Book Club

February Book Review: The Light We Carry

For February book club we read The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama. At its heart this book is a call to action and a message of hope in times of uncertainty, and while it isn’t necessarily the prototypical choice for a book club on leadership in technology, I have historically found biographies and autobiographies of leaders managing turbulent times to be incredibly inspiring. This book was no exception. The book isn’t really memoir, but it is autobiographical in the sense of the stories she shares. Here are the nuggets that particularly resonated with me and the group, and might be lessons leaders in technology want to reflect upon as well:

  1. Build your “kitchen table”. Mrs. Obama talks about the kitchen table of her youth: how many people were gathered there with love and support for one another, not just family, but also friends, and that was particularly poignant to me. With Covid19 lockdowns, increased remote work, the age and associated obligations of my children, and other factors, my “kitchen table” is not as full as I personally would like. The de facto friendships I used to get at work are much harder to create remotely and without the regular touchpoints of work travel making it easier to say “yes” to grabbing dinner or drinks with friends. I try to stay in touch with friends when they happen to be in town, or if I happen to be traveling to their towns, but it is far more sporadic, and the friends and colleagues I once spoke with constantly, of course have less frequent touch points with me now that we are dispersed to other companies. Mrs. Obama shares wonderful stories about her “bootcamp” weekends with her best friends (at Camp David no less) and I have to admit that it was a personal inspiration to remember that we can choose to continue our friendships, and it has immense dividends to us personally and professionally. We need a village, and it begins by picking up the phone, texting to check in, or just sending a little virtual love on social media to the folks we care about. The limiter here is time of course, but a book club, email/text thread with besties, running/gym club/buddy, etc. can be good life hacks to keep folks in touch on a semi-regular basis. There is a great book called Multipliers, which changed my life on this topic, and I know lots of other folks refer to Never Eat Alone. There is never enough time to do all the things, but if you combine objectives with friendship, there absolutely can and will be a multiplier effect, and increased accountability that results in far greater dividends throughout life.
  2. Gladness is nourishing. Mrs. Obama refers to a Toni Morrison quotation about how she looks upon her children that particularly resonated with me, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them.” So much of the time when we see our children (or our partners, coworkers, friends even!) we likely reflect what needs to be done “where are your shoes? Do you have your water bottle? Where are those TPS reports?” but children (and in fact all of us) look to see that that the person on the other side of the table is genuinely glad to see them. That is what fills up their hearts and allows them to flourish. So think about how you show up. Bring your gladness and watch how people thrive.
  3. The feeling of not belonging carries a mental load. Mrs. Obama shares her experiences being an “only”: the only black woman at the law firm, the only black woman in a class at Princeton, and how exhausting it is to not be in the “club”. I definitely cannot claim those same “only” distinctions, but I have definitely been the only woman in my class or in many decision forums and discussions and it is a different load to bear (particularly earlier in my career before I became more comfortable with myself.) I took the stories she shared as a reminder and a call to action to continue to remember the value of inclusiveness, welcoming all, seeking input regardless of communication style, and to be the change we want to see.
  4. Competency is the other side of fear. The book contains a fabulous discussion around decoding one’s fear and advice for how to manage one’s need to step up in difficult situations. Don’t be afraid; find ways to be prepared. This advice was also given with the recommendation “don’t make decisions in a period of fear; make decisions from strength.” I have always tried to ensure I’m running toward an outcome I seek when making my decisions versus running away from situations I don’t like. When you choose a path (even if it is difficult along the way) you are far more engaged and likely to succeed.

For me, the lessons the book reinforced were fundamentally about self-awareness and self-care. Your emotional state and your bias effect your decision making, and you cannot show up for others when your cup is empty. This book club session was particularly rewarding because 90% of the participants said they likely wouldn’t have picked up the book if it weren’t for the book club. I like when we have an excuse to get out of our comfort zones, so that made me particularly happy. We ended making a commitment to each other about what we would like to focus upon to fill our cups: friendship, parenting with joy, self-care in times of difficulty, making decisions from a good place, having empathy for one’s self, speaking up when you are not the majority, and being the change we want to see while holding ourselves with grace. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The book is like a big warm hug, and a kick in the pants to be your best self all at once.


