An Inside Look with Codeship: Jessica Suttles, CTO of Vektra
Jessica Suttles is the CTO of Vektra, the company behind Current, a log management SaaS. This week, we had the chance to sit down with Jessica to talk about pivoting, why Ember is awesome, and how success is a minimum viable product.
An Inside Look with Codeship is a regular series providing an insider’s perspective on the tech industry. Each session, we chat with some of the most exciting voices in tech and ask them where they’ve been, where they’re going, and what we could all be doing together. You can read all Inside Look interviews here.
To start off, tell us a bit about Current, your log management SaaS.
Sure. It’s hosted log management, so essentially we aggregate all your logs and provide search and analysis abilities. There are a lot of existing competitors, but the space is ripe for disruption, because they were mostly built three to five years ago. We really want to make a product that gets the basics down really well, which we feel like a lot of the others have not.
We’re in private beta right now, and we’re about to open it up to the public in a few weeks. And then after the beta program runs for about two months, we’ll be opening it up for paid service.
We’re really focusing on a usable UI. Some of the other log management systems have a very complicated UI. They offer a rich set of features, but it can sometimes be confusing. Just overwhelming figuring out what to use and how to use them.
We’re just starting from the simplest possible solution and utilizing user research to move forward from there. We think the user research really helps us come up with something usable. In fact, part of the beta sign-up is surveys that are part of our user research. People taking those surveys are super helpful for us to create a product that really works for them.
When you joined Vektra, you were working on a different product. Can you talk about the company’s decision to pivot?
Yeah, we pivoted about six months ago to begin working on Current. When I joined, we were working on an infrastructure product. Evan Phoenix, our CEO, had already started working on it. The 1.0 was basically going to be a Heroku that you could run anywhere.
And we do still think that the market really needs a better infrastructure solution, but it’s a very crowded space right now. And it’s also very difficult to get people to change their infrastructure. All these companies that are coming out, they have these great products, but they’re still really looking for that first customer. And that’s a hard problem to be in.
So we decided to refocus our efforts on one smaller area of infrastructure. All these new things coming out, they’re all lacking a good solution for logging. And so we’re really aiming to be the provider of the good logging solution.
Can you tell me more about your two partners in Vektra, Evan Phoenix and Kristen Reyes?
So Evan started the company by himself a little over a year ago. And then Kristen came on as COO, and then shortly after that, I came on as founding engineer. But since we’ve pivoted, my responsibilities grew. Or I should say that I decided to take on more responsibility. And so now I’m CTO and co-founder of our new product.
We all knew each other for years before we worked together; we were already friends. And they’re both just, like, great human beings.
Kristen keeps us organized and moving as a company. She really enables Evan and I to focus on the tech, so that’s awesome.
I was really excited to work with Evan because I really look up to him. He’s been around for a long time in the industry, and built some cool stuff. For example, he started Rubinius, which is an alternate implementation of Ruby. And he also wrote Puma, which is the recommended web server for Heroku right now. The amount of code that he turns out in a day is amazing.
Just being able to learn from your coworkers and be inspired by them is a really awesome thing. Especially when it seems it’s such an evolving industry. It changes all the time. You have to be with people who are willing to let you learn.
So what about your own background in tech? It looks like you’ve been focused on development since day one.
Ha, I actually went to college for fine arts. But while I was there, I had to fulfill a math requirement, and I took a computer science class to do it. And I just fell in love, so I’ve been doing that ever since.
I went to a school where the computer science department was very small — I graduated with five other people. So I think that my professors were very interested in making sure everyone in the program succeeded, because they were trying to grow it. I think that kind of support early on really helped me to get going.
I’ve been with a few different companies since. I first had an internship at a company called Edgecase in Ohio that was really focused on software as a craft. So it was a really great place to learn. They were super interested in TDD and really crafting an application well. I loved learning Rails development there.
And then I moved out to California and started working for a company called Curious Minds, where I worked on a Rails app, an iOS app, and an Android app for RingADoc, an on demand doctor service. And then I was at Philosophy, a consultancy in Venice, California. I worked on a bunch of Rails and Facebook apps there for a lot of startups. Then I went to a company called G5, and we were rebuilding their CMS, and the front end of that was in Ember. I’ve been a big Ember fan ever since.
I noticed that you seem to be quite the Ember fan. I was going to ask if there were any tools you were particularly excited about.
And we also use Go for Current. The community is really starting to grow there. I went to GopherCon this year, and it was 1,500 people. Last year, it was only 700. I think that’s because the language has reached a maturity level where it’s really ready to be adopted by a lot of people. And it offers a lot of speed and concurrency, which people want.
I like Ruby for solving problems that I’ve already solved a bunch of times before. For example, right now, our user management is all done through a Rails app because that tooling has just been around and hardened for so long. There are a few gems that I can just pull in and use right away to get that going.
But, we deal with logs, so when people are sending us their logs and searching them, that all goes through a Go API, because that’s a lot of data and high request rate. It’s easier to process those all through Go.
Now, you speak at conferences as well, correct?
I did it regularly for about a year, but I think I’ve not spoken for over a year now, besides a few lightning talks. I do have a talk lined up as a back-up speaker for February. I think I’m going to start getting back into it.
[caption id="attachment_2713" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]
Jessica speaking at GopherCon | Photo courtesy of Chandra Carney
The reason I started speaking in the first place is that it terrifies me. I’m pretty introverted, and I don’t like being the center of attention. But I’m so impressed by people that can get up in front of a crowd and speak. So that’s really my drive behind it. I just wanted to get better at something that scares me. Which, ha, is also why I took a hiatus from it because it’s very stressful to do on a continuous basis.
But now that we have this product to tell everyone about, Evan and I will both be doing more speaking.
So when you’re working on Current, for example, is there one metric you’ve defined to measure the success of your work?
Hmmm. With Vektra, with the product that we decided to move away from, I didn’t feel that we were super successful with it. We’d worked on it for about six months, and we weren’t in a place where we were ready to share it with people yet. We still had a lot of work to do, which is one of the reasons we decided to pivot.
But I feel like we’re doing a lot better with Current, because we’ve been working on it for about six months, and we’re about ready to ship the public beta. So I think the ability to just get something in front of people makes me feel like I’m getting a lot done.
That’s also made easier by the fact that Current’s problem domain is much smaller than solving the whole infrastructure problem. It’s a more focused problem. That makes me feel like we can create a better solution for people when we’re having more focused conversations about what people would like out of a product like ours.
What would you like to say to someone that you see getting started in their tech career?
I feel like somebody might have said this to me, but I didn’t really know how to take it to heart at the time. But just the fact that nobody knows everything. There are things that everybody doesn’t know.
Just starting off, it was so intimidating to be around more experienced developers and just thinking that they always had the answers. But now that I’ve been around developers more and more, I realize that a lot of the time, nobody has the answer until they’ve gone and done the research or tried something out.
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