new to career, But not treating you to career as, you know, well, this is your first job, but you should know the things more of, like, let's get you on the journey. And it's our mandate, my mandate, my my accountability, and responsibility to mentor you, to apprentice you into this business. Right? And that will be a good thing for us, bake has number one. Probably will be a great employee, a loyal, and learn. And if you're passionate about it, there's all kinds of great stuff that we all need figured out.

And number two, like that will create a career path for somebody. And so I think that At Vauxhall Raj had a special quality of really identifying people who were driven to a mission. Right? And helping you know, take in anybody who frankly had that desire from a mission and find the right work for them to do.

Some of the reasons why we created whole products were because Wow. This person really is great and wants to work on, you know, is passionate about what we're doing, but we don't have a position. Oh, let's create something for, you know, he or she. And, And the other was just providing that kind of training ground and being really open to role migration or accountability.

Like, oh, you've only been here six months, but you're doing a great job. You now hear the boss. Great. Let's do it.

Like, that was an, like, you can do it. Like, you're only You're just getting started. It's all good. And I think that having that and then supporting people has just allowed that to occur.

And luckily, we're in an industry that has been growing. Right? A lot over the past, if you could if you like, it's in good ways to grow. That one happens in the greater market.

Yeah. Yeah. And so not only was it, like, you know, use the phrase doing well by doing good. Like, I was selfishly, like, what were we gonna do?

Go compete for the talent that didn't exist or help grow new talent. Like, create new awesome leaders and people. So I think that's just been a it's been a a mission that I've always had, both selfishly but further community because it helped me just came into this. This industry is a bass player.

Didn't know anything about lunix.

And yet, it's done really well for me because other people said Hey, yeah. Like, that's okay. He said, Raj, let me show you how to do this. And, you know, Adam Rosschild, we always answer my questions.

And then Alex would give us a colo rack and say, it's cool. Let me show you. Right? And those things people gave and opened doors from a technical standpoint, then from a business standpoint, Just have a lot of great breaks along the way.

Frankly, I always consider startups to be messy and you can't you can't you know, figure out timing sometimes. It just, like, the the world of lines, but you can increase their agnipity.

And So, you know, create put a position to take maximum advantage of getting lucky, but you do need to get lucky sometimes. You absolutely need to get And and then so sometimes the people you just meet along the way, as long as you're rep receptive, you know, can really just change, your trajectory. And for me, I've had several of those from, you know, Raul Marteneck came into Bauxhall in two thousand nine. And we were out of money.

We were growing so fast that we couldn't afford to buy anything. And nobody was giving any debt at the time. Yeah. And we were just, like, we had this super weird position of, like, oh my god.

We're growing really fast, but we can't grow because we have no money. Because we were bootstrapped and had had no capital base. And Raul is just such a great partner. He helped us raise the capital.

He helped institute, like, a lot of the things I live by today and running businesses that were not like, I was always over complicating it. And he's like, listen. It's not that complicated. You have the right people in the right seat doing the right job.

And they're probably gonna do amazing things for you. So focus on that. And, hey, Zach. Like, stop worrying too much about things you can't control and start figuring out what you're gonna do about that today.

And so he gave me some really just incredible personal coaching that showed me how management and leadership you know, could, and humility along the way, could really create better outcomes. So, you know, that's been a pretty, pretty awesome ride as to meet some of those people along the way. So we talked about a a a few things that are related.

Getting them young or at least early, it could be someone who's fifty, but in new into the industry.

Mhmm. But especially getting people early in the career is a much more diverse pool of candidates than if you say people that are, you know, later in careers. So if you're trying to build, you know. Yeah. Especially in our industry. Yeah. Yeah.

I mean, or the peering world is more diverse, you know, than, say, the core internet engineering world.

At Packett Fabric, Anna talks about trying to sell to computer science people that as you said it, internet is a distributed system. You know, wouldn't you like to see if you're a math person or if you're a computer science Like, wouldn't you like to study the biggest, you know, distributed system that's the most critical?

And, you know, at at my net access, Alex had the other net, net access, NACnet, my net access that was we looked for the bright shiny eyes, But it's actually a positive thing to say, hey, I don't know, you know, where can you show me or I'm interested in systems or web hosting? Or hurricane or Oh my god. If somebody it shows up and they raised their hand saying, I am super interested. Don't know anything about this, but I really wanna learn.