A new era of creativity

I am a runner, and an early riser by nature, so getting out to run a trail at sunrise is just about the happiest I can be. The sunrise was gorgeous this morning, and I found myself meditating on the creativity of science, engineering, mathematics…we think of poetry and art as the creative arts in our society these days, but when one thinks of the history of these “hard” disciplines they are no less creative. Cuvier had to invent natural history from studying the earth and her bleached-out fossils, Mendeleev invented a methodology to organize the elements of our planet helping us predict the existence of things which had not yet been found, Euclid formulated universal truths about the relationships of physical bodies and then we as humans expanded that through observation to an entirely different field of orbital dynamics and ultimately sent people into space…these are creative arts as much as mathematical truths. We teach these disciplines as truths and forget their inventive history, which I believe discourages the very mindset that breeds engineers to be their most effective selves. For me, I only really began to learn and love my profession in the practice of it. Through working I have seen and been a part of solving some of the most exciting problems in the world of hardware, and I am confident science and technology will continue to solve some of the most difficult problems of our world (global warming, cancer, etc.) through creativity and ingenuity if we can continue to engage and unlock our future technologists.

I guess I started thinking about this because I have heard so many dystopic conversations of late where folks are worried that ChatGPT and similar AI models will displace humans doing complicated knowledge work. Why learn to code? Why figure out circuit diagrams? All of this will be automated! Me being me, it is likely no surprise that I believe these models will unlock even greater creativity and autonomy for humans through automation of the increasingly complex tasks our mounting levels of abstraction are requiring. Code still does and will always matter, being able to understand the physics of how a pump works will always matter (to a doctor trying to understand the human heart and a systems engineer trying to understand the optimal approach for liquid cooling, whether or not surgery or servicing of those servers are conducted by human hands or robots). I fundamentally believe this is the most interesting time to be alive for a technologist (and arguably a musician, artist, teacher, student, etc.) The technology that is being built today has the capacity to unleash human potential in a way formerly unimaginable, and we are the lucky ones who will see what universal truths and opportunities it will create.

I’ve also been thinking about the power of human potential and how work is or is not serving it because I recently finished Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us. While I’ve read a lot of pieces in this vein before (Designing Your Life incorporates a lot of the aspects of flow and how you can optimize for that in your career, and several parenting books I’ve read have hammered on the disincentive of “pay to play” scenarios since they decrease the natural curiosity and propensity to learn that children are born with in favor of “unlocking the reward” behavior), I found revisiting these concepts given the current economic conditions, readjustment happening for workers in technology, and rise of more powerful AI models in our world particularly interesting. Some of the key takeaways from the book is that an incentive leads to short term results: e.g. “eat your vegetables and you will get dessert”, but less positive outcomes in the future: e.g. they don’t learn that vegetables help them feel healthier and grow stronger vs. eating dessert, which tastes good, but may ultimately make them feel sick if they eat too much, or even feel out of control negatively impacting relationships. One of the analogies used in the book is if you pay your kid to take out the trash, they will never do it again unless they are paid. It is good to have an allowance to help kids learn how to manage budgets and save. It is good to have kids do chores to help their family out of a sense of belonging and contribution to the communal needs of the family. If you correlate their chores to their allowance, then they learn to only do chores for money in perpetuity, which likely won’t help them much when they have to build their own homes and families.

