The Stack Overflow Podcast

Turning your coding career into an RPG with Sai Vennam

Episode Summary

This week with sit down for a chat with Sai Vennam, who describes himself as a IBM Cloud Developer Advocate. We talk about the quest that let him level up from Java programmer to Kubernetes evangelist and how he found his niche teaching the world about technologies on YouTube.

Episode Notes

You can find Sai's videos here. Come for the deep dives on Docker, stay for the live lightboard  magic. Yes, I know what the comments say, but no, he isn't writing backwards. 

Sai also does a lot of work around OpenShift, the containerization software products created by Red Hat. He talks about what the tie up between IBM and Red Hat has been like and how the enterprise is increasingly learning to work with open source. 

Our lifeboat badge of the week goes to Alex for explaining why you're Getting this as undefined when using arrow function.

If you want to find more from Sai, you can follow him on Twitter here.




Episode Transcription

Sai Vennam So that's kind of where I try to come in and help out. Yeah, we talk about Kubernetes, but we also talk about all of the really cool capabilities that surround that ecosystem.


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BP Hello, everybody! Welcome to the Stack Overflow podcast! So you know things in the world going on. But that's not what we're here to chat about. Paul, Sara?

Paul Ford Okay, okay, not gonna talk about it.

Sara Chipps Yeah, I'm here, present. 

BP Present and accounted for, ready to get loose. Our guest today is Siva Nam who's coming to us from Austin, Texas. So why don't you say hello, introduce yourself to the people and let them know what it is you do.

SV Hey, Ben. Hey, Sara, thanks so much for having me. Hey, Paul, as well. I am excited to be here on the Stack Overflow podcast today. Because don't know me. I'm a product manager at IBM focusing on IBM cloud. And I also like to do some stuff on YouTube as kind of a side gig. 

SC Yeahhh! What are the thigngs?

PF Wait let's clarify that immediately. What, what kind of stuff? [Sai laughs]

SV The videos I create are actually published on the IBM Cloud, YouTube, but believe it or not, they, for the most part, don't mention IBM products at all. I'm usually just talking about open source technologies and, you know, capabilities out there. You know, my friends caught wind of this thing that I do, and they now call me the Kubernetes Guy.

SC That's not a bad nickname.


SV All of them, they've never, they've never heard of the word Kubernetes. They just find it hilarious now that that's something that I'm able to get a following off of. 

SC It is a cool word. Do we know what the word Kubernetes came from? I bet it--do y'all know? I bet someone on this--

PF Yeah, no, it's the, it's the Greek ferryman or something goes takes you into the land of the dead, something like that. Right?

BP Some kind of ferry, some kind of boat with knowledge, maybe in it. And then the 'netese' is the other part. But yeah.

SC No, no, I found, I found it. What is Kubernetes? Originates from the Greek meaning helmsman or pilot.

PF Oh, okay. I added the death to it. 

SC Death helmsman.

PF Because, you know, I've tried to figure it out. And that's, that's how I felt like, you know, on digitalocean at midnight, trying to get my--alright, well, you know, what the hell! Let's, let's figure this out. What is Kubernetes? What are what do we got?

SV Yeah, so the logo for Kubernetes, you'll notice it looks like kind of those massive wheels that can steer a ship. So essentially, I think the term Kubernetes comes from, you know, the helm of the ship, you know, you're driving the ship. So let's let's kind of break that down. Kubernetes is essentially putting you at the helm of the ship that is essentially shipping containers. 

SC Ouuuu! 

SV So, you know, if we took that analogy a little deeper, you know, we could say, we're basically a shipping company. Kubernetes is kind of the helm that enables you to direct and drive these containers, figure out where they need to go and make sure that they're running.

PF No but it's sort of like, wouldn't it be more like the dock where you unload the containers and put in--anyway, this is not really what this podcast is about. 

