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- Aparna Sinha is group product manager of Kubernetes and Cloud Services Platform at Google — and one of Business Insider’s 100 people transforming business.
- Kubernetes, originally created by Google engineers based on an internal project, has exploded in popularity and become one of the most widely-used cloud software projects today.
- Sinha discusses how she became involved in working with Kubernetes by riding a bus with one of the early Kubernetes engineers at Google and learning everything she could about cloud computing.
Aparna Sinha attended Stanford at the same time as Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But at the time, she never imagined that their search company would grow so big, let alone that she would end up working there.
Now, Sinha works as the group product manager of Kubernetes and Cloud Services Platform (CSP) at Google, where she leads the team running Google Cloud’s services for Kubernetes — arguably the most popular open source cloud software in the world.
Kubernetes, which was started in 2014 by a group of Google engineers based on an internal project, has now exploded in popularity and is used by at least 54% of the Fortune 500. Although Kubernetes is now an independent project, Google runs its own Kubernetes service, known as Google Kubernetes Engine, which Sinha now leads.
Sinha had been familiar with Google from the very beginning. At the time, while she was attending Stanford for undergrad and her PhD, she didn’t personally know Google’s founders, who dropped out of their PhD program to start the company. However, many of her friends and classmates joined the company — a small startup at the time.
"In 1999 and 2000 a lot of companies came out. It was considered extremely risky at the time to join these startups. I was like no, I’ll do the safe PhD path," Sinha told Business Insider. "I think there were people who had the vision to understand Google will be enormous."
Meanwhile, Sinha became more interested in enterprise software, first at consulting giant McKinsey & Company and later, the computer storage company NetApp. Sinha was intermittently approached by Google recruiters, starting in 1999, when the company was only a year old. But at the time, Google was a consumer company, and her interest was limited.
It took her 14 years, and a pitch from a friend, to finally join Google.
From a bus ride to Google Cloud
Sinha started at Google in 2013, in the Android Things division at Google, its platform for building connected gadgetry powered by the Android operating system.
"I didn’t join Google to do cloud," Sinha said. "When I joined, cloud was very, very new here. I thought it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I joined Google’s consumer technology, and I worked hard to have a role in the Android team. Then I learned about Kubernetes."
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While working at Google, she read up on Borg, the search giant’s storied system for managing its tremendous computing infrastructure across servers and data centers. One day, she found out about Kubernetes — built from the underlying tech that powers Borg — from her husband, who advised her to read a post about it on the popular online forum Hacker News. It immediately piqued her interest.
That made her decide decide to talk to Tim Hockin and Brian Grant, the software engineers leading Kubernetes at Google, to pick their brains. But she wasn’t able to get ahold of them until Google Cloud Next, the company’s annual cloud customer conference.
"There was no time," Sinha said. "This project was growing like mad. I couldn’t find any time with Tim or Brian, except Tim was going to this thing called Next."
Despite working for Google, Sinha didn’t have a ticket to Next, but she wanted a chance to speak with Hockin. She asked Hockin how he was getting to Next, and he said he was taking the bus.
"I said, ‘I’ll meet you at 7 a.m. on the bus and we’ll go together … I’ll just accompany you on the bus ride,’" Sinha said.
Sinha and Hockin rode the bus to San Francisco in the morning. He told her about Kubernetes, and she told him about her work with Android. He was even able to sneak her into the conference, where she spent her time learning about Google Cloud.
After that conversation, she ended up moving over to the Kubernetes team as a senior product manager ,where she took on a new role of leading Google Kubernetes Engine —Google Cloud’s own service based on the technology. She has since been promoted to group product manager.
"I think we’re in the early stages and there’s more work we need to do to make the application applicable to the majority of enterprises," Sinha said. "I’m proud of the team and delivered something that’s applicable to the rest of the world. I’m grateful and happy folks have picked it up and used it."
Why Kubernetes is changing everything
Sinha says Kubernetes changed the industry as companies move to the cloud. She says that Kubernetes is the way that companies are using the cloud to deliver more software, faster. Because Kubernetes works across clouds and data centers, it means that users can untether themselves from any given server, data center, or cloud provider.
Furthermore, Kubernetes makes it easy to scale systems up as demand increases, while also increasing system reliability and availability.
"You would be able to provide [customers] more reliable service and fulfill whatever they need from you quickly," Sinha said. "It’s not OK to have outages on Black Friday or Cyber Monday if you’re a retailer. Certainly we see a huge amount of success in the retail sector because we’re able to provide an extremely reliable and personalizable platform where retailers can meet those demands."
Sinha is now also working with Anthos, Google’s first-ever hybrid cloud solution, which customers can install on their own data centers and integrate with the original Google Cloud. Anthos, built using some principles from Kubernetes, is especially helpful for customers who can’t or won’t go all-in on the cloud just yet, Sinha says.
"The reason we’re excited about that is they have large developer teams that work in on-prem platforms," Sinha said. "Those teams are falling behind because they don’t have as agile of a platform. They want to adopt the most agile platform. That’s where Kubernetes seems to have won. The fact they can try it really helps with the adoption."
An ‘ubiquitous’ future
Sinha says that in the future, Kubernetes needs to become "ubiquitous."
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"It needs to be able to run all types of applications," Sinha said. "It needs to be able to run in all types of environments. It needs to be easy to run and manage. At the end of the day this is a platform for software development. I’m excited about the work, Google Cloud and our potential, and our opportunity to work beyond our cloud and make Kubernetes that ubiquitous platform."
Already, Kubernetes is being used by companies like Spotify, eBay, and even "Pokémon Go" developer Niantic. And the growth won’t stop any time soon, Sinha says.
"That’s a major achievement, being able to build a system that’s able to serve the needs of large enterprises," Sinha said. "That’s been very fulfilling, the fact that Kubernetes has seen so much uptick across enterprises outside of cloud and on-prem environments. I don’t think we’re done…It’s growing really fast."
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