This thought then make me think about my journey into engineering (the natural wonder of building my first server and playing with robots and gadgets as a kid, and how poorly my formal education fostered that same wonder), and then how my experience in work actually made me fall in love with technology and learning all over again through mentors and advocates who enjoyed what we were building. Honestly the worst parts of work have been the rote activities (writing verification tests with walking 1s to make sure there were no sticky bits–THESE TESTS SHOULD BE AUTOMATED! And then I moved to a company who built tooling to do exactly that!), and it is the complex problems, and puzzle pieces “clicking into place” where you know you are on to something and you make it WORK that make work fun. If we believe that AI will help automate the rote tasks in knowledge working (not the creativity of thinking through the problem and formulating the algorithm, but maybe the scripting to ensure that you are accessing all the right databases for the right information) and continue to expand the capacity of humans to find those big picture “aha” moments, quite possibly the future will be brighter for the individuals working to solve these problems than ever before.

Book Club

January Book Club

For our January Book club session we read Crucial Conversations. I was first exposed to this book over a decade ago as part of a training session on communication skills at Synopsys, but it was good to revisit it since I find what you take away from this book often depends on what you are dealing with when you are reading it. Since I already had the book from my previous session, I re-read the first edition, which has mostly US-based examples, and a lot of recommendations about in-person communication for the most important discussions. My understanding is that they have added content around different cultural backgrounds and remote work conditions in subsequent editions, so I’d highly recommend editions 3+. That being said, fundamentally the skills are the same: recognize when you are being triggered, ask yourself questions to help transition into an intellectual place vs. a reactionary one, and don’t get caught in a silence or violence cycle. To stay in dialogue you need to maintain psychological safety: you have to focus on what you want to get out of the discussion and use techniques to get back on track (if you see negative reactions, try apologizing for making the other person feel unsafe, use contrasting techniques to help them understand what you were trying to say vs. what they seem to have reacted to, establish mutual purpose for the discussion, etc.) I think the value of the newer editions is really around sensitizing yourself to reading queues of others who are not the same as you. Obviously techniques differ based on the medium of interactions as well as cultural backgrounds, so keeping that in mind is incredibly helpful.

On the Crucial Conversations website there are seminars as well, and of course experiencing this as a class with a cohort is probably the most ideal methodology to practice the teachings. Reading is great, but we learn through application, so especially if this is one’s first exposure to these approaches, a class would be great.

My biggest personal takeaways from the book were:

  1. Beware the stories you tell yourself. Start with “why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person act in this way?” This question helps me understand what stories I am telling myself vs. focusing on the facts. We often observe an action and assume a meaning, but in reality there are other interpretations of a person’s actions. Rather than reacting to my story, start by questioning why a person has entered an agitated state, or why you yourself are getting agitated. If you figure out how things went off track, then you can try to reset. If you get caught up in your own reaction, you cannot reestablish trust and safety.
  2. Engage in active listening–make sure I am hearing their words vs. thinking of my response. If you were clear on the goal of the meeting before the session, then the most important part of the discussion is listening to the questions, concerns, data and insights from the other parties. If you are thinking through your response or rebuttal, you are not actually listening. Never forget the goal is connection and dialogue, not a pithy response.
  3. Seek input. Especially in positions of authority, don’t speak in absolutes, which will hinder those who are more hierarchical in their disposition/culture to engage and lead to withdrawal from dialogue. As a leader, offering your opinion first almost inevitably sends the message that the decision is made, and really why are you coming to the team if that is the case? Sometimes tops-down decisions have to be made (and if that is the case, then document why the decision was made that way and don’t waste folks’ time), but if the goal is to get alignment with other stakeholders or solve a tricky problem where you do not know all of the challenges or risks, then seek input first and foremost.

I highly recommend this book, as much for discussions at home with your family as with your coworkers. When I first read this book, I was not yet a parent, and this time around I found many of the examples I thought through in my head were with respect to negotiations with my children than with my coworkers. Ultimately, when we assume the good intentions of the people around us, and show up with an open mind, we all can accomplish so much more. Happy Reading!

Our next book for book club is Michelle Obama’s The Light We Carry, which really is an acknowledgement of the times we are in, and how we manage ourselves, inspire others, and keep moving forward in times of uncertainty. I hope you will join us.


