Inside the Innovator’s Mind: A Conversation with Matt Barlow
For this segment of our "Inside the Innovator’s Mind" series, we interviewed Matt Barlow, a principal engineer with Rackspace Technology. Read on to learn his problem-solving process and what drives him to keep innovating.
How do you find time to innovate?
The process of innovation is always happening. Even when my head is down, working on something I already know how to do, I'm constantly asking myself, "How could I automate or prevent the necessity of this work?" Also, any time I encounter an annoyance, no matter how small, I capture it so that I can come back to it later. When innovative ideas come to me, I often create a discussion post for the team, so that I can collect feedback before we prioritize and turn it into a series of tasks.
How do you keep up with new technologies?
As part of my day-to-day, any time I encounter something new, instead of glossing over it, I take a few minutes to understand it and repeat it back to myself in my own words to make sure my understanding is thorough.
Who or what inspires you?
The open source community is a big source of inspiration. I work a lot with Kubernetes, which has a fantastic, caring and helpful community. Everyone is encouraged to get involved, no matter their skill level, and it feels great to interact with people who have a shared purpose.
What is your approach to solving big problems?
There are two approaches I use, depending upon the problem. For problems that I have a lot of autonomy over, i.e. "big picture" problems, I think about them when I'm running. I run almost every morning before work, and it brings me a lot of clarity to situations going on inside and outside work.
Complex engineering problems, however, often involve the rest of the team. For those, I create an RFC (Request For Comments) and give my peers time to provide feedback. After a week or so, I schedule time for us to discuss.
How do you manage failure?
I own up to it and do the work required to set things right.
Getting to know you
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I never had a plan for what I wanted to be, and I didn't know until after I graduated college. In the late 90s, I responded to a job for a Computer Operator. I was given a tour of the data center, which sported black and white terminals, mainframes, patch panels and Sun Ultra Enterprise servers, and I remember telling myself, "This is where I belong."
What do you do now?
Rackspace Technology has a lot of expertise on how to architect and use the latest technology in order to assist customers on their digital transformation journey. I work with the latest technology — automating, implementing and building tools around it that get used in-house and by customers in order to enable success.
Is it what you imagined?
It is all that I imagined, and more! I've always loved working with computers. As a child, I wrote programs and I was in awe that I could bring my imagination to life. This was before the internet, and all the advances that have come since then. Today, we have the resources to test and implement virtually any new idea.
A day in the life
Do you have a morning routine at work? What is it?
Even though I work in product engineering, meaning I'm not directly customer facing, my highest priority is customer success. We have Slack channels for our Kubernetes support teams, and the first thing I do every day is check them to see if there were any issues that came in overnight. Even if the issues were not related to the product I'm working on, I still want to be aware of them.
Next, I start working from our project board, and the rest of my day is spent handling any urgent issues, working from the project board, and collaborating with others.
What types of demands do you encounter?
One significant demand I encounter is keeping software up to date. A modern application depends upon hundreds of ancillary software projects, such as the platform, container runtimes, operating system libraries, database services, cloud provider APIs and more. Keeping everything subordinate to the application updated, and ensuring the changes are safe, requires careful consideration.
Which roles/people do you interact with the most? How important is this interaction?
I interact the most with people who work in our Support organization. I'm a strong advocate for DevOps culture, which is about breaking down silos between engineering and operations groups.
What do you like about working with customers?
The challenge! I love getting involved and learning how our customers are using the latest technologies. The technology is like the raw material. Rackspace helps the customer shape the material according to their vision. Every customer vision is unique, and I always learn something new when I assist a customer.
What’s the highlight of your day?
The highlight of my day is the beginning of each day, because of the endless possibilities ahead and the energy to pursue them.