SC No, they live in the ocean because like the ocean is the internet. [Sara laughs]

PF You know what's screwing me up here? You know what's screwing me up is like, Docker has a hybrid whale with containers on top. And I'm like, that's not good for whales, like whales should not have containers.


BP Ohhhhh. I never even thought about that. These dueling, dueling metaphors. Is it a dock with a whale? Or is it a boat on the ocean?

PF I'm upset, I'm really--

SV Paul, let's dive into it. Okay, so the containers, when they're at the dock, let's say that's like on your local machine, right? You're, you're packaging things up, you're making sure everything is in there. You're doing the filing, the paperwork, and I say, Alright, it's time to go to production. We've got to ship this thing. My dock, let's say it's in, you know, Miami, and my customer lives in, you know, London, we've got to get this container to my customer. So you put it on the ship, and the ship takes care of the rest, right, the ship will deliver it to the customer in the container in the same format that you had it when you put it on in that container in a dock. So you know Docker and container technology, that's your laptop, you're shipping containers, you're putting things into a box, Kubernetes handles it once it's at sea, on the internet.

SC That's great. So the the open source tools that you're talking about, are you talking about Kubernetes itself are things that you can use with Kubernetes? What kind of things end up on your YouTube

PF Is there anything that I can double click on called Kubernetes? Like, what is Kubernetes?

SV So at the end of the day, I'd say Kubernetes is kind of spawn this massive ecosystem of, of tools and capabilities. You know, Kubernetes is at the core of it, I know that the actual open source foundation is called cloud native computing foundation, actually stemmed from the Linux Foundation. And you know, Kubernetes really drove this whole cloud native side of it. And the ecosystem, it's actually massive. If you go to, they have this view called the landscape. And I'm pretty sure they've got something like 500 to 1000, open source projects in that landscape. And all of these things are things that support Kubernetes. So that's kind of where I try to come in and help out. Yeah, we talk about Kubernetes. But we also talk about all of the really cool capabilities that surround that ecosystem, like logging, monitoring, you know, just just orchestration, service matching. There's just a lot of things in that field. 


PF You know, I'm gonna change tone for one sec, because it's just worth noting that landscape graphic is amazing. And it was a pet project of someone who worked with the foundation named Dan Cohn, who we just lost, just lost him to colon cancer, and just wanted to say out loud that he's a good dude. And he did a lot of great work for open source. And so just hearing that right now, today, just finding out about it, it's worth saying aloud that we're thinking of him and his family.

BP Thanks, Paul. Sai, I know we had chatted a little bit before you came on. And we're on the topic of open source now. So talk to us a little bit about IBM and Red Hat, what this tie up means, you know, the open source and people's suspicions about how it's going. Can you say a little bit on that topic?

SV Yeah, definitely. So you know, when when IBM first acquired Red Hat, first off, even just the numbers alone, 34 billion, it's, it's an insane acquisition to have happen. And the amount of work that went into making making that go through smoothly, I think within IBM, we were kind of on, you know, needles edge, just to make sure that no one did anything wrong to kind of mess that up. But at the end of the day, the acquisition went through, and I'll save from the IBM side, we were very, very excited. From the Red Hat side, you know, I could sense that there was some, you know, apprehension, but at the same time, you know, when we started working with them closely, and kind of started, you know, just having those kind of interlocks with them, we started to see that our values were really aligned. And I think now, as a post mortem, almost like, more than a year after, we're starting to see that, that this integration and the kind of the work that we've been able to do with Red Hat, it's not like we're cannibalizing each other's business, it's really we're propping each other up. It's, it's a system where I think, if I had to say one thing about what IBM is really good at, it's running mission critical software, right. It's a majority of the banks and like, you know, all of the financial services and transactions that happen in the world and majority of those running on IBM mainframes. And we brought that same kind of idea into our software and what we do in the cloud. So that's what IBM is good at. And you know, the first thing people think of when you say, Red Hat is open source, and taking open source for the enterprise. So you put those two things together, you actually get a pretty, pretty happy marriage.