Strength Through Hope

About this time last year, I remember a conversation with my sister. She was worried about my nephew–he was feeling nauseated regularly, vomiting daily, and it was not improving. He had been through a battery of tests (he started complaining and having symptoms in November of 2020), but by January of 2022 there still was no clear diagnosis. This wasn’t our first conversation: we had been on the journey with them for nearly a year and a half as he lost weight despite concerted efforts to healthfully “bulk up”. Then he was starting to have regular headaches, issues with double vision, and all of that reinforced her conviction that something was very wrong with her son. She had been sent home from the doctor’s office regularly, but by the end of February he had trouble seeing out of his right eye, which lead my sister to the Nurseline of her insurance, and finally an Ophthalmologist telling them to go to the ER as soon as possible. There they finally diagnosed him as having a medulloblastoma, stage 4, and they had to do immediate surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain.

The next 10 months are a blur…brain surgery, PICU where he stayed for nearly two weeks, and we didn’t know if he would make it, then a medivac to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego where a second surgery would more completely remove the tumor, which had spread from the cerebellum to the brain stem. This led to my sister and her family applying to enter St. Jude’s study for medulloblastomas, into which Jamie was accepted, and temporarily relocating to San Diego for his treatment and recovery. He went through two rounds of proton radiation, rehabilitation, and then four rounds of intense chemotherapy.

All of that culminated in a blessed visit with all of us together in Sacramento for the holidays, from which I got home about a week ago. We did our best to make our family traditions happen: big meals around my parents’ table, cuddling on the couch to watch holiday movies, going on some outings together, and just generally trying to find a bit of normalcy in a world that makes so very little sense.

Then a few days ago we got word that the treatment was not successful. We don’t know what comes next yet. The pain of knowing everything my poor nephew has suffered was not successful in getting him to remission is devastating, but I find my most deep and profound feeling is anger at how unfair this situation is. As with all things in my life, I find myself running and reading to process…running out my anger, reading about options for my nephew, ways to provide support and comfort to my family, healthy techniques to address the feelings I have. I, like most engineers I know, intellectualize my life: ‘x’ happened because of ‘y’; therefore the key learning is when ‘y’ occurs again, step back, question assumptions, think through the outcome desired, and attempt to do ‘z’. Sadly, I don’t have a great ‘z’ for this situation. I can be angry at my sister’s healthcare provider for not taking my nephew’s symptoms seriously, not diagnosing him sooner, etc. but none of that makes this situation more bearable. It is an outlet maybe, but not a solution.

There is in fact no solution or reason for why and where this terrible disease strikes. Despite all my general positivity there is no silver lining that I can see, which is not to say that I lack hope, love, and gratitude for all the blessings in my life including this precious time with my nephew, but there is no fairness or reason that I can find, and I am angry. To cope, I find myself meditating upon resilience and acceptance. Acceptance for my anger and my inability to fix things, and resilience to be there for Jamie and my family. To build that resilience, I read, I write, and when I cannot do either any more, I run. The books I have found most comforting of late are:

If you have other recommendations, I’m all ears. I recently read this article on the psychological basis of hope and found this quotation particularly resonant, “According to these theories, hope is related to goals, anticipating obstacles, acceptance, self-worth, social support, and finding meaning in your situation. However, it’s important to note that hope must be rooted in reality, for fear of being false hope. False hope is denial. Hope itself is simply determination.”

I don’t want to have false hope, and walking that line between reality and denial is hard. I find myself determined to believe that there is meaning in this even if I don’t yet understand it. I’m just running, reading, reflecting, and seeking to understand what the greater meaning is.

Book Club

December Book Club

For our inaugural book club we read Will Larson’s An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management. For those familiar, Will has an excellent blog focused on the challenges and opportunities of being an engineering manager at high growth companies, and I’ve found his insights particularly useful at this phase of my career.

