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One Mic Stand: Ian Kelly of Google

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand


Ian Kelly from Google joins us to talk about Google Cloud. And we all know and trust Google for our mail and our search and our docs, but don't often think about the fact that they have a whole side for enterprise business storage and data. A 1-person startup has access to all of the tools available to massive enterprises!


Everybody, this is Jonathan Kersting, with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and of course, Techvibe Radio, bringing you the One Mic Stand. Today's episode is gonna be super fun. I guarantee you, we are talking to Ian Kelly from Google, all talking about Google Cloud. And we all know and trust Google for our mail and our search and our docs. We don't often think about the fact that they have a whole side for business, and storage and data. And it's just an amazing thing. And we're gonna put a spotlight on on that today with Ian. So Ian, welcome to the show. And thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

Jonathan, it's my absolute pleasure. This is actually the thing I've been looking forward to since I heard this wasn't even an option. Wow. I mean, now it's like the pressures on!

I have a lot of friends in Pittsburgh, I have a lot of people that I would sort of consider extended family. And actually one of the managers on my team has been on your show before.

Oh, yeah.

So Rick Kottermanski. was on the show a couple years ago.

I know Rick! Fantastic. Very cool, man. Very cool. See, that's why we like doing the show because it connects us to people all over the place. And we realized we already kind of know each other one way or another. So that's super cool. Very much. Love it. Yeah. Great stuff. So quickly. Ian, what's your background? And what's your role at Google right now?

Yeah, so I went to college fully intending to be a neurosurgeon. Okay. And that didn't work out. Okay. I ended up deciding to go into computer science sort of by accident. Really? Yeah, I ended up as computer science economics double major. Okay. And I had to figure out what to do with it. This was during the 90s. So bubble. And I'd always sort of looked at Google as a dream job.


It's looking from the outside. I couldn't quite figure out how they did this stuff that always seemed marginally impossible. Okay. And I just wanted to go see how it was done.

How is this done? Right, cuz you have a curious mind that I love that. That is cool. It's been a fascinating journey. I've been here about 11 years now. Okay. Wow. I was constantly year after year after year, I keep saying this has got to slow down at some point. They've got to run out of good ideas at some point, and it just doesn't seem to happen.

Doesn't know it is one of those things where they're, it's they're always coming up with stuff. And it's like, yeah, there's some super smart people. It's like, this alien technology that's being brought to us.

Yeah, it was kind of's actually helping some of our engineers figure out how they can do things that they've always thought was impossible. Wow, that's right. Like this area's challenges that they go like, man, we tried this once. And it's too hard. Right? Well, you know, find some people that are super type a people that really like to help, right? They want to dive in with two feet and see what's possible.

That's so cool. Yeah, just that's why I've been there for 11 years right now, probably the for another 11 years. That's got to be way too much fun. No, it's it's, it's humbling to be here. But it's truly amazing to see for sure.

I see. You mentioned earlier that you've been to Pittsburgh quite a few times. And so Google in Pittsburgh is like literally it's like one of the foundational pieces as to what's driving our tech ecosystem here. And it's amazing because they've been here for over a decade, and they grow and they grow and they grow. They're anchoring East liberty in the east end of Pittsburgh, and tech council at the everyone Pittsburgh is just always pumped that Google is here doing what they do. Tell us more about like you Google's presence in Pittsburgh and what you think when you come to visit Pittsburgh and hang out in the Google offices? Yeah, so it's a couple things. There's a couple of restaurants in Pittsburgh, but I just love going there's the burnt  almond torte, of course. 

So there's elements of that that just personally appealed to me. Put the from a work perspective, what I think is really just gratifying to see is just the community in Pittsburgh is blossoming. Yeah, for sure. Like we were there, like you talk about this a lot. But this might not be as apparent to you, because you're there every day.

There's a layer, you keep going. It's like if you have kids, you see your kids grow up. Maybe they are a little bigger today, but if you have like somebody who didn't see that much they grow it on over the space of a few weeks. It's kind of like that, I remember, oh, that's a very cool analogy, I'm gonna have to use that I might steal it.

I remember seeing when, you know, Google Ventures was investing in companies like Duolingo? Hmm. Right. And it was this, you know, relatively small company that had some great technology wins earlier. And seeing where it is now. It's, I think, is one of the highest valued unicorns on the planet. Like, it's got Google.

