From Hypervisor to Next Generation Cloud: Uma Chingunde on Cloudflare TV
Uma Chingunde’s profile in our company directory says that if she were an animal, she’d be “a cat, because they live the best lives, nine times over.” And indeed, Uma is tracing the nine lives of a cat with her career. She chose tech over biotech to keep her options open as an undergrad in India; she joined VMware in the early days of virtualization to build what became an industry-leading hypervisor; she led Stripe’s Compute group which managed all cloud operations for an exponentially-scaling payments stack; and last year, she switched gears to become VP of Engineering at Render. I learned more about her career journey through two decades of technological advancement in a recent interview she did with Cloudflare COO Michelle Zatlyn on her show 'Yes We Can.' By switching roles and becoming a customer of virtualization and cloud technology at Stripe, Uma gained a unique perspective on both sides of the technological advancement she had contributed to. After becoming an expert in high performance computing products that appealed to both developers and enterprises, Uma proved she could also successfully manage compute infrastructure for one of the fastest-growing companies of all time, and scale a team from 12 to 40+ engineers to operate it. By bringing this experience to her leadership at Render, Uma is helping to turn her success at Stripe into a general success story for our customers. Her interview left me thinking about what makes a tech startup special enough to take a chance on. In this post, with Uma’s help, I’ll look at several special companies to understand what they have in common.
The power of abstraction
In a her interview on Cloudflare TV, Uma discusses Render’s opportunity to continue the huge advancement of technology her career has already spanned. Uma calls cloud computing “the defining part” of that advancement. While she acknowledges the sheer ambition of saying "We are going to build a new cloud provider” (fair — ambitious, and exciting!), Uma's career itself tells the story of why Render’s mission matters. Virtualization, pioneered by IBM and later VMware, seeded the potential for cloud computing, “and the ability to provide compute for everyone around the world was built on top of that.” Uma notes that the next generation of SaaS technology companies, Stripe for example, built their success from that ability by leveraging infrastructure-as-a-service. Why did Uma join Render? “Abstraction is a theme that I believe in. The most powerful companies are providing something that abstracts away complexity,” she observes. Stripe is a perfect example of this. Why should companies take the risk to develop a payment processing solution internally when they can offload that risk, and the complexity, to another tech company, for which doing the job well is the core mission? The benefits of abstraction may seem obvious to us now, but in a bygone era of online transaction processing, companies often perceived more risk in taking the chance on an unproven startup like Stripe than in building secure payment systems themselves. But no company can forever ignore the valuable leverage of abstraction, and survive. Even VMware — already 4000 employees strong when Uma first joined as an intern in 2007 — was perceived as high-risk in the early 2000s. Sure, it had the potential to lower costs by dramatically increasing server utilization, but that came with a tradeoff of trusting a new and untested company.
The most powerful companies are providing something that abstracts away complexity.
Tech that’s worth the riskAs developers, it can be hard for us to identify which technology is worth taking risks on. While we shouldn’t jump at every opportunity to switch to something new and shiny, we can talk to stakeholders to understand whether a solution will allow the company to focus better on its core mission. When a piece of tech truly delights you by abstracting away time-consuming work, it’s okay to start a conversation about tool choice. Consider Docker. This implementation of OS-level virtualization borrowed technology born in the Linux community in 2001, but made it both highly accessible to developers, and extremely powerful in accomplishing their missions. The quality and usability of the Docker project and container format allowed Docker to enjoy early adoption by many technology companies well before it reached 1.0. This rare case paved the way for innovation in container orchestration, most notably Kubernetes, which enables us to automatically deploy Docker containers to perform at scale within Render and many other modern computing products. I classify Docker, like VMware, as “worth the risk” because it’s so good at abstraction:
- In packaging together application code and all dependencies, including OS-level ones, Docker allows apps to run reliably across computing environments.
- The abstraction enables engineers to stop thinking about compatibility across internal and external computing environments.
- The time spent thinking about dependencies and compatibility across environments can be re-allocated to companies’ core missions.
This lesson is bread and butter for companies that have taken on the complexity of a specific problem and abstracted it away for customers:
Render is for developers who just want to write their code and deploy it, with all of the complexity of the underlying cloud infrastructure abstracted away.
- Stripe, which abstracts payments
- Twilio, which abstracts telephony communications
- Segment, which abstracts customer data governance