Since I’ve been reading his blog for a while, I was ok with the fact that this book had a lot of lists/reference tools rather than a lot of narrative, but I think it is a fair critique that from about chapter 4 onward the book feels heavy on references and lighter on the analysis of why a particular approach works, or stories of where it worked specifically in his career. I also think rules of thumb that work for him are generally applicable to the high growth market he has been occupying and are not as generalizable to larger/slower growth companies, or during periods of extreme turbulence. Still, the book provides real tools/methods for approaching problems with a concrete thesis, and to me this is a strength and not a weakness. He isn’t an academic or a researcher, so he isn’t giving the background and context for why these approaches work (I think it would be even more powerful if he joined forces with someone from that domain to make his analysis more generalizable in context), but he is clear that these are his lessons–in some sense his reflection and offer of mentorship to the world. He also makes references to others who have written academic texts in key domains worthy of further study that helped him formulate his thesis and approach (systems thinking, developer velocity, strategy, etc.) and I for one will absolutely be reading his references.

If you are an engineering manager or a manager of managers in this domain looking to level up your skill set in key domains from executive presentation, leadership, hiring, managing metrics and goals, organizational debt, and planning a reorganizaton to product management basics, I’d highly recommend the book.

For our January book club we are reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High based on our poll. I have read an earlier edition of this book, but like many others in the group, I felt the learnings were critical, so it will be great to read again with a cohort. I honestly love revisiting good books: great opportunity to see how I have changed and where the narrative resonates now.

Book Club

Book Club

I’ve decided to start hosting a book club since I love reading, and would like to be able to connect with folks who have different perspectives about their key insights. Officially we will start in 2023 (part of my New Year goals to not just read for me, but to build and strengthen community). Please sign up here if you are interested.


I will publish the book as a post here on my blog that I intend to read toward the beginning of the month, and then I will schedule a virtual meet up on the last Friday of the month at 3:30PM PST to ensure that we have an hour to talk about key takeaways/findings. I will start this month just as an experimental effort to work out the kinks, so if you would like to join early, please feel free to respond here or on LinkedIn.


For December’s experiment, I’m reading An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management by Will Larson. Will Larson is a prolific writer, with an amazing blog that likely has advice, or at least insights, about almost any situation you might encounter in engineering management. Having managed different kinds of teams, I will say definitively that there are unique challenges to every one, and being able to step back and think about the specific group you are managing, their challenges and strengths, is a requirement. Even if you are in a position of influence with that type of team versus directly overseeing their work, it is useful to dig into the kinds of processes and flows they use, so that you can be effective in partnering.

Thanks all, and Happy New Year!


OCP Global Summit 2022: My Key Takeaways

Two weeks ago marked the end of the OCP 2022 Global Summit at San Jose Convention Center. I personally had an incredible time connecting with the community, but OCP isn’t just about connecting, it is really about having the opportunity to see technology trends across leading consumers and producers of Silicon and Systems: what is important today, and what they are building for tomorrow. Given that, I wanted to write up the key takeaways I saw (with the caveat I could only attend so many sessions). There are many great sessions which will be released after the fact by the OCP Foundation, and when I find awesome nuggets, I promise to write those up, too.

So starting with key announcements and data from the Hyperscalers:

