Interview with Jen Tong

I met Jen Tong at a game developer’s conference in San Francisco. 

Jenny is a Developer Advocate on Cloud at Google. In this role, she helps developers build cool stuff on all sorts of platforms. Previously she worked in a wide variety of software roles from robotics at NASA, to developer advocacy for Google Glass. Jen Tong is passionate about education, especially on the subjects of technology and science.

Google fascinates many of us because they seem to do everything. They have changed the way many of us work, travel, play, and even think. Google appears to be taking an aggressive approach to their cloud program. Bloomberg reports that Google plans on opening some 12 new data centers in the next 18 months.

I put a few questions to Jen in an informal interview about some topics that should interest people interested in working in and around the cloud.

Jen, you are a Developer Advocate and that might mean a lot of different things to different people. Could you tell me how you interpret your role at Google?

The tag line I use, is that I help people cause trouble with code. In practical terms, this means that I help developers get the most out of cloud computing through conference talks, blog posts, workshops, and more.

Then, I take the lessons I learn from them back to Google to improve Google Cloud Platform. That way, developers can build even more awesome stuff.

What drew your interests to distributed computing in general and Google Cloud Platform in specific?

Cloud computing makes difficult tasks easier and brings some previously impossible things within reach. I get a lot of satisfaction out of people I work with accomplishing great things.

So, contributing to cloud computing seemed like a good fit.

Do you want to call out some features you believe differentiate Google Cloud Platform from other cloud services like AWS and Azure?

Everyone’s computing situation and challenges are different, so I always encourage people to take advantage of free trials and give several options a spin.

It’s worth investing a couple weeks to see who has the features and nonfunctional capabilities that will fit your needs best.

I spend a lot of time playing around with IoT and big data workloads. In that space people seem to get a lot of value out of BigQuery’s flexibility, Bigtable’s scalability, and the simple pricing of Preemptible VMs.

Can you speak about any coming features that will substantially change the way cloud developers think about their work?

I can’t speak much to the future, but I’ve already seen cloud computing change the way people think about their work.

Before cloud computing, dealing with inconsistent loads was a big challenge. If you didn’t buy enough hardware, you’d fail to absorb the spikes. If you bought too much, you’d waste money.

Cloud computing allows us all to share a larger pool of resources. This really hits home the first time you spin up a Hadoop cluster for 35 minutes to run a single map reduce job, and then tear it down when you’re done. Only paying for the resources you use makes it much easier to get answers quickly without letting a bunch of hardware sit idle most of the time.

Massive infrastructure investment and new features signal big growth. As this ecosystem expands, it sounds like there is growing opportunity for people with the right skills. Are there any skill-sets that particularly stand out as in-demand?

I haven’t seen any big shifts in the relative demand for skills that I can attribute to the rise in cloud computing. But, I have observed one interesting thing: small teams sure do seem productive these days.

I’ve witnessed a lot of smaller teams launch bigger things than would have been possible a few years ago. I’m very excited by this trend.

There are a lot of technical resources available for learning about Google Cloud Platform. Which ones do you employ most and why?

We do indeed live in a world with lots of options for technical resources. I have a pattern that I tend to follow for all new software, including cloud technologies.

I start by focusing on getting a simple use case working. For Google Cloud Platform, I’d start by looking for a quick start in the docs or simple sample app on GitHub.

Once I have that working, I’ll circle back and read some of the developer docs. I find that the quick start gives me the valuable context that makes the most of my reading time.

As I move on to solving real problems, I enviably use web search and stack overflow to find specific answers to specific questions.

Many IT professionals acquire the skills for their positions by sheer force of will, others enjoy organized training. Which camp are you in?

For me it’s a mix. If I’m learning something completely new, I might start from training or classes. Their structure helps me even my pace and forces me to cover the fundamentals before I get too deep in.

On the other hand, if I already have similar knowledge, I prefer to learn solo. I come up with a project I’d like to accomplish, and then fumble around until I get it working. I find that I learn a lot of interesting detail along the way.

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