Caylent: From Etymology to Engineering with Randall Hunt
Screaming in the Cloud is a popular weekly show hosted by Corey Quinn, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, that features commentary on the state of the cloud with influential people across the tech landscape. Our own Caylien, Randall Hunt recently chatted with Corey and we thought we’d grab some time with Randall to talk through what he’s seeing from customers in his new role here at Caylent. Play the stream above to listen to the whole interview, and you can read some of our additional Q&A with Randall below.
Q: Randall, in the interview with Corey you talked through how you wound up at Caylent. Could you expand on that?
Sure! So, I went into re:Invent fully intending on taking a break from the industry for a while. I’d worked at NASA, MongoDB, SpaceX, AWS, Facebook, and Vendia all over the last decade and change… I wanted a break before my next adventure. I mean, I’ve been a customer or an employee of AWS for literally my entire career and I just love working with these services. I wanted to find a role where I could simultaneously leverage my experience with AWS and my own tendency to mentally hop from project to project.
Anyway, I get to re:Invent and I had a message from an old friend (Mark McQuade) who told me I absolutely had to meet up with these folks from Caylent. JP, our CEO, and I met and I was quickly converted into a Caylent fan. From there I met a few other folks, all at re:Invent, and kind of fell in love with the vision everyone had for the company. JP and the rest of the team were kind enough to invite me to join and so I hopped on board. The last 60 days have been exciting and I genuinely cannot remember the last time I was this energized and excited to come to work.
While Caylent already has deep, deep expertise in Migrations (databases and compute), Security, and DevOps I am particularly excited to build out our Cloud Native Application Development practice. We’re at this very exciting evolution in the combo of backend and frontend where the delta between what we can imagine and we can build is smaller than it has ever been.
Also, I have to say one more thing on this side – I love Caylent’s branding. I love the rocket ship. I’m a huge space nerd. I love the Cayliens.
Q: What projects were you most excited about at Caylent?
When JP and I first met in the Palazzo at re:Invent I remember he walked me through a few of the most recent projects Caylent had worked on as well as some of the growth stats. Caylent grew something like 400 percent in 2021, during a pandemic. What really interested me was this one health-tech use case as I’d just recently used one of their apps and had no idea Caylent was involved. There are a lot of other things Caylent has done that aren’t quite public yet but I’ll direct folks to our case studies page for now.
Q: How does your background as an engineer interact with your day to day leadership role?
Having been hands-on-keyboard with large production AWS deployments for customers and even within AWS… is an advantage. I’ve worked on systems where we’ve managed to push billions of requests per second and petabytes/hour. I think the set of people in our industry who get the chance to scale successful technical architectures like that is relatively small. I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and did my best to listen to all the smart people around me.
Actually, that’s an important call out. AWS has some incredible people who have accumulated experience that no one else in our industry has access to. The Amazon Builder’s Library contains a small portion of those lessons but I remember, early on, being in a few reviews with principal engineers where a small comment identified a huge surface area I hadn’t previously considered.
But hey – I fully recognize that I am not the best coder. I’m not even close to the best architect. However, I can take all the mistakes I’ve accumulated in the past as an engineer (yes, I’ve definitely broken prod 🤦) and leverage that into something useful. I can share those lessons learned and help customers think about how they architect, build, and grow their products at both technical and business levels.
Q:What does your role look like today and how do you tackle leadership?
My role in leadership at Caylent is to stay up to date with the latest AWS releases, technology trends, and identify opportunities for innovation and disruption on behalf of our customers and our own business. A lot of the barriers that customers face are organizational, not technical, so we try to be an ambassador for our Caylent culture and operational excellence while also working within the value systems of our customers.
Another role I have is in building up our nascent Caylent Cadets program. How can we get the next generation of Cloud Architects and Engineers up to speed while working on exciting and meaningful projects? Having a robust internal mentoring and growth program is a core initiative for me in 2022.
I also try to network with successful leaders who have accomplished exceptional things in business or technology. I find conversations with these folks can act as a compression algorithm for experience. I can subsequently use those stories and experiences combined with my own to help our customers build the best businesses they can.
