The UpTake by UpStack: Episode 2
10 min read
Jeff August, UpStack’s Chief Strategy Officer, interviews Sarah Keller, Director of Technology Sourcing and Supply Chain at Uber. In this interview they discuss women in technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Jeff August: 00:12
Hi, and welcome to the UpTake, conversations with technology leaders presented by UpStack. I’m chief strategy officer Jeff August. Today, I have a very special guest – one of my favorite ladies in the whole entire world – a woman that I met in a job interview when I went to work at Facebook back in 2009. And even though I choked up and started crying a little bit in the job interview, she agreed to let me come work on the team. Then she and I got to work together too. She managed the hardware, and I managed the services and colocation to build out what became a rapidly growing edge network for Facebook, the juggernaut you’ve all heard of.
And since then, she’s moved on to run sourcing at places like Workday, and now, she’s at another game-changing company you may have heard of called Uber. So ladies and gentlemen, my good friend, Sarah Keller.
Sarah Keller: 01:02
Hey, hey. How’s it going, Jeff?
Jeff August: 01:04
Pretty good. So as I kind of just ran through, you’re a pretty successful woman in an industry that’s been dominated by men for a long, long time. And if you were talking to maybe my daughter, my 19-year-old daughter or your daughter – how’s Belle doing? Hi, Belle – and you were going to give them advice on how to build a career in technology, what would you say to them?
Sarah Keller: 01:31
So I would say, “Easy, follow your passion, follow your interest, and don’t allow it to be defined by other people, but then take credit for the work that you do.” Right? I think too often it’s really like, “I don’t want to be citing myself as an individual. I want to acknowledge the team.”
It’s “we did this”, et cetera, even if you’re the one that’s been kicking ass and making it happen.
I think it’s natural for women to want to kind of fall back into that team mode and if you’re the one delivering it, acknowledge that, own it and take responsibility, but also take some of the credit because you deserve it. And don’t be afraid to, because honestly, that gets you a seat at the table. And if you’re not at a seat at the table, you’re always going to kind of be in the back seat.
Jeff August: 02:17
Yeah. So you’ve kind of got to be your own advocate, right?
Sarah Keller: 02:19
Jeff August: 02:20
The reason why I have you over for barbecue is to talk to my girls.
Now, one of the things that Uber’s business model … I think a lot of people think about it originally as like a ride-hailing app; that’s what it was originally. However, you guys have really become much more than a ride-hailing app. You’re more of a transportation company, a lot of different areas that you’re getting into.
But one part of that is managing a large fleet of devices all over the place, which we hear about in the the popular lexicon as the Internet of Things. Right? So you guys are really involved, and you’re pushing the envelope there. What’s one of the most interesting things that maybe you’ve heard about or applications? Talk to us about the Internet of Things (IoT).
Sarah Keller: 03:04
Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, we get caught up as an industry in buzzwords, and everybody loves, you know, there’s that whole concept of “what is the cloud” and how do you define cloud. And I think we’re kind of caught in the same place with Internet of Things because people start, I think, over-analyzing it to the point where they forget that it’s really just an endpoint device that has network connectivity. It’s really that simple, whether it’s a wearable, whether it’s your NSA spy device sitting in your kitchen, or whether it’s in your car, like in our case. Every driver, if you think about it, has got a mobile device sitting in the car tracking the trip. That is effectively an IoT device by all extensions. Right?
So if you think about it in that way, I think the most interesting application that we have the privilege of working on right now and that we’re public about is probably around the drone technology. So we’re moving into a place where we’re moving Jetson-style off the streets and into the air. Electronic drones that are taking people across cities that are normally very traffic congested and you have to be able to track the device in all aspects.
But then there’s also these concepts of baby drones, right, which have delivery aspects. So food delivery, potentially your Amazon packages or something – not that we have an official presentation with Amazon – but I’m just saying you could see all of the different applications, where it’s like you could have your dinner for your family, you could have that order that you were waiting on, you have your medicines, et cetera.