You're like, Awesome. I almost feel like we need to sometimes, we need to, maybe anti train people that in college, you know, it's sort of like, oh, I'm gonna get a JOB, and they're gonna tell me what to do. And, you know, that isn't necessarily encouraged. So I sort of feel sometimes when we get people that come through, I'll say, the system.

I'm I have all the two classes of an undergraduate degree. So I went through the system. I have one semester grad school actually on Stony Brook, which Gail did not live, like, living out there. But, but my ISP, like you had already started, and it was clear he's either gonna make money or make me very bankrupt, because I could buy an infinite number of modems.

But I didn't have the capital for it.

So, you know, what's what's the trade off between or I guess let me let me let me go back. Mentorship.

Yes. You know, the ways in which this is similar to, you know, being an artisan in in the twelve hundreds, That that's good, but is that is that trickier with COVID? Does it sort of deny access and make it hard? Like, I think sometimes one of the challenges, how do we help formalize some of it in a world where, you know, we don't get to pattern by hanging out with each other, you know, as much as we did. Is that is that you say net positive or are there are there things that you you think about that we could improve with that?

You know, mass or sorry. You know, the the the the the, tradesperson and apprentice model. Yeah.

I think it's a net positive. I think that the concept of, like, oh, we'll hang out at the water cooler was already pretty pretty selective. Right?

And so, yeah, I mean, if you had a badge to work in one eleven eight and then you were already there, then we could hang out with the water cooler.

So I think that, you know, flattening in terms of remote has been awesome.

And I I spent a bunch of my time. I'm the chair of an operating board of a nonprofit called Pursuit, which is based in Queens, New York and helps bring under representative communities into the technology ecosystem. And we mainly focus on full stack developers and whatnot, And what's been fascinating about that journey is our average person who applies for our program is making eighteen thousand dollars a year usually supporting two to two to three generations. Right?

And, and our you know, after a one year program that we put through on nights and weekends and all the other times where they can actually participate, including getting internet access and providing computing resources and finding, you know, quiet places to work you know, and do do your studying, average, income average across the cohorts is eighty eight thousand dollars. Year, which is a pretty incredible because it doesn't change that person's life. It changes everybody around them. Right.

Yeah. And creates tons of possibilities for, like, oh, I didn't know. Well, She did that. I guess I could do that.

And that starts to happen and occur and we've graduated several thousand people into tech jobs at this point, doing this. What I love about that is the now, we've we always had a barrier, frankly, with Pursuit. And I've seen it as I've entered into a larger company and never had a net packet where we had a remote first. We don't care if you have a degree, like, you know, felony background check on, you know, misdemeanor drug thing, not an issue for us.

Like, you know, we had very, what I'm gonna call progressive hiring Will we also had to because we were looking everywhere in the world for talent with, you know, certain set of budget that we could afford and certain kind of things, whatever. And so you are always, like, willing to reinvest in, like, a global way, you know, with lots of, you know, kind of, I'm gonna call it the more thin rules, obviously, basic background checks and things like that, but, like, whatever. And and what I found at larger companies is there are systemic things put into the hiring processes that really go against this.

Right? And so, you know, we've worked to change that here at Equinix, whether it is, like, where you're home out of, like, you had to be out of certain offices.

Whether it was minimum degree requirements or skill sets that naturally went against new to career or anybody with a non traditional path. In terms of, you know, education or, yeah, whatever. Like, must have at least, you know, for an entry level job, must have at least six years of experience in the career. I'm like, what?

Well, how's that gonna work? You know, like and so figuring out how to change some of those things and then build, right, by the way, They aren't incredibly successful talent acquisition strategies long term because you're competing, you know, with a very, very aggressive technology landscape these days, as you know, right, for talent. And so you end up fighting over the same things. And so What I've tried to do is help, and I think it is an opportunity.

I call it being long term greedy, which is, like, is it easier to hire the person that already knows how to do the things?

I guess so. Maybe. If you can find the person, if the budget works, if they stick, if the culture fit, all these other things. Right?

Yes. It might take a little longer to invest and mentor somebody. Maybe it would cost you more resources. But, actually, long term, greed, like, do like, average it out in, like, a startup is where I focused, because, we'll averaging out over a few years, I actually think that the invest in people and grow them strategy is actually that has a better ROI in almost all cases, from what I've seen, at least in my career.

