Free Fridays: Lakshmi Kannan discovers what it takes to run a 99.9999 system

What is your role at Cockroach Labs?

At Cockroach Labs, I am one of four product managers on the Product team. At a high level, I work on increasing the market share of CockroachDB by making it easy to access and run CockroachDB. More specifically, I work on building out a CockroachDB Cloud offering that takes the day to day operations of running a distributed database out of the hands of our users, to truly “make data easy.”

What do you do day to day at Cockroach Labs?

I usually try to do a few hours of heads down, focused work (like reading, writing, or research into a new technical topic or feature we are building) first thing in the morning between 7am and 10am. The actual day varies a lot with meetings spread throughout the day.

As a PM, I sit on many customer calls where I try to understand common use cases, feature requests, what issues users are facing with the product, and generally collect as much feedback as possible. I use this data to make decisions and evaluate trade-offs on what we build and when. I also work closely with our design colleagues, as we think through the ideal user experience for a database-as-a-service, and also collaborate with sales and marketing on pricing and go-to-market for the offering. And finally, I measure how our features and clusters are doing, where users fall off in their process of using CockroachDB and try to improve their experience to get wide adoption.

What does Free Friday mean to you?

When I first started at Cockroach Labs, I used Free Fridays to go deep on various topics in distributed systems and databases. For example, I spent the first few Free Fridays reading and reviewing concepts from this great book that Nate, our VP of Product, recommends all PMs read.

It is very important to me that Fridays remain a no-meetings day. This allows me to go deep on whatever task I am working on without interruptions or distractions. I highly value the space and time to do this kind of deep work that is very hard during the week.

What is your current Free Friday project?

My current Free Friday project entails being an AWS expert. Building a database-as-a-service product requires understanding cloud infrastructure well, so I am taking an AWS solutions architect exam at the end of 2018 which is really just a motivation to get my hands dirty with cloud provider offerings. It’s been a great way to further my skill sets for my current role, but also build expertise and professional development for the long term.

What else have you done on a Free Friday?

My partner lives in DC, and I work in the NYC office Monday through Thursday which means I don’t see her during the week. So sometimes, we’ll take a half day to go hiking or travel elsewhere for the weekend.

Describe a typical Free Friday.

In the past, I have tried running a secure CockroachDB cluster in AWS and GCP to understand what it takes to run a 99.999 system. Since we were in the early stages of building a cloud offering, getting my hands dirty with the ins and and outs of load balancers, networking, key rotation, encryption, security and certificates etc. in each cloud provider was very valuable for my “day” job.

How does Free Friday support your long term goals?

Free Fridays are integral to my long term career goals of being a great PM. I use the time for professional development, and tinkering with things that I wouldn’t otherwise have time to during the week.

Secondly and perhaps even more importantly, the flexibility of not having to come into the office on Fridays means that I spend more than half the week in DC which is important for my overall personal life and happiness.

Please share any other topics that may be related to Free Friday or that you want to share.

I view Free Fridays for my career development as going to the gym regularly or getting enough sleep for my health. While in the short/medium term, you might not see the difference, in the long term, it makes you a healthier, and happier person. Similarly, Free Fridays make me a better PM and employee in the long run.

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