Finally, growth hides a multitude of sins, and part of our job as we continue to scale at Caylent is to maintain our core culture, our core values, and adopt new ones as we grow. When everything in business is going well, that’s the time to address any accumulated technical or business debt.
How do you remain authentic and transparent in your advice and implementations for clients despite being affiliated with one cloud provider like AWS?
Even in my time at AWS I remember getting into trouble from time to time for telling customers “oh that service isn’t ready, yet”. I take Amazon’s Leadership Principle of “customer obsession” extremely seriously and Caylent’s CSAT score is a metric that sets us apart from every other consulting partner in this ecosystem. I’m committed to keeping that score right where it is or going even higher.
At my core, I’m a builder and I fully understand the frustration engineers hit when the marketing says one thing and you enthusiastically drop a few hours into learning the service or tool… only to find out it is vaporware. That’s how products die. That’s how products get a bad reputation.
At Caylent we work with a wide selection of AWS Partners and ISVs. We certainly have tools we’re particularly fond of (e.g. Terraform) but we will also work to meet customers where they are. We’re not here to force our preferred technology stack on people who don’t want it. We’re here to build great applications. Your end-customers don’t care if your cloud infrastructure was provisioned with Terraform or with CDK, if you’re using DynamoDB or MongoDB, if you’re in Amazon EKS or AWS Lambda – they just want you to be able to adapt quickly and differentiate yourself from your competitors. So our solutions, like Caylent Catalysts©, are focused on making the best end-customer experience possible.
Pivoting to global infrastructure, what are some of the newest launches and advancements from AWS you’re most keen on?
AWS announced some really cool launches at re:Invent 2021 – AWS Cloud WAN, AWS Direct Connect SiteLink and Amazon VPC Network access Analyzer. The AWS cloud is situated across 26 regions, with 8 more on the way, and they’ve announced 30 total local zones.
AWS’s focus is on getting closer to their customers and serving them better. They have been building better relationships with different telecom providers in addition to creating more edge locations and regional caches.
At re:Invent 2021, Riot Games, the developer and publisher behind massively successful games such as League of Legends and Valorant, discussed how they leverage a mix of AWS Outposts, edge locations and local zones to get their Valorant gamers on to the most local servers so they can minimize latency and improve the gameplay experience. While Azure and Google Cloud are making strong improvements, AWS separates themselves from other cloud providers, by having invested fundamentally in global infrastructure at a scale that makes such applications and use cases possible. Things like undersea cables, net-new applied photonics for fiber-optics, etc. come from researchers at AWS whose work primarily involves developing new technologies to increase the data throughput of fiber-optics infrastructure.
Discussed in detail by James Hamilton in one of his past talks, AWS has more than 84 availability zones in all now. Availability zones are not a single data center, they consist of multiple data centers that are separated from each other with different infrastructure. The largest one, for instance, consists of 14 data centers. All new regions have three availability zones and they’re separated meaningfully. The distance between them may be more than a mile, but it is less than what would cause an issue when the speed of light comes into consideration. And that’s where services like Amazon Aurora are built, where you can have a shared storage later on top of a data engine. This also enables other services like Amazon FSx for Lustre, Amazon EBS and Amazon EFS.
The infrastructure scale is necessary for services like this to exist. In his keynote at re:Invent, Peter DeSantis discussed the advantages of aggregate workload monitoring. AWS’s ability to innovate from first principles is most probably unparalleled in our global economy. We have things like 400 – 800 Gigabit/s of networking capabilities on AWS Trainium instances, which are staggering. Some of AWS’s regions have thousands of terabits of capacity through hundreds of unique fiber paths. These are technologies that truly enable the modern economy and the modern world.
If you’d like to engage with Randall Hunt and learn from many of the insights he shares around AWS services and technologies, visit his twitter page or the Caylent blog. To read the full transcript of this episode of screaming in the cloud, visit their page.
If you’re pursuing cloud native projects, and want help around migration, cloud native application development, security or DevOps, get in touch with our experts for a quick 30-minute consultation.