And one of the areas that I worked in packet was venture backed. I know we some some more investors and whatnot was getting buy in from my investors who immediately turned to, like, okay, when do you turn on the hiring and the recruiting? Because we need to go fast because you just got your series B. I'm like, well, you know what I really wanna do is, like, I wanna go and invest in a mentorship program and go longer and bring new people because that's gonna be a talent strategy for me.

Over the next twenty four to thirty six months. They're like, that's way too long. You need to go get people now. Right?

They're like, well, and so trying to get to buy in from venture capital I think is also really important and get, like, the social accountability side for VCs to say, hey, when we do your series B, we are going to make sure that we support and fund a mentorship program, like an apprenticeship program, because we know that that's a hiring strategy that will be sustainable in our, you know, inclusivity goals, as well as You should You know, getting talent. A log about that. P I think people understand in the VC world the, compounding nature of SAS as the great Limcony writes about, right, the the investments we make, you know, and the virality of it.

But often, I mean, I've seen not my investors. I have great investors, but investors where I've said, hey, I heard I see this company shutting down, we can help place those people. No. Like, not my problem.

Go talk to the whatever interim CIO CEO I hired to, you know, do the do the company. I'm on to the next thing. Right? But, you know, really it helps the ecosystem, the venture ecosystem, and, you know, even, you know, other companies in tech.

I would say that, obviously, like, you you probably see it, but I think one of the biggest risks to our industry in general is the lack of talent. Like, we need more talent. We need more diverse talent. We need a broader base of ideas of talent.

Like, that is all good for our industry. So I think supporting that in Yeah. Venture companies, in fortune five hundred companies like what I work for. And I'm really proud that Equinix has strong inclusivity message in DI.

They've been extremely receptive and changed tons of things related to our hiring. Actually, the the pandemic and the remote work you know, situation has actually forced a lot of those things is everybody's rethinking their talent strategies right now because of global, you know We started investors were, like, pre pre COVID, we were two fifths local in the Bay Area and three fifths remote. And people, like, is that a conscious decision.

It's like, no. We as you said, we just need to hire people and the third grade people will hire them wherever, but I I do struggle with I think the industry struggles with this, but how do we do that?

I'm told I can't say osmotic learning because those are two big words, but the the the apprenticeship model, formalize it, and and and, you know I have some I have some inspiration there. And for me, I think you have to commit to the model. But by the way, like, I work at a company now that has thirteen thousand people all across the globe. The concept of, like, being in the same place at the same time is not an option.

Right? Yeah. And so, like, as a knowledge company, we have to find ways to be inclusive. For example, Zoom meetings are pretty cool.

Not very inclusive when you have people all aware of on the world and asking people to get up at four am in the morning to join your all hands. Like, okay. Well, I guess we should really think about how we make communication, you know, knowledge sharing participation to be inclusive regardless of time zone, right, or language barriers or whatnot. I'm inspired, frankly, by open source.

Right? My early days look participating in Linux had three kind of communication modalities.

One, message boards, threaded contextual conversations that were asynchronous. Use that. Right?

Asynchronous communication that have deep context that you can still go and Google and find the thought process behind very complex technical decisions in the Linux kernel because it's, like, it's there. And so that that might be useful for right now, but somebody coming in who wants to add to that, didn't need to be there at the time. They can still get the context, which is so powerful. The second thing is then real time collaboration.

Right? IRC, Slack, you know, team, zoom, whatever. It's real time. We can we can meet.

You know, wherever we are, we can have a communication time zone, obviously, being the challenge, but we could do that. And the third thing, which I think was what we really gotta get back to, ASAP, were, you know, hallway track conferences, get together break bread, build emotional connections with people, Right? And I think, like, if we can mix those three things, not realize that it's just one, it is, you know, you know, asynchronous, but deep amount of knowledge. Synchronous, but, like, relatively hard for context, you know, or or large amounts of volume sharing.

And third is human connection.

Like, I think that's a strategy that could work across apprenticeship models too. You just have to be folk. You can't be like, oh, if it was easy and they were sitting next to me, Like, well, it's not. So, you know, we have to design around those things.

And a lot of that will have to do. I noticed things like onboarding you know, new to career people is is hard. Oh, yeah. Takes a lot of work.

And I think back to I used to Is it like GE or somebody who would, like, do, like, the rotations?

