Episode 145 – Tap into the Power of Open Source to Achieve Great Things with Guillermo Rauch

 In Podcasts

Phil’s guest on today’s show is Guillermo Rauch.  Guillermo is the CEO and co-founder of ZEIT, a San Francisco company whose mission is to make cloud computing as easy and accessible as mobile computing.  Prior to ZEIT, Guillermo was the CTO and co-founder of LearnBoost and Cloudup. He’s also the creator of several popular Node.JS libraries.


(00.59) – So Guillermo, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Guillermo starts by explaining that, for many years, he has been working in the open source space, creating libraries and projects. Some of which the audience will have used in one form or another. For example, a framework called MuTools, which laid the foundations for a component system. It later became deeply embedded in Facebook’s own JS initiatives.

A lot of the MuTools team went on to work on React. People the audience probably sees every day on Twitter. After MuTools, Guillermo moved onto Node.js and started working with JavaScript. He used Node.js to create a universal platform of sorts.

Today his company maintains Next.js, which is one of the most popular frameworks for universal React applications. It is what some of the largest internet properties, now utilize. For example, Tencent news in China, one of the most highly trafficked sites in the world, is powered by Next.js.

Open source has been Guillermo’s key enabler for his career projects. He used it for Socket.io, mongoose and later for Next.js.

When you create a project with Next.js you can deploy it to the cloud using just one command. Guillermo’s company provides you with a platform to host and scale any website or application server. You can innovate, create features, ship products and look after your customers without getting bogged down in anything else like configuring the server, leaving you free to grow your business.

(4.19) – So, is this way of working gaining momentum? Or has it sort of evolved? How do you see it? Yes, cloud computing is definitely gaining momentum.

With services like ZEIT you no longer have to understand the low-level details, like how virtual machines work, SSL or DNS. That is all taken care of for you.

All users need to do is to focus on the code. It is far more user-friendly than the primitive cloud platforms are.

(6.21) Phil says, over the last decade, this is an area that has evolved to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. Guillermo agrees and he thinks we are on the brink of a step change when it comes to the Cloud.

He compares it to what happened with Blackberry and iPhone. For many years, it was only the business world that was using these devices to their full potential and recognizing the power of the apps. But, today, these devices are used by absolutely everyone. The same is happening with the cloud. As it becomes easier to use, more people are getting on board with it.

(7.37) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Guillermo says he cares deeply about his end user, the customer. He wants them to have the best possible experience. Over the years, he has developed a way of ensuring that he does not lose focus on the end customer, during the development process.

His advice is to know your latencies. Be aware of how fast data can be transferred and determine and choose the fastest route for the customer. You want them to have a great experience regardless of where they are in the world. Think about where your database, your code and your customers are. The information needs to travel at the fastest possible rate.

If you look at the world through this lens you will end up building amazing things.

The other latency figures you need to think about are the ones that relate to attention. Everything needs to appear to happen in real time. Things need to flow smoothly. You do not want a user to think that something has gone wrong and start pressing buttons. For example, if there is some avoidable lag, don’t put up a blank screen, use animation instead.

(12.08) Phil asks if knowing these latencies can also help you to benchmark your application. To know for sure how efficient it is. Guillermo says using latencies ensures that you naturally think about things from the viewpoint of your customer. So, you may for example think that it is a good idea to get users to give you their email address or card details as quickly as possible. After all you want to be able to contact them again and make the sales transaction fast and seamless. But, asking them to do these things before you have explained the value of your product could be a bad idea.

From their point of view, the act of keying in their email or credit card details slows them down and is super annoying when what they really need is more information from you. The chances are they will go elsewhere. Always see things from the end users perspective and deliver what they really want.

(13.33) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Guillermo says that he has had a few. Interestingly, one of his worst career moments turned out to be a positive thing, at least in the long term.

Guillermo created Socket.io when he was 17 or 18 years old. What he had created was a step change. This is evidenced by the fact that so many chat applications and firms like Trello and Microsoft used it to power real-time collaboration, documents and Office365.

During development, Socket.io was very well received by everyone he showed it to, especially in San Francisco. Yet, when he released it to the world, the reaction was terrible. The comments were overwhelmingly negative.