In it, it all comes out of Carnegie Mellon, and sort of the ties that are starting to form there, you know, bringing over Andrew Moore to have some of the AI work we're doing I think is symbolic in both directions. Definitely. Wanting to be involved in sort of directly part of that incubation community and lifestyle that's coming, but also sort of the renaissance of sort of the more traditional companies in Pittsburgh as well.

Very much so yeah, it's good stuff. Man. I love hearing that perspective from someone who's not here. You're all the time and you feel a little bit better about Pittsburgh. I love it. Super cool. So let's switch gears a little bit. Let's talk about, you know, Google Cloud because I just realized that there is a super powerful tool for business out there. And you get the likes the customers that you guys have just it's a who's who, who's kicking butt in business. As far as I'm concerned. It's from the Home Depot's the Paypals, Twitter's of the world. Here's a quick little elevator pitch for what's up with Google Cloud.

Yeah, I mean, so from the beginning, they kind of said, we think we're pretty good at running websites. I mean, they do a pretty fast little proclivity going on there, right?

No matter what it is, it's probably like entwined deeply in your life, whether it's finding Starbucks or translating stuff on the fly, or just finding information. And somebody finally said, you know, we should make this available to other people, like, ridiculous waste, if we just keep it sort of hidden internally, we should go help people solve the hardest challenges. We can on a data set, that's fine. But we have some ways of doing this that might actually benefit you. Right. And then since then, it's been this journey of working with customers to figure out the best place to work with them, not trying to force our perspective on them, okay, in really leaning into some things like open source technology, to make sure that they can stay with Google because it's the best experience for them. Because it gives them the most flexibility is the fastest thing to grow on. And we want them to stick if they like, it personally appeals to me in a pretty deep level. Oh, it just, we get to earn people's trust day after day after day and really go deep with them to solve the thorniest problems. Right. So when Coronavirus lands, yeah, yeah. Do you actually know how to do curbside pickup? Like, this? Sounds pretty simple, right?

That requires a powerful technology to make that happen, right?

Yeah. Or how are you going to do curbside pickup if it's snowing? Or if not, the list kind of goes on and on and actually helping people work through the supply chain logistics, all of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes? If we miss lands? Well, it is black magic. Right in it. Some of the places we've been able to help we saw, the CEO of Lowe's, for instance, was on Mad Money with Jim Cramer. And he's up there talking about how like, you know, their competence never would have worked without Google running behind the scenes.

Wow, that's crazy. unsolicited feedback like that. It's like whoa.

You know, I don't know. But to be like, I don't think of a home home improvement store as being sort of cutting edge digital. until you start after the age, right? They got to be running analytics and machine learning and AI on no one's business. So when I get to the store, I can find what I need and get suggestions as to what else I might need and all that kind of fun stuff.

Yeah, I mean, there's an estimate out there that says 90% of apps will be AI powered by 2025.

I believe it man apps.

And as somebody who just bought a toaster that has embedded AI to figure out when my toast is done. And I'm a little jealous of your toaster right now. That does make pretty good toast, like perfection toast.

We have small kids, we make a lot of toast. It was a good investment.

I would believe so man, I believe so. So that is a startling new stat to say that and knowing that you need a platform like what's happening on Google Cloud in order to enable that type of thing to happen. Right.

Yeah. I mean, whether you know it or not just AI has been in machine learning has been absolutely correlate Google's been doing. For the last, I don't know, eight or nine years, we're starting to see more and more startling examples of it. You know, five years ago, maybe there was a small announcement that Google's playing chess really well using AI. And then we played go at a national level. And then an international crowd is the go champions. 

In some extended good, unless you were really deep and sort of insight based on knowing what was going on. didn't really matter. Right? What just happened about five days ago, four days ago, alpha fold, which is the direct offshoot of that is actually working on protein folding. While this is taking amino acids and guessing the correct shape of the protein, you remember this from being very important, because this is the basis now of how vaccines are being developed.

And to say this is why we're able to make a vaccine happened in under year it took five to 20 years. So having that power that computing power makes this happen.

And I will say I mean full disclosure, we're not there yet.

Right? Right. But you will be I know you will.

I think that that some of the proteins who is guessed by alpha fold are on par with you know, X ray lithography, photography,... some of the gold standards.