Well, all of that has to track to each other. And it all comes back to connectivity because if the IoT isn’t tracking exactly where you are, then where does the drone know where to deliver that hamburger or that application, right? It needs to be able to track not only you in motion but also picking things up on time and then delivering to you on time so that when you’re coming off of that drone, you’ve got your package waiting for you. Right? So I think that’s probably one of the coolest things. The project is called Elevate. People who want to understand what we’re doing can actually just look at Uber Elevate, but it’s some really, really cool stuff.
Jeff August: 05:19
Uber Elevate. Well, that’s interesting because it kind of leads into my next and my favorite question, my final question because it’s UpStack. As you can tell when I was talking, I’m very passionate about edge computing, in general. The Internet of Things is very related to edge computing, and you hear about edge computing all over. I think it was Gartner or somebody like that recently said that 10% of internet computing happens at the Edge today, and within five to seven years they expect it to be 70% of edge computing to be driven by edge computing. And if that’s the case, what do you think the Edge looks like in five to seven years?
I think I heard some hints there, but also just so everybody knows, UpStack can totally help you guys with your edge strategy out there. I’m plugging us right now, but if you guys would like to understand what it takes to build an edge node, that’s what UpStack is all about, Uber has plenty of them around the world. So, what do you think? Do you see more of the same, or do you see some really strange applications? Or what do you think the edge looks like in seven years?
Sarah Keller: 06:21
Yeah, I think it’s a great question, and I think people are still really trying to figure out how to take … because the reality is, is when you are dealing with a lot of data sets, it’s pretty expensive to transport that back to major data centers. And while I’d love to take my conductivity hubs and use that for pruning, that’s also probably not efficient. So this is where you start seeing these kind of edge computing, modular structures starting to coming come up. Modular structures connected to cellular towers so that when you have mobile applications it’s just pruning it right there and then you’re riding the dark fiber wave right back to your data center.
I think those are the way that the market is thinking today. I actually think we’re going to start finding that we’re going to start using … My bet would be that’s still going to be too restrictive because at the end of the day if you’re thinking about all of this traffic, and then you also start thinking about older cities, like London, where it’s really difficult to bring additional fiber into the ground – you’re only going to have a few spots. Those spots are going to get really congested really easily. So how do you build an edge that can handle the volume of data that could be coming?
I think you’re going to start seeing more creative solutions where they’re going to even take … Think about your Amazon pickup that occurs on a … I’ve plugged Amazon twice, and again, Uber has no partnership with Amazon, so I’m not trying to do a thing here. But if you think about your Amazon package delivery at your grocery store, I actually suspect that you’re going to start seeing edge devices or edge kind of network starting to come into areas that don’t make sense. Like you wouldn’t expect an edge to sit in a grocery store, but guess what? An edge sits in the grocery store. That’s how the Amazon package delivery process actually works, right?
So if you start thinking about those kinds of applications, then it opens it up because now I’m not stuck to where there’s a cellular tower hub. I can now move this into local retail shops or places that were historically not edge kind of computing, held up on an IDF. Now I’ve got my connection hub, right?
Jeff August: 08:27
Yep, yep. I’ve actually heard of companies who are building little mobile edge POPs that you could roll into a stadium just the Superbowl and you need a whole bunch of 5G connectivity, and you need a whole bunch of compute right there. You could just roll this big old robot in there and everything’s good. I mean it’s very Star Wars, and as you know, I love Star Wars.
Sarah Keller: 08:47
Yeah. I mean, I think this is where you’re going to start seeing the hardware getting simpler, the network getting dumber, right? Because at a certain point, I don’t want to have to send network engineers or deployment technicians into that grocery store application. I want it to be plug and play. I want it to be smart, self-actualizing, to a certain degree, self-realizing, and if it’s broken, I’m going to replace the entire unit. I’m not going to deal with trying to fix it. Right?
Jeff August: 09:12
Disposable edge, that’s where we’re going next!
Sarah Keller: 09:14
I hate to say it, it’s a disposable culture. I think a disposable edge is probably not that far off.
Jeff August: 09:19
Awesome. Well, I just want to say thank you very much for taking the time. It’s really awesome to talk to you. And since we live in the same neighborhood, maybe we should have a barbecue again soon.
Sarah Keller: 09:30
Jeff August: 09:31
Thanks, guys. Talk to you later.
Sarah Keller: 09:32