Like, you would spend the first six months rotating throughout every part of the business. Yeah.

I started doing that. And working pretty well at at at Equinix. We're starting to rotate people into the data center and then rotate them into sales and rotate them into success. And Yeah.

It takes a little while for us to get through the rotation, like, three months. But, man, they come out with a lot of contextual knowledge and a ton of relationships. And, yeah, it's the relationships. You know, at Akamai, under a month, maybe as a month, I don't know, after I started, we started network architecture inside engineering.

And then in a month, it was like, okay. It's now a whole separate group were unifying the business strategy and the technology.

In that month, now it was, you know, bubble one point o, we added four hundred people in that month, relationships that were built by having, you know, had that insight engineering and, you know, help all the way to this day, where My brother still has that job, you know, running running the network group. And, yeah. So rotating through to meet those different people, which might take you one or two years if you were just sitting in your siloed thing and reaching out and trying to create those connections, if it was a forced rotation. So I think there are strategies.

Let's put it that way. What would be super cool if if and I think that this is an opportunity for companies to work together, maybe in the networking space, maybe in cloud infrastructure, like, There can be blueprints. You don't have to invent all this stuff. There can be, like, please fork my repo on how to do an onboarding process that is inclusive.

You know, like, we that would be cool. When when when we have spare time, come on. I'll give it to the other league. I'll give it to first round.

First round capital runs a quora like network for, you know, they call the network, and they're trying to help with stuff like that. Oh, sweet. I still I'll see if I can get you an honorary invite. They made the mistake of running contests on who can answer questions, the most questions.

So, I like to win those. But I read core that somebody had answered, like, two hundred and fifty thousand questions on SQL all by himself.

And that's, like, the Guinness Book of World Records for, like, most questions or it keeps inviting me to, like, earn five hundred dollars a month by being an expert, but I've been I've been off of it. And, but, you know, I I still have people our salespeople go into companies. They're like, oh, yes. I remember reading the BGP thing.

That Avi wrote the nineties and like, okay. Well, we got the meeting.

You know, there's there is a long tail to open first and helping people and and, you know, having people that have been in the ecosystem go, but I still yeah. I still think that we have to think about some of that some of that apprenticeship as you were saying documenting, you know, across the industry. And I know Natalie's thinking about it, you know, and it's stuff. But for someone that wants to break in, you know, at open source, you go, you know, people can look at GitHub and, you know, you experience working in teams that you'd, frankly, just having a college degree, doesn't usually, even didn't really used to, but, you know, it doesn't necessarily.

What what can people stand out? You know, if they're interested in, you know, and showing that they're that they have the bright shiny eyes, you know, and they're interested. What what makes someone interesting as Yeah. Well, I mean, obviously, Gethub is just a great place because it's super transparent.

Right? I always you know, when I interview people, much I don't do very often these days, but when I get an interview of people and they say, I'm super passionate about this. I just look them up on GitHub. I'm like, really?

Are you?

You know? Right. Let's just go look. Oh, do you even, you know, help with documentation?

Right? Exactly. There's tons of areas to participate, and you don't have to have any technical knowledge. And if you're passionate about things and you show up with the green thumb.

And, like, I literally know nothing about this.

I know nothing about Go BGB, saying it says networking noob. Right? But I would like to help clean up the issues list, or I would like to help run the contributors meeting every Thursday, or I would like to take care of the you know, calling of something. Please teach me.

Like, people will be like, oh my god. Yes. We could use your help. Right? And, I think that some of those ways are you have to learn different skills in this remote world now because before maybe you could go to meetups, which are a little harder to go to, or you could go to the you know, conferences and hang out on the floor and get the stickers and start to talk with people and ask questions.


You it's just a few different strategies now. But I think that those are all possibilities still. And the world of SAS is also kinda cool because you can show up and talk with the people on chat and ask them questions and you know, find out, like, can I get a free trial to use this? And, like, people generally say, yes. Right? And then you could, like, write a blog post on, hey, here's what it was like to sign up and use Kendik for the first time, and here's what I learned.


You would notice, and it would be like, hey.

And and and I so I think that, like, being, like, genuine and vulnerable in that regard for a somebody new degree is actually great because most people will then really empathize with that and help. And so it means like, hey, I signed up for something because I'm interested in networking.

And I used it, and I had a lot of trouble because I don't know these things. And I asked these questions, and here's what I learned.