  • Meta’s Alexis Bjorlin spoke about contributions in the domain of a new rack specification (ORV3), needed due to the thermal design requirements of AI (GPUs and ASIC-based solutions) and higher power CPU solutions forthcoming. They also contributed their next AI system specification, Grand Teton, which is 4x the performance and 2x the network bandwidth of their previous Zion EX solution, and their storage platform for AI, Grand Canyon, which offers security, power and performance improvements, and uses HDDs for AI! I followed up with some folks, and the HDD usage is for main AI servers–they are not using HDD for AI training or inference work (which was how I originally interpreted it–thanks to Vineet for helping clarify!) Grand Teton it is primarily SSD/Flash. For those listening in the room, the key nugget was definitely that AI performance, at least for DLRMs at Meta is gated SIGNIFICANTLY by network I/O. If we want to “feed the beast” we need faster network solutions (which isn’t necessarily a fancy fabric–could be standard Ethernet with better congestion management and control) and likely (eventually–no timeline specified) optics to the node to manage the power footprint of such high bandwidth SerDes. Alexis used to run the Silicon Photonics division for BRCM and Intel before that, so no surprise that optics is on her mind, but this was an impressive case study for where and why we will see the future of AI requires better network design and management.
  • Dr. Partha Ranganathan of Google spoke passionately about the inflection point in our industry (at one point saying “a career making time”) where the rate of cheaper/faster systems are slowing just as computational demand is increasing due to cloud computing, machine learning, data analytics, video, and a more massively intelligent IoT edge. What we have done historically cannot achieve the scale we need, and it is an exciting time that will require leaders to come together. He spoke about 4 major contributions swimlanes to OCP: 1. Server: DC-MHS done in conjunction with Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft, this contribution helps ensure we build modular building blocks for every server to maximize reuse, design isolation, supply optionality, and reliability standardized management with OpenBMC and RedFish contributions; 2. Security: a standardized RoT implementation (Caliptra, donated in collaboration with AMD, Microsoft, and NVIDIA) this reusable IP block for RoT measurement is being hardened in the ecosystem actively to ensure chip-level attestation at the package or SoC is done effectively; 3. Reliability: Along with ARM, ARM, Intel, Meta, Microsoft, and NVIDIA they are leading the effort to create metrics about silent data errors and corruption for the broader industry to track. Google is contributing execution frameworks and suites to test environments with faulty devices. I have spoken about the DCDIAG effort before when I was at Intel–this is an important approach for the industry take as complexity rises–better design and management of aging systems requires automation and testing the same way tune-ups and proactive maintenance occur on cars; and 4. Sustainability: specifically how Google is sharing best practices with OCP and the broader community to standardize sustainability measurement and optimization techniques.
  • Microsoft’s Zaid Kahn spoke on similar topics to Google (given that Caliptra and DC-MHS are contributions they coauthored), but they went even further and more specifically focused upon the future of Security for Open Compute projects. They announced Hydra, a secure BMC SoC developed with Nuvoton, which enables fine-grained control of the BMC interface authorization, so only trustworthy devices can be granted a debug interface and the access is temporary. They also announced Project Kirkland, which demonstrates how using firmware only, one can update the TPM and CPU RoT in a way that prevents substitution attacks, interposing, and eavesdropping. On the topic of modularity, the Mt. Shasta design was contributed, which is an ORV3 compliant design that supports high power devices with a 48V power feed, and supports hot-swappable modules.

In terms of manufacturers, whether Silicon or Systems, the theme was Sustainability. Samsung spoke about their renewal energy and water reduction goals. Intel and the major OxMs (HP, Dell, Mitac, etc.) showed up in modularity (leadership roles with DC-MHS and DC-SCM) and open system firmware to ensure circular economy/second life of servers can exist, and reduced embodied carbon/amortization of it over a longer period of time (given that fewer server/system components require upgrade when new CPUs, memory technologies, etc. come to market).

There was a lot of great discussion and debate on the future of AI fabrics (started by Alexis), and Ram Velaga was quite eloquent in his advocacy for Ethernet as the fabric for HPC and AI, bringing in the brilliant Dr. Mark Handley to speak about innovation in congestion management on Ethernet to unlock best-in-class performance. There was a fair amount of push on the interrelationship between compute, network, and storage for different workload scaling, and some poking at proprietary solutions addressing this (Inifiband and NVLink specifically, which seems fitting at a conference which cohosted the CXL Consortium and clearly advocates for coherent memory/accelerator pooling to move to open standard interfaces). Finally there were several sessions on optics and innovation in packaging (from Broadcom, Marvell, and Intel) demonstrated in person at the Celestica and Ragile booths, which again reinforces this attempt to use open standards to drive innovation so vendors don’t make big investments on bets that won’t have market alignment.

Conversations were also vibrant about the expