On this episode of Unlearn Podcast, Barry O’Reilly hosts Anurag Gupta, founder and CEO of Shoreline, a product that helps reliability engineers reduce the “heavy lifting of dealing with incidents” so they can focus on improving their systems. Anurag is a notable leader in the reliability space: his experience includes joining Oracle in its infancy, and over seven years at AWS, where he ran their analytics and relational database services. In this episode, he explores the importance of embracing failure, creating a blameless culture, and sharing knowledge to build more reliable and resilient systems.

The power of a clear vision

There is power in having a clear vision of what you want to become in life, Anurag believes. He shares how he sat down and imagined what people would say about him after he died, which helped him define his personal story arc. He knew he wanted to start his own company but recognized he needed to learn how to do it first. He joined a startup, traded his skills at Oracle, and eventually landed at AWS, where he helped build successful products like Aurora and Redshift. Barry remarks, “If you want something to come to life and create it, you have to envisage it.” Anurag adds, “I believe that if you really know what you want, the universe kind of bends its way to help you get it. …If I want something real, I think the world will bend in my favor.” [Listen from 1:45]



Non-consumption can lead to opportunities for innovation

“I love contrarianism,” Barry says. “I think it’s like one of these superpowers sometimes of entrepreneurs. It’s almost intuitive to them.” He asks Anurag how to plot the path to create something completely new. Anurag responds that he believes in finding non-consumption, which he describes as people who are unhappy and not using something. He shares how he identified the analysis gap in the data warehousing industry, where the growth of storage was growing almost four times faster than the growth of enterprise data warehousing. He asked people why they weren’t storing or analyzing their data and learned that data warehouses were where data went to die. He used this information to create Redshift, a product that was ten times faster, ten times cheaper, and simpler, which became the birth of data warehousing. [Listen from 6:30]

Another key to innovation is to minimize communication by reducing the number of people involved, Anurag tells Barry. It’s easier to innovate with 20 people than with 5000. “Communication is the square of the number of participants. You really want to minimize communication, therefore you want to minimize the participants.” Another important lesson in innovation, Anurag remarks is that it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from it and don’t let your ego get in the way. [Listen from 10:00]

What matters is that you try

“The big epiphany for me, the unlearning thing for me was it doesn’t matter how comfortable you are, how others perceive you, that’s kind of the jail cell you put yourself in… If you’re not on the path to your goal, you have to change your path or change your goal. Life’s really that simple,” Anurag tells Barry. He shares that wanted to help his special needs child and all children like him, but he needed to make 50 to 100 times more than what he was making, which was not possible at his current job. This meant that he had to dream bigger and work towards that bigger goal.

Barry is inspired by Anurag’s story. Both men agree that trying is what matters. “The act of the attempt is what matters because results are often outside our control,” Barry comments. “…It’s showing up and having another go. There’s nothing learned from quitting.” For most entrepreneurs, it’s not really about the business, Barry continues. It’s about the person and being true to their values, and that then translates into businesses that change the world. [Listen from 13:25]

Shoreline frees up time

Anurag saw an area of non-consumption in the cloud infrastructure space which led him to found Shoreline. Based on his experience at AWS, he realized that people care most about having their cloud infrastructure systems up all the time, which is hard to achieve. Most companies spend three times more on people to manage their system than on the system itself. Anurag says that 50-90% of what they do in production ops could be automated. Thus, Shoreline aims to free up companies from “keeping the lights on” so that they can redeploy their time and money into innovation. Anurag and Barry O’Reilly discuss the growing conversation around resilient systems engineering and human factors, and how to apply the lessons learned in other industries to software development. [Listen from 16:35]

A community for engineers

Innovators who are exploring novel ideas often create communities of like-minded persons. Barry asks Anurag about Reliability.org, the community Anurag created. Reliability.org is a nonprofit community for engineers who want to learn how to build and operate highly reliable systems, Anurag responds. Unlearning is about getting past your own experience and biases to learn from others who have walked different paths from yourself but have shared goals, he says. Thus, Reliability.org is a community created for engineers who want to learn from and debate with one another. Anurag believes that building highly reliable systems is still a black art, and engineers should embrace learning from those who have first hand experience. [Listen from 21:35]

Building a blameless culture

Anurag and Barry discuss the importance of creating a blameless culture in high performing teams. Instead of looking for someone to blame, the focus should be on understanding what happened and how to improve the system. After every large-scale event at AWS, Anurag tells Barry, a cause of error report is written with a timeline of what happened and who was involved. The goal is to collapse the steps and create an action list to improve processes and mechanisms. It’s important to take a long term view and think about how to make incremental improvements continuously. You’ll only get there by “learning from others and applying their experience and bad luck…” he points out. Barry comments that committing to learning from others and to “making better mistakes” than yesterday is key to success. [Listen from 25:05]

Looking ahead

Anurag is excited about building something ubiquitous with Shoreline, where if “anyone anywhere has fixed a problem, everyone everywhere gets the benefit”. He is willing it into existence with Reliability.org. [Listen from 27:25]

A special message to listeners

Nobody Studios is a new venture studio, co-founded by Barry, with the purpose of derisking pre-seed stage business ideas. Our goal is to create 100 compelling companies in the next five years. We believe we can achieve this by minimizing the time, speed, and capital required to validate truly repeatable and scalable business models before any significant venture investment. We’re excited about radically changing how companies are built and funded, and even democratizing wealth creation. If you share our passion and want to contribute your talent, capital, or influence, we would love to hear from you! Contact us at: Nobody Studios | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram | Pinterest