So, see, that's the type of stuff that makes me sleep better at night. It's like when especially whenever I visit Carnegie Mellon and like Pitt's, engineering labs and so forth. And I see these researchers, these women, these men working on these problems, and you think about what Google's doing, you're like, man, dude, you cannot keep the human being down. Like, we're gonna use technology to figure out and solve the world's toughest problems. And it just seems like every year, every day, it gets a little better and better, because the technology gets better people get more clever. It's like the technology pushes the people and the people push the technology. I think it's so amazing. Now, absolutely, I think you got that you got that in one. Right. It's a lot of this is about bringing that same technology and leveling the playing field. Right, we talk a lot about monetizing access to this stuff it used to be, but you could do that if you own your own data center and 100,000 servers and all this crazy stuff. Now we're saying your two guys in the garage, right? So the thing that I think if you go back, like like 10 years, there was no access to the power of platforms, like Google Cloud was just not there. Like you really had to have your own servers. We love maintaining our own servers and buying them and all that kind of fun stuff, because it's pretty cheap and easy to do, right.

Just being facetious, of course, and the idea now that these, these are powerful tools that not only that Home Depot can use you a billion billion billion dollar company, but man, two women, two person startup can go and access the same platforms, right? It's funny and sort of, if you look in the middle, sort of like moderately sized companies, one of the big challenges they found with one of their own data centers, especially this year has been what if somebody catches COVID? We actually had to keep your data center up. If somebody gets sick as everybody quarantine, how do you handle this? Right? And it turns up is one of these things that Google's been focused on? For years? I think it was in 2012. We ran in a an exercise, we call it dirt. Okay, just yes to recovery and testing. Wow. And we said, What if there is a massive outbreak of some epidemiological scale that takes off line centers, and knocks headquarters off campus? Like, what next? Right, and we actually are running these things. And so by the time we get to 2020, where essentially anything that could go wrong did go wrong. You know, we actually had plans that were not only theoretical plans, if we have an idea of what we'll do, they were tested, or there's somebody in a data center get sick, what do you do? Oh, we actually have an answer to this that we've practiced.

That's amazing thought about things at that level, right? That makes so much sense that you would be doing that. And you did, and it works.

And it works. It's kind of the neat thing. But it's also, you know, most companies don't spend a lot of time doing that. And disaster worst case planning ahead. And so one of things we talk to people about, like, we can help you even if it's just a back up plan, like just playing like, we don't want you to go down, you're a promising spot, like, Where can we help? And it's conversations like that, that I think leave people a little bit more open to the idea of making the investment in the change. Absolutely. It makes it. I mean, this has my brain thinking about security. I mean, I think cybersecurity is the absolute top concern, pretty much of any business out there. And when they're, you know, on the cloud, they're on someone else's platform, that's got to be top of mind. And I'm going to assume that man, Google knows what the heck it's doing when it comes to keeping things safe and secure, can give us more deets, and maybe some funny anecdotes about just how secure your platforms are these days.

Yeah, so but we have talked about security case, like a full day because it's just run, right? And we know, everything from the policies and procedures, which to me is actually where most of this starts. down to a cultural level, we always say that cybersecurity starts with it has to be a culture. It's not just the technology, it's the people and how they behave and how they work. Yeah. And we really, we run from there, all the way down to doing things like creating custom pieces of silicon to enforce security policies, you know, the bits and bytes levels. This thing called the Titan chip, which we actually embed in the internet controllers of our servers, okay. And we can enforce granular cryptographic operations at that level, down to the chip level. That's cool. See, oh, it's awesome.

What is that people pushing, pushing the technology and then technology pushing the people that's so cool, right? And it's you go like, well, if we ran an exercise and said, like, hey, hire the 100 smartest security researchers, you can find. Could you guys break this? and just see what they can come up with. And if they can come up with anything like Guess what? somebody out there is thinking along the same lines. Exactly. Right. And it's it's an act of practice. It's something we're really really pride ourselves on being diligent about. It's this is sort of the correlation because if you get an ads company, you're probably reading all my mail and you want No, just we should put this to bed. Okay, let's talk about Talk about everyone feels like they're so special and that everything of theirs is being scanned and then used against them or to sell them something at some point in time.

I mean, especially we talk about enterprises, if there's contractual guarantees that clearly say we don't do that. Sorry. It's still one of the two challenges we hear like you must be No, absolutely not. That's a hard No, from us.