That's being open. That's being vulnerable. Those are great qualities for new employees, and I think it's also a great way to build your authenticity, which is frankly what I look for. And in, new to career is, like, do you have the drive?

Are you gonna think outside the box to come up with, you know, like, to to satisfy your questions. Right? And, you know, are you genuine? Do you want it?

Like, is this important to you? And if so, man, we could we can impart lots of knowledge. That's not gonna be a problem.

We look for passion in, especially early career in something. Right. What's the thing? It doesn't have to be networking, right, or or technology, but, it could be customers. It could be document, like, I really care about Wicky markup. Or poker or, you know, something the thing which gets someone to, like, oh, yes. But, you know, have some opinions with, you know, humility, but, you know, have have that passion, you know, and and hopefully I think there's a great offer, like, in the old world of teas doing the tech support, you know, customer service.

I think it's just an awesome opportunity to start your career in customer success, where, you know, it's really about being with people and being interested in the product that you're representing and customers and what they're trying to do with it. And there's so much so much opportunity in customer success right now because all of sales is transitioning from this, like, sales led motion to success led where being deeply, you know, passionate about helping people use the thing is the game. Right? And so that is just a great entry level, right, where you don't have to be in sales.

So you can don't, you know, you have to get in that, but you could be in the let me help people. And such a great way to learn and interact a dozen times a day or whatever with people trying to use a technical product. So I think there's a lot of new opportunities as tech moves from just being, like, the tech side of thing to tech enabled sales and tech enabled success and tech enabled marketing and tech enabled content. Right?

So even Pretty cool. Product and design, which is like, how can we make this easier for people? You know, the the platonic ideal is every support ticket is a bug. In practice, we don't, you know, with enough functionality.

Sometimes you can't actually do that. People have disagreements, but yeah, I think maybe we could do better as an industry on the SaaS side too. And again, I mean, packet was sort of yes. It was was SaaS principles, but, you know, towards towards Yeah.

SaaS ish. Helping people understand what is the map of a SaaS company, you know, and and what are the skills and and overlaps all I'll definitely think about that.

You know, as we do as we do, you know, recruiting.

Oh, and if you're listening to this and you're a new to career, like, just reach out to Abby or me on LinkedIn and bug us because we will probably reply because that's something we do. And don't feel shame to do that anywhere. You know, reach up, hold your hand and say, I want to learn more. And you'll probably get a fairly positive response. Happy to do an intro might not be exactly, you know, our field. So, well, we'll do it at the end also, but how how should people reach you if they're they can't if they're listening to this and need to reach you right now?

So, the snail mail at no. Just kidding.

So I'm on Twitter. These N YC, or I'm on LinkedIn, which is the Spanish to get that one.

Both of those are the best. You can also find me in lower Manhattan, generally around. I drink coffee. So I'm usually at a coffee shop or something.

Workway, subsequently is not newer Manhattan and nora's, hill country barbecue. So I think Exactly. Yeah. But those are the two best ways.

Twitter, the Emmy, are mentioned, and, LinkedIn is a great way as well, and always happy to connect or or learn more. I also sit on, like I said, you know, the operating board of pursuit and participate in that pretty heavily. So it's another great place if you're interested in launching a career in tech or or whatnot, transitioning from a different kind of, career path. That's a really, a good place where I'd be happy to happy to meet you.

K. Cool. And I'm Avi friedman at Twitter and LinkedIn and avi at kentech dot com. Hopefully, the spam bots are not, you know, doing audio too.

Oh, oops. I guess, actually, we we do transcripts with this podcast. So that's one of the reasons I liked Cass did when I was some pod some podcast, you know, don't do the transcript which I thought was like, well, we want Google to find this stuff. And then the cast that actually you can, like, highlight it and then it becomes a clip and you can embed it in a blog and like that.

So, it was pretty cool. So network and cloud And, you know, as you said, there's all this transition going on. Like, what's what's the difference between, you know, cloud networking, SP networking, enterprise, networking, you know, when you're doing a voxel, you know, what you're doing now, people think, you know, with cloud, there is no network, right, it's just API. Like Right.

Except that's the two the two things you get. The one thing you actually have to buy from clouds is the network.

Everything else is pretty optional. Yeah. We're a friend that he says, He has two sayings. One, there's there's no cloud without network, and the Morse Zenn one is network is the water of the clouds?

