For the lion’s share of his five-year stint with Microsoft, Sam Ramji had a job unlike any other, acting as liaison between Microsoft and the community of open source, Linux-loving programmers it viewed as a huge threat.
“I was the odd man out,” Ramji tells Business Insider.
Nowadays, Ramji is about four months into a new gig serving as VP of Product Management for Google Cloud, a service where developers rent functionally unlimited supercomputing power straight from the search engine’s own global server infrastructure.
And while Google has never been shy about its love for open source, Ramji still says his new role is “not too different” than his time at Microsoft. Ramji’s job is “building bridges” with programmers, working to convince them that Google, not Microsoft or Amazon, is the right digital home for their most critical software.
The opportunity is huge, says Ramji, but so is the challenge. From his perspective, Google can win developers over, just as long as it doesn’t abandon Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s famous 2004 declaration that “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”
In other words, Ramji says, he thinks Google can win against the leading Amazon Web Services and the second-place Microsoft Azure clouds by “being enterprise-y, but staying Google-y.”
The push for enterprise
Under the leadership of VMware cofounder Diane Greene, Google Cloud has been making a major push to close its competitive gap by selling the service to large businesses.
To Ramji, the gameplan is pretty straightforward: Build a service that developers, all kinds of developers, actually like using. Very often, the programmers in even the biggest, stodgiest, most bureaucratic companies still do their own personal projects on nights and weekends.
“Enterprise developers are developers on the weekend, too,” Ramji says. “An enterprise developer is just a developer who works at an enterprise.”
That’s key to the Google gameplan, says Ramji. Even if the IT department is wary of giving Google Cloud a look after many years of being happy Microsoft or Amazon customers, Ramji’s plan is to reach out to communities of developers and convince them to give it a shot.
From there, Ramji highlights the progress that Google has made in getting its cloud prepped for the largest companies. A major push for Google is in making sure that its cloud computing platform integrates both with their customers data centres (called “hybrid cloud“) as well as with other providers, including Amazon and Microsoft.
“Enterprises need a cloud provider that respects their architecture, which is multi-cloud and hybrid,” Ramji says.
So, that’s the strategy. Now, Ramji has to think tactically about the best way of rolling out the red carpet for developers.
“There’s still an awareness gap,” says Ramji, so “our front door has to be awesome.”
A big part of the reason Ramji made the switch from his previous gig as CEO of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, a nonprofit software organisation, was because he kept hearing and seeing that Google Cloud was faster and cheaper than the competition.
That performance is great, Ramji says, and something Google is going to keep investing in. But with so much marketing buzz around each cloud, and a general perception that the major cloud platforms are pretty much equivalent feature-wise, it takes more to win over developers.
He says that stuff like offering developers free Google Cloud services, giving them plenty of documentation for how to use it, and generally working with the community is a huge help — Ramji says that Google Cloud engineers often hop into Reddit or Hacker News threads to offer help and advice.
Plus, Ramji says, Google runs a few different programs to embed its engineers and systems architects in with customers, helping them build and manage their software in the same way that Google itself does.
“We’re here before and after the sale,” Ramji says.
The Google advantage
There’s a more ineffable advantage held by Google, says Ramji. In his time as an industry exec, Ramji has been around the block a few times, working at tech companies large and small. But he says he’s continually impressed with the sheer quantity of smart people at the company working on big-impact passion projects.
He describes the general feeling at Google as “like a Montessori school where the kids are in charge.”
In his experience, however limited, that means that there’s also an astonishing number of Googlers who come into Google Cloud, stay for a while, and then go off to work on Google Docs or search advertising or even take posts at the self-driving car spinoff Google, and vice versa. It means a constant flow of fresh talent with different skillsets.
“We don’t hire for the job, we hire for Google,” says Ramji.
In its own way, though, that could be a potential roadblock, says Ramji. When you’re inside Google, you get used to doing things at Google’s pace. That has the potential to alienate Google Cloud customers, Ramji says, if they mishandle things, given that most large companies don’t build software at Google’s speed.
“Sometimes you’ll accelerate too fast and the wheels falls off,” Ramji says.
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