SC That's great. So you got 34 billion, what? 34 billion lines of code? $34 billion?

PF Both, actually! It turns out that it's just a crazy metric.

SC It's just a dollar per line of code, it's how they evaluate it, yeah. [Sara & Paul & Sai laugh]

BP Yeah, you have to weigh the code out, actually, you put it on a scale first. 

PF What is that marriage, right? So it's like, you know, Red Hat has been around for a long time. And it's always been the most enterprise friendly of the the Linux is. So that part makes sense to me. But you know, I think of IBM I think of consulting, I think of mainframes, I think of--

SC Watson.

PF I think of Watson, I definitely do think of Jeopardy. And then I think of Linux, I think of Fedora and it runs in the cloud. And it's Linux and everywhere, I think of Red Hat. And I think of, you know, they do a lot with Java. So like, put those worlds together. What do you get? Is it Red Hat on mainframes? Or what's the, what's happening?

SV It's a lot of different things. But I kind of already let it slip a little bit of what that is. It's it's open shift. And and it's openshift on IBM cloud. And and it's not only that, but it's openshift, on on kind of form factors that IBM supports. So you know, let's take a step back, you know, talk about what exactly openshift is, I think their tagline is, it's Kubernetes for the enterprise. And, and there's just so much in that simple phrase, you know, at the end of the day, Kubernetes is an open source project. If you look at their releases, they're coming out with new versions every week. They've got a beta version, alpha version, a production version, you know, the community has its own set of priorities and what they're trying to do with Kubernetes. And then you have companies that are trying to use this thing, and they're like, Oh, crap, not only do I have to worry about Kubernetes, but this ecosystem of 1000 tools in the landscape that that need to kind of go with it. How do I do this? How do I make that decision? That's what Red Hat is, you know, really good at with the openshift side of the puzzle with open source. And then you mentioned a few of these things for what IBM is good at. It's at the end of the day, its security, its mission critical workloads, but it's its support. You know, we're going to handhold you along the way in your kind of growth as a company in using things like openshift and Kubernetes. And container based technologies. So so that's that happy marriage. It's it's support is enterprise grade security coming from IBM, and then Red Hat, who's the second largest contributor to this Kubernetes, open source project. And this openshift, thing that they've created that lets people learn and use Kubernetes more easily.


SC That's great. So if I'm an average, openshift specifically, I'm an average developer working in a company, we have 1200 engineers--

PF Sara, you're not average anywhere. [Sara laughs] No, no.

SC Thanks Paul. 

PF I won't hear it! [Sara laughs]

SC Alright, I'm the top 10% of a 1200 person team. And I want to make a new analytics platform for a tool, is the way this makes my life easier is I can just spin up something quickly and throw it in our cloud rather than you know, like reaching out to our SRE team provisioning a new server, you know, all those things? Is that what it looks like for me? 

PF Aw man, you just pissed off the SRE team, like this has been one of the big problems we have in this organization. 

SC Yeah, so annoying. We they don't care about my analytics platform, not our how much I write about it.

PF Yeah, but wait, hold on, 'cause to Sara's point, right, like we aren't, we're a couple levels of abstraction up. So how are we using this thing?

SV Yeah, so so I'll kind of give you an idea. Because when I first started learning Kubernetes, like four or five years ago, it was this brand new thing. I'm going to tell you the truth, it took me about a week to figure out how to deploy something, and actually be able to access it. Because if I just have to list off my head, the things that you need to learn and the documents, you have to go through the docs, oh my god, they're great. But you have to go through so many to do this. You got to first Docker-ise an app, you got to put it in a registry, you got to create a deployment, then you got to create a service, I can go on and on. Regardless, the point is you have to learn how to do all these things just to deploy an app and learn how to access it. That's the Kubernetes side of the puzzle. openshift recognize that and they said, okay, this is something every user is doing on Kubernetes. Why is no one making this easier? Well, from the community perspective, you know, you look at the docs for Kubernetes, it even says this was never built to be a developer platform was never built to be a platform as a service. Kubernetes provides the building blocks for a platform as a service to succeed. So that being said, openshift did that, it took Kubernetes the building blocks and then made an actual platform as a service. So for your perspective, and your kind of goal here, Sara, you're trying to deploy an analytics platform, you have the know how you know what you want, but at the same time, you don't want to go, you know, tap your SRE team, all your Kubernetes experts to figure out how to do this thing. openshift is a great place to start. You can deploy an enterprise grade highly available, you know, analytics platform, and it's gonna be easier to do than if you're working with pure Kubernetes.