It is the same. I'm so I'm so one with you, Austin.

Well, you know, we think a lot about networking in a broad sense, at Equinox.

I mean, it's the core of our business. Although, you know, six plus billion dollars of our revenue from selling, you know, colocation and related. It's, like, the reason why people do that is because they can interconnect at Equinix. And so networking is kind of whether it's, you know, that layer zero or, you know, above is kind of where we generally derive our our value and then kind of our mission around creating connected ecosystems I think that, like, most parts of the technology stack networking is undergoing a really, really seismic shift in most enterprises, from effectively a pre static, I'm gonna call it back of the house operation, where it was in service to kind of some pretty slow changing product cycles and slow changing business cycles, right, a kind of akin to a telecom product cycle in a regulated market.

Like, you don't re invent, you know, MPLS every year. Right? You know, kind of thing. And so there's a lot of networking that has is built into a kind of concept of a very long cycle and slow change, which allows you to have things like functional handoffs between the architectures and the operations, you know, or, like, you know, those things can can really kinda work because you can create the runbook and the training manual, and then train everybody on how to do that.

And then, like, that can subsist for a while. Right. And we we kinda used to have that in the software too. Right?

WaterFolly, create software, ship it once every three years, like, install it and support it with the team who did the supporting of the software and the patching while their people wrote the software. Right? And now now we're in this, like, continuous release cycle of whether it's SaaS or related, where, like, write it, run it, is the is the deal. Like, in dev ops or remodel, I don't care what you wanna know, but, like, it's moving too fast and it's too complex to possibly do operations separate from the the the creation.

Right? And so I see that happening, like, it's like a an echo right now that I see happening in the network side where there's a big transition through. Well, network is pretty much software.

Right? Obviously, there's a significant amount of other things that are required like, in software, you need the computer to run on. Yeah. But, like, there is this, like, wide concept of of of of of the transport y thing and whatever, but network in in in terms of a capability set is software.

Right? And now that's starting to move at software speed, which is frankly a challenge for some of the organizing structures of a lot of enterprises and service providers. Service providers got there faster because they were in the business of doing more of it. But enterprises now who are finding that digital is their core competitive weapon or their core competitive defense, whichever one you wanna do it, like, digital is the thing.

Well, like, networking is just, like, one of those software tools. And so I think that's causing it to move faster and and be part of the innovation cycle versus this, like, back office. So that my my my hotels or restaurants analogy is now to move front of the house. Right.

It's experience. Network is the experience. So any, as as we wrap here, any last you know, thoughts, advice you would give earlier, Zach, maybe, I guess, would you still go to Juliet? I guess that's the question.

You know? Hell, yeah. Was still good at Juliet. I had. Okay. That was great. It was, like, my best choice ever that got to New York City and met people who were, like, world class at something.

And, like, tried to frankly learn how to be self critical.

I would say, you know, ask more questions.

It's just, like, always helpful. And so young, Zach, you know, although asked questions still had quite the, you know, with all of our little egos, right, and whatnot, and I would I would chip mine down. And the and the other one is I would probably, of course, and this is probably what every forty something year old says to their twenty something year old self is like. Take some time, enjoy, like, what you you know, like, I was so Jack gravity, like, ready to get going. And I think in a lot of ways, some things but I did in life and business.

You know, I I I passed by too quick. Well, Abby, thanks for having me. It's been super fun in catching up with you and talking. And, I'm glad that we didn't get too far into networks because, you know, we'll shake you ground for me. We we could do that next time. We can do that next time.

So, again, Zach. Oh, it's network as funk. Right? Network as fun, network as funk, all those I got you. Okay. Cool.

API for network as a service. So how how should people find you again? Yep. Z Smith on LinkedIn or Z Smith NYCC on Twitter, and, I'm not gonna give you my corporate email because it will most definitely get stuck in this path.

So Okay. Well, we won't do that. Well, thanks again. And, thanks for catching up. And I've definitely got some follow-up topics that we can hear about, offline as well.

Thanks, Hobby. Take care.

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About Network AF

Network AF is a journey of super-nerd proportions into the world of networking, cloud, and the internet. Avi Freedman, self-described internet plumber and podcast namesake, hosts top network engineering experts from around the world for in-depth, honest, and freewheeling banter on all-things-network — how-tos, best practices, biggest mistakes, war stories, hot takes, rants, and more.
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