CTO Sessions: Gary Ogasawara, Cloudian

What makes an effective tech strategy? "Add value to the customer."


Name: Gary Ogasawara

Company: Cloudian

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: November 2019

Location: San Mateo, California, USA

Gary Ogasawara is Cloudian’s first Chief Technology Officer, responsible for setting the company’s long-term technology vision and direction as it builds on its position as the most widely deployed independent provider of object storage systems. Before assuming this role, he was Cloudian’s founding engineering leader. Prior to Cloudian, Ogasawara led the Engineering team at eCentives, a search engine company.

What was your first job? In the year after undergrad and before grad school, I worked for a US defence contractor where I wrote software for combining data from multiple sources into summary reports. All-in-all, it was an interesting problem that helped deepen my interest in AI/ML.

Did you always want to work in IT? It was probably inevitable that I would end up there. My middle school had a few Radio Shack TRS-80 computers, and that was one spark that ignited my future interest in technology.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I went to University of California, Berkeley for Computer Science, and then returned to Berkeley for my Ph.D in Computer Science. 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. It was pretty linear in retrospect. While in grad school, I did a few internships with startups as well as large companies. After grad school, I did go to a large company but soon thereafter wanted to go to a company that was solely focused on software. This led to joining some AI startups, and I ended up focusing on personalised ad targeting. That led to working on high-performance distributed server software to deal with the large data volume. And after some different projects in related areas, I'm now basically in the same problem space – how to reliably manage large amounts of data and extract value from that data.

What type of CTO are you? I do a lot of technical work and software development and also manage a small group of engineers to push forward technology projects. The goal is that those technology projects can then be incorporated into Cloudian's products.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Those technologies that are able to integrate multiple types of computing and storage resources across a dynamic and unreliable distributed network, including edge processors and central hubs such as public and private clouds. These distributed systems technologies include management frameworks like Kubernetes, hardware like Raspberry Pi, and distributed algorithms and software.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? 5G.  It's certainly important and will enable new applications, but it does not solve the fundamental problem – namely that we will always need to push compute and storage as close as possible to where data is created and limit the amount of network traffic.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? One initiative that’s maybe not that unique generally, but new to us since the shelter-in-place order, has been regular Zoom lunches with my team. The rules are video is required to be on and minimal work talk.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Because we're a fairly new software company, our processes are already modern and automated. With that said, we’re always looking for ways to improve the customer experience and deliver greater value, including helping customers in their digital transformations.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Enabling them to capitalise on the many advantages of containers and Kubernetes by providing them with a Kubernetes S3 Operator in our software and integrating with VMware’s new data persistence platform. As infrastructure software, our products are always used in combination with other application software. With this work, it will simplify the management of these multiple software pieces.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Regular interaction with the other parts of the organisation that focus on new prospects (Sales and Marketing) and existing customers (Support and Engineering).

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not especially.  If anything, it's mainly a question of time/speed. We can see the customer needs and pain points, and it's a matter of how quickly we can address them.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Add value to the customer. As Steve Jobs said, this does not necessarily mean heeding every customer request. It's about leading and demonstrating value.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Regardless of the complexity of the company, actually building things (usually software) is critical.

What has been your greatest career achievement? It’s hard to point to a single achievement, but I’m certainly proud of my role in helping Cloudian become the largest independent provider of object storage solutions.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Bought FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) stocks earlier. 

What are you reading now? I recently finished a Genghis Khan biography by Jack Weatherford where I learned a lot, especially related to Eurasia development. I have also started a recent fiction book, The Glass Hotel.

Most people don't know that I… Am a "beek", i.e., an amateur beekeeper. I'm 2 years in and have enjoyed watching and learning from the bees. I am allergic to bee stings and had an unpleasant trip to the ER due to a bee sting reaction, but I’m now almost finished with an effective bee venom immunotherapy.

In my spare time, I like to… Recently since the shelter-in-place order, I've been walking or running the neighborhood streets and getting to know the neighborhood much better – people with the same schedule, streets, paths, homes and gardens.

Ask me to do anything but… Eat pickles. Sorry, very rarely have, and hopefully, rarely will.