Pivotal People—Andy Piper, Cloud Foundry Developer Advocate

August 21, 2013 Adam Bloom

Pivotal-People_Andy-PiperAs famous businessman, Lee Iacocca, once said, “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”

At Pivotal, we believe our teams and our people are the path to great products, services, and successful customer relationships. As part of this belief, we feature one of our colleagues in a “Pivotal People” post on a regular basis.

This week, we get an opportunity to have Q&A with Andy Piper. You may have seen Andy on stage at O’Reilly OSCON and GigaOM Structure, caught some of his tweets, or seen an article he authored, like AMQP vs MQTT vs STOMP. Andy is the Developer Advocate for Cloud Foundry and has spent his career on Java, middleware, service oriented architectures, Linux, and a variety of open source projects. With 10+ years of IBM under his belt, Andy has lead and supported communities around WebSphere, software development, Eclipse Paho, MQTT, and more.

In a few weeks, you can also catch him at SpringOne 2GX in Santa Clara, CA (September 9-12). He will be presenting “Building Spring Applications on Cloud Foundry.”

Q1 | Where did you grow up? Tell us about it.

Commodore-PET-2001A1 | I grew up on the south coast of the UK with my younger brother. To be honest, I was always interested in technology. I remember playing around with a Commodore PET at primary school, then Spectrums, BBC Micros, Amiga, etc. One of my earliest hardware hacks was soldering some Walkman headphones into my Acorn Electron and adding a switch between the computer speaker and the headphones. My parents weren’t too keen on the 8 bit game sound effects, and I’m so glad we moved on from loading software off audio cassettes! As a teenager, a friend and I wrote and sold educational software to schools for the RISC OS platform.

Q2 | Tell us about your work background and how you came to Pivotal?

A2 | I left university with a degree in Modern History, which didn’t make it easy to start in IT when employers were looking for an academic science background! I initially joined the UK Post Office on a management training scheme in their IT division, becoming a lead middleware developer. After that, I spent 10 years with IBM, which is a fantastically varied company. I had a huge range of experiences but primarily worked on middleware (Java and messaging) in their Software group. One of the coolest things was being on a team of three that benchmarked the best-performing payments processing system—something we built back in 2002. My last three years at IBM were spent with developer outreach and product strategy. This is how I came on the radar when VMware was building a Developer Relations team. I was enticed to work on Cloud Foundry with the words “how would you like to work on something new, and be part of a platform from the beginning?”

Q3 | In your words, what is your role in this new Pivotal organization? What are you most focused on?

logo-cloudfoundry_w400pxA3 | My job title is Developer Advocate for Cloud Foundry, and I think the title itself encapsulates the role. I want to help make Cloud Foundry the best Platform-as-a-Service choice for as many developers and organisations as possible. Many companies have product “evangelists”, and, of course, my role does involve some outward evangelism or promotion for the platform, but there’s no magical laying-on of hands to convince people. This is a bit of a semantic point, but something I take seriously. I’m an advocate for Cloud Foundry to our customers and users, but, very importantly, I’m the advocate for the developers that I speak to—I take feedback back to the Pivotal engineering and product management teams. If we’re not getting something right in the way we build or explain things, then I need to work on bridging that gap. I’m part of a team we call Community Engineering. So, I’m very focused on how we work with the Open Source community to make the platform a success.

Q4 | What does Cloud Foundry do for people?

A4 | cta-springonegx_V02Cloud Foundry helps developers. No matter what cloud infrastructure you choose, developers have a consistent and rapid way to deploy and scale applications. Just like it used to be easy to buy a beige box with the raw computing hardware (CPU, Ethernet, and hard disk) from a number of vendors, I think Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is a solved problem—you can get your compute engine, network and storage from any of a number of providers (e.g. Amazon, OpenStack, VMware, and others like Azure or CloudStack). Cloud Foundry provides the consistent cloud operating system on top of those—we think of it as “the Linux of the cloud,” just as Linux has become a widespread OS across a number of devices and hardware architectures. This year’s Comic Relief event in the UK was a great example—a critical system was deployed to both vSphere and AWS for redundancy, using the same tools to manage the system at scale.


Q5 | What is the major focus for you and the new Pivotal One platform?

pivotalOne_overviewA5 | There are a couple of key areas of attention at the moment. Firstly, there’s Cloud Foundry itself. Other parts of Pivotal One (the data and app fabrics) depend on it. So, we need to ensure that it meets the requirements and needs of the product and platform offering. The other aspect is developing the community and ecosystem around Cloud Foundry. We recently saw IBM join the project, and a number of organisations are in the process of joining an Advisory Board for future governance of the project. From a community perspective, this is very exciting, and I’m delighted to be working with some former colleagues again. Yet, we also need to delicately balance this with our internal product requirements for Pivotal One. One of our first opportunities to do that is at the forthcoming Platform Conference (Sept 8-9, Santa Clara), where I’m looking forward to facilitating discussions between all contributors to the project.

Q6 | Have you worked with some of the other Pivotal One products before?

A6 | Java, of course. When I jumped from middleware at IBM to Cloud Foundry at VMware, I left a lot of technology behind! IBM had been a Java EE shop (with some C and COBOL around the edge), while VMware had Spring. Cloud Foundry supported node.js and Ruby—I had only hacked with those briefly before. My background with NoSQL databases and Hadoop was on paper, rather than thoroughly practical. One thing I’ve learned across my career is that it is important to be flexible and to keep up with the latest technology trends, frameworks, and techniques because things never stay still. I’m a rapid learner and have enjoyed getting to know the suite of technologies we have in the Pivotal One portfolio. Although, I confess that I’m still not as hands-on with our data products as I’d like to be if I had the time to dive deeper with them.

Q7 | What new Pivotal products are you most excited about working with?

A7 | Everything that the Spring team has been working on is really cool! I’m particularly interested in things like Spring Boot. It is a great way to provide an on-ramp to the Spring platform which grows and evolves with the developer as they become more comfortable with all of the richness it provides. The CujoJS team is doing some very exciting stuff on the front-end as well.

Q8 | What do you like to do in your personal time when you aren’t living and breathing Pivotal products?

andy-piper-lone-ranger-lego_200x200A8 | Well, I’m a lapsed scuba diver—lapsed because I haven’t been anywhere warm to dive for far too long! I’m a total tinkerer. I hack around with various hardware prototyping boards like Arduino as part of my open source interest in Internet of Things projects. In the past couple of years, I also rediscovered LEGO and have a growing collection of fun minifigures! I’m also a photographer. Beyond that, I have two amazing nieces I like to spend time with—my family is great.

Q9 | What is your favorite developer tool and why?

A9 | Wow, good question. I use a bunch of tools day-to-day. So, it is difficult to pick one out. I love Homebrew for package management on OS X, and I try to maintain the RabbitMQ and mosquitto packages as part of that project. I think it is indispensable for installing useful open source tools that help to get things done. I’m a huge fan of Sublime Text as an editor. The Github apps are all really nice. I also like an app called Pivotal Element for OS X that helps me keep up with Tracker tasks on my desktop.

Q10 | What is your biggest achievement and what is on you bucket list while still on this little rock we call earth?

A10 | I feel immensely proud to have been invited to speak at particular events and venues—the Boule de Cristal in Montreal, the Open University in the UK, O’Reilly OSCON, and GigaOM Structure. Those all go onto my “big deals” list, and some of those were not purely about software at all.

My (currently short) bucket list is actually on Github! The top item is to give a TED talk, but I’m not sure I’m in the same league as some of the speakers that have graced the TED stage…yet. I also do want to write a book one day, but never seem to have the time or focus for it!

About the Author


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