SC Is openshift itself open source?

SV Yes. So openshift itself is open source, the open source distribution of it, it's called OKD, which is kind of where it's called Origin Kubernetes Distribution. But it should tell you, you know, it literally has the term Kubernetes Distribution in the name, it's, it's just the open source version of it developed by Red Hat. And then openshift is kind of your licensed supported model that comes from Red Hat, and kind of, you know, has all the enterprise grade solutions and support associated with it. And, you know, this is just the Kubernetes layer. Something we haven't talked about yet was, you know, all of those ecosystem solutions, you know, if you look at a five to 1000, open source projects in the Kubernetes world, and then what Red Hat has done is actually decided, put forward an opinion and said, this one is the one that you do for logging. This one is the one you do for service meshing. And then it creates a supported enterprise solution for that, that works on top of openshift. That's part of the magic of what they're doing.


PF So let's say I know what Docker is, and I want to stand up this custom analytics container that I'm into, and I want to configure it, I'm ready to sort of do all that. And I need to sort of hack around and learn my way around this world. Where should I start? 

SV The first place to start is, you know, what is this thing you're actually trying to deploy you you've got to containerize, you know that you want to run it ,yYou know, my go to resource for anyone who's trying to learn how to deploy something on openshift is this awesome thing on It's katacoda based, that means you click a button and it spins up an openshift environment for you, completely free to use, you get an openshift environment and then it guides you through, hey, this is how you make a deployment. This is how you expose it. This is how you set up logging. You know, it walks you through those things. And it's a great way to get started with Kubernetes and learning openshift.

BP Katacoda is--

PF Starts with a K, okay, there we go. I'm learning a lot of new words today.

SV Yeah. Katacoda is pretty cool. I got pitched on the show today. They were like, well, we don't do the events anymore, but we still teach a lot of people, it's just, you know, spin it up on the web. So buy the books and do the katacoda. 

SV Yeah, in this day and age, we know when we can't actually go and travel to events and have these in person workshops, which was part of my actual day to day job is going to conferences and doing workshops, which is awesome, by the way. Now, we have to find a new way to do this. And it's it's publishing digital resources and digital workshops. And so companies like katacoda, I think, you know, it's kind of like Zoom, they found this awesome thing that they were already doing, but is now even more important to really kind of execute properly. I think, what catacomb is doing, and then some of the stuff we're doing in that space, and IBM as well with these digital learning experiences, which, you know, I'll be completely honest, we got the inspiration from companies like katacoda. I think this is really crucial in this day and age. 

BP Sai, I just was finishing up a piece on developer evangelism and talking lots of folks from different companies. And they were all sort of Yeah, they were like, ''We chose to move into this area for being a regular developer, because it's a little bit more social plus the travel, and I would event, I did a summer camp event once'' and now they're all just like, ''Ah, I'm at home doing webinars, bring my life bring my dev-ev life back.'' The dev-ev lifestyle is quite luxurious, if you can get it right.


PF Oh, I see. So I can literally go in here and click developing on openshift by openshift here in katacoda. This is, no, but I mean, if you're gonna do evangelism, it's the right way to do it. Like here's a year come learn the technology, it's all open source, sign up with Twitter and go learn and that is very helpful. Beats the hell out of

SV Every single time someone goes through one of these tutorials and learn something, a Developer Advocate somewhere cries, right, like it's, it's their job is essentially been automated by some, you know, lab workshop online. Now--

PF It's gonna come for everybody, it's come for all, it has come for me like 12 times. That's fine.

SC Yeah, please come for me. Robots, take my job. 

PF That's it, like robot, I love you, please, please let me keep my family and the robot says, ''Well, you could come over here.'' [Paul laughs]

BP Yeah. Ship into the universal income fund. And I will be good. We'll be good. Take us back a little bit. Before you were a dev-ev, you said that you started out in a slightly different place, right? You were doing web development web apps in Java development? Like, where did you first land before you were doing Kubernetes?

SV Yeah, sure. And Paul, you mentioned this, one of the things you thought about IBM first was that, you know, Java, and there, they do a lot of stuff with Java. And you know, back in the early 2000s, everyone was doing stuff on Java and J to E platforms. And, you know, there's Tomcat, which is open source. But then there's WebSphere Application Server, which was this big, IBM monolithic platform that all these companies were running Java based apps on. And that's where I started my career at IBM about seven years ago, was working in in some cubicles developing on WebSphere Application Server. You know, if I had to give it an analogy, it's like when you start a new video game, right, like a new RPG, or something, you always start with, you're killing the slimes. You're out there killing like the level one slimes. [Ben laughs] And it's tedious-- 


PF Well you gotta grind to get armor, that's just what it is. 

SC Have you ever played Slime Rancher? It's so fun, PS. Okay, keep going. Sorry. [Sai & Ben laugh]

SV It's tedious, and it's easy to do. But you're really just starting your adventure. And if you really wanted to, you could sit there and kill those slimes forever, and you're gonna get army you're gonna level up eventually. And that's what it kind of felt like.

PF There's a magical moment at IBM, we're talking cat gives you a quest. 

SC Yeahhh!

PF That quest for you was openshift. [Ben laughs] 

SV Exactly, exactly what but a few more steps. I think when in any business, you're going to get quests, but you're gonna get like three different quests. And if you pick one, you can't do the other ones because you don't have time to do everything, right. And so I chose this quest line and basically began with there was an internal hackathon at IBM and an internal hackathon at IBM is not small, by any means. IBM's got like 400,000 people in it. Regardless, this was in the cloud sector. So you know, maybe like 10,000 people, regardless, we ended up winning that hackathon. And that enabled me to get to start working with the startup that IBM was looking at acquiring. That basically gave me a ticket to San Francisco, right, it teleported me that the quest gave me the ability to go to this new city. 

PF You know, you've just described the enterprise Hunger Games. [Sara laughs] I know, not, I'm seeing you with like, you've got a couple fingers up and you're doing a little whistle, anyway. So keep going. You get to go to San Francisco or Panem as they call it in the books. [Sai laughs]

SV And the great thing about being in San Francisco, I mean, here's the rough news, you're working with, you're seeing and working with just crazy smart people everywhere, right? But the thing is, you get to go to really cool startups and conferences. They're just everywhere. They're happening all the time. And so that's when I started to really be able to flex these social muscles. It's, oh, hey, I don't have to just write code all day. I can go talk about it. And it Feels good. Like, you get a lot of, you know, happy, happy feelings and people just being happy to work with you. And overall, it's great for your serotonin, right? It makes you feel good about what you're doing in the world. And that's when I was like, hey, maybe I should go into developer advocacy. And so, starting from there, I think I actually ended up moving to Austin, because San Francisco was just incredibly expensive.


SC Yeah, that's a big step in the journey, actually. It's San Francisco, Austin, and then--

PF It's Austin, specifically, yeah, that's a big part of the--

SC And then a suburb, possibly, or maybe Chicago.

SV There you go. Well, that that's that's my quest line and where it's led me so far, and I think, you know, that kind of led me into what I'm doing today. And we kind of hinted about in the beginning, it's, it's these YouTube videos that I've been doing. And we've gotten this interesting format of a glass screen that you can write on with a marker. And basically it it's like this visual and auditory learning method. And I think the greatest thing about it is the format is something that people just can't get over. They think I'm writing backwards. They think they think I'm doing some crazy magic, but it's just a simple post production trick. 

SC That's great.

SV But yeah, it's pretty cool.

PF Oh I see. Oh, okay, I'm watching you right now, as we do this, because computers are a 24 core machine, I can record a podcast and watch you.

BP Show off.

PF It's pretty exciting. This does look really cool. You're in a black space, and you're writing on a whiteboard with multicolored markers, and it's all lit up. And it really does look and this is this is high praise. It's like the 1980s version of the future. It's really good. [Sara & Sai laugh]

BP Yes, this is the Tron of remote learning. It's happening now.

SV Yeah, you think you know whiteboards, But wait till I show you a lightboard.

SC Lightboard! Do you have a whole set up at home? What's it like?


SV I do, actually, so with the travel restriction so we had a studio in Austin I'd go in I'd be fine with it. It had a nice work life balance, right? Now my my office is essentially been turned into an IBM studio, they shipped me the camera, the equipment, everything is now set up like right behind me right now actually, tons of LED lights. And it's it's been a wild ride. But now I've got the whole equipment in my room. So I might just start making my own YouTube videos at this point! [Sai laughs]

PF This is a really fun way to present, I really like this, you know, there is also I'm gonna nerd out for one sec, IBM created its own font family, which is something you can do when you're a giant mega Corp.

SC Did they? What is it called?

PF It's called Plex. Oh, oh, Sara. It's a delight. No, I love it. I haven't loved the font like this, like all of the ambiguity and complexity, I feel about, you know, legacy capitalist organization just because right out the window when I see Plex, and it's like, the mono is good. The saref is good. It's all the right weight. It's on GitHub, you can just--it's got a very good coding font. I'm in it right now, I changed it to my default font on my Ubuntu Linux, sorry. [Ben laughs] But the IBM just like I'm seeing that that brand sort of spread through all the IBM properties. And it really is just a hell of a font family. That and there's also Carbon, the component, component framework that IBM uses is really good to steal from too. Fantastic. Anyway, that's why we're here to talk about the Plex family of fonts. [Ben & Paul laugh] Thank you Sai for giving me an excuse.

BP Now, yeah, Sai tell us a little bit about where we can find you online?

SV Yeah, sure. Thanks. So if you're if you're looking for, you know, some of the videos that we've referenced, or you know, lightboard content. Now, number one, instead of looking for me, maybe just YouTube, any cloud native related topic that, that you're looking to learn more about whether it's containerization, Kubernetes, terraform, whatever it might be. First, start with that, you know, if you don't find one of my videos, and you still want to look for one of my lightboard YouTube videos, just go to I know that initially might scare you guys, if you're not looking to learn anything about IBM Cloud, but believe me, I'm the one that's that's choosing what content we publish, as far as the lightboard format goes. And I don't let anyone tell me to publish videos on product. So it's all technology focused. So you know, open source stuff, and and I do try to make sure that the audience is is not alienated, getting tricked into learning something about you know, IBM cloud. So I do highly recommend you guys check that out if you're looking to learn more about cloud native technologies.



BP Alright, y'all, I'm gonna read a lifeboat, Paul and Sara, we'll say our goodbyes, and then we'll call it a day?

PF Let's go for it.

SV Sounds good.

BP Alright, getting this as undefined when using the arrow function, awarded 21 hours ago to Alex. Thank you, Alex, for hopping in here and winning our lifeboat badge of the week. I'm Ben Popper, the Director of Content here at StackOverflow. And you can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper.

SC And I'm Sara Chipps, the Director of Community here at Stack Overflow and you can find me on GitHub @SaraJo.

PF I am Paul Ford, friend of StackOverflow, you can check out my company

SV And I'm Sai Vennam, I'm a product manager at IBM and you can find me on Twitter @birdsaiview. That's bird Sai view.

PF Mmm! That is fantastic.