It's a hard No. But I wouldn't be I would have to assume that's the case. Once again, there's a lot of conspiracy theorists out there. Let's try to put that to bed for just a little bit, my goodness. Crazy stuff. So let's talk about the fact that like, really, anyone can jump onto this platform, which I think is just so powerful. This isn't something where it's like, No, you got to be a big company, you can start at any level. And this is something that's going to grow with you as your business grows. And as your needs change and pivot. The platform's there to pivot with you.

Spot on. But when Snapchat started, it was like two guys who had a little app. Yeah. And we didn't have DevOps, they didn't have servers, they didn't have any of that stuff. And as they grew from a couple people to it's a fairly large company now. You know, think of a little bit of space on the server rack, right.

And so I think we've seen that just over and over and over again, right? is small ideas blossoming into the greatest ideas without sort of that natural attitude adolescent phase, when it's kind of awkward? And you know, oh, what are we doing now? They just go straight through that it's a smooth transition, because from day one, you're running on enterprise grade bulletproof hardware, software platforms, with Titan chips, Titan chips and phones now, too, because we realized that such a good idea.

So when we talk about, you know, a two person company that that's going to grow to be something like Snapchat and the amount of capacity it uses, you know, in your data centers, people want to talk about the environmental impact of those data centers. I know Google's done a lot when it comes to new streamlining and pulling efficiencies out of these things to make them as environmentally friendly as possible, because we know like, running twittering cheap on the environment. As far as tech goes, can you give us more details on how Google works?

Yeah, so look, so we've been carbon neutral for years and years and years. Right, this is just one of those things that we just said, If Googles mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible, we also should do this, we should not be evil. Like, on like, if we're going to be good for things we should do just to not be evil, the environment too, right.

And so we went from having all of our data centers being carbon neutral to actually buying enough offsets to be lifetime of Google to be neutral.


Are you serious? We are impressive. Yeah, no, it's it's truly amazing. And this is it's not just buying offsets. It's having the world's most efficient data centers and sort of look at the way we use power in the data center to be massively efficient, which, honestly, it's good for us because it costs less to operate data centers, it's good for the environment, because it operates with less energy, right into the constant sort of virtuous cycle of trying to find the right balance of carbon neutrality and recycle energy. And, you know, net net, the intent is to be a good person, and a good company and a good corporate citizen on the world stage and not just sort of on the stock market. Cool stuff. Man.

You have me convinced that's for sure. I just I think it's it's why I love telling these stories, because I'm learning something new as I talk to you. I'm hoping that our listeners are learning something new as well, too. I mean, what have we not covered that you think is really important about you know, Google, cloud, Google, in general, Google and Pittsburgh, anything that sticks out that we need to cover before we put a bow on this cool podcast?

I mean, selfishly, we're hiring. We hear dozens of jobs open from interns, to senior managers and stuff. I've got a position on my team, okay. If you know anybody that's spectacularly tech, talent, technology, talented, they're a good human being and they're looking for a challenge. I have to talk apps. Yeah, that's a good point. You bring that up, because I know Google's hiring like crazy Pittsburgh, like despite the pandemic, like, keep your eyes peeled on that, for sure.

Now, and beyond that, it's just, you know, we really want to be known throughout Western Pennsylvania. It's an amazing opportunity. It's an amazing region of the country. It is just for rich and complicated problems to have some cases. They're inventing as they go, right?

Oh, yeah. That's how it works here. I think everywhere, theories that are finally going, you know, we think there might actually be a way to revolutionize the industry. And sort of that entire scope of challenges like the breadth and the diversity of challenges there is just breathtaking.

I should reach out to you given how big you are, let's find a local contact here reach out and say, here's what I'm thinking, how can we work together? Like Don't be shy, right? Absolutely. No, this is we love solving problems. We want to get done more of it.

Good stuff, man. What a fun conversation and so much fun. You have completely enlightened me. You taught me some things today that I did not know about. And I just think hopefully, our listeners will get a ton of value out of this because like I said, Pittsburgh is definitely super pumped to the Google's doing what it's doing. And to know that it's no more that we have this Google Cloud platform that is there for you know, one person startup to massive enterprise companies. They're using the same technology with those Titan chips. Thank you for joining me today. You are the best. It was my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.

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