For example, one guy asked him why he was creating a socket library when they already existed online. Yet, sockets did not exist in web browsers, until Guillermo found a way to do it and published Socket.io.

The negative reception was not what he was expecting. But, it turned out to be a revelation for Guillermo.

He realized that the moment of creation is almost always a controversial one. It helped him to develop a thick skin, which you need to be able to plow through and carry on changing the Status Quo.

(18.44) – What was your best career moment? Guillermo is always opening DevOps to see how something works. He is constantly backward engineering, especially when he comes across something that he enjoys using.

Recently, he was on a Finnair flight using their Wi-Fi, which worked great. So, he decided to find out what was going on behind the scenes and was chuffed to see that they were using the technology he had developed.

Software has no frontiers. Once you have created something, it can pop up anywhere. It is thrilling to see the work you have done making a difference in the world.

(21.48) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? As CEO, Guillermo now spends a lot of his time building his team. Being able to welcome new people to the industry is really exciting. He is seeing a stream of talented newcomers coming through, people who are passionate, talented and ready to contribute. These people are real action takers, many of whom have changed careers and retrained.

The fact that there are so many great tools available is also exciting. Now you can deploy things fast. Plus, these tools enable newcomers to become really proficient in the industry very quickly. Anyone in the world can deploy a website or application to the cloud in milliseconds.

He is particularly excited about the community of developers based in Africa. Particularly in Nigeria, where a lot of the people he has been working with lately are based. Guillermo welcomes the fact that the industry is becoming more open and transparent.

(25.40) – What drew you to a career in IT? Guillermo always enjoyed using computers and backward engineering things to see how they worked. His curiosity drew him to an IT career and pushed him to succeed.

(26.41) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Ignore the haters. He reads the comments but does not take them to heart. Instead, Guillermo looks at them objectively.

He also does not associate his identity or ego with a particular technology or style of programming. Things are constantly changing anyway, so your identity needs to be fluid too.

(27.39) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Guillermo says he would probably do it all again. Although doing that could be tricky because luck has also played a role in his career.

Early on he joined a website where he got paid to do little tasks. For him, exposing his skills to the real world was a good move. He was advised to do that by a random person he met in a forum. Putting his work out there meant it got used and tested. If he had not come across that random person he would not have got into the habit of constantly testing and sharing his work, so soon. As a result, his work would not be as well known or widely used as it is today.

(29.27) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Guillermo is focusing on mentoring as a way to maximize the impact he has on the future of IT and what it can do. He is reaching out to more regions of the world enabling people by showing them his network and ensuring they can use it easily.

Guillermo goes on to explain the importance of planning when it comes to success. When creating his best products the majority of his time is spent on the planning and designing stage. The actual coding rarely takes as long. Talking to customers finding out about their pain points are, discussing things with your colleagues, going for a walk to mull things over in your mind are all just as important as the actual coding is.

(23.12) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? By far that is his presentation skills. Guillermo explains that you need to sell what you create, in the same way a firm like Apple does.

Steve Jobs once said that the best marketing is education. Teaching people about how to use your product and get the most out of it is vital if you want people to adopt it and get the most out of what you have created.

People’s attention is divided, there are so many distractions. You have very little time to make an impact, which is part of the reason presentation skills are so vital.

(35.06) – Phil asks Guillermo to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Guillermo’s advice is to always think outside of the box as much as possible. Step away from Twitter, Reddit and what is going on within the IT industry. Instead, look for inspiration in other industries, in other art forms.

Make sure you do not become locked into the IT world. Also, don’t become a victim of your own process, constantly adapt.


(03.41) GUILLERMO – “Open source has been the key enabler for my career projects.”

(19.56) GUILLERMO – “I always reverse engineer everything.”

(24.02) GUILLERMO – “I’m excited about, you know, how quickly it is to become proficient in this industry”

(31.52) GUILLERMO – “The real work happens when you’re talking to customers to find out about their pain points”

(35.17) GUILLERMO – “Think outside of the box as much as possible.”


Twitter: https://www.rauchg.com/ @rauchg

Company Website: https://zeit.co/

Personal Website: https://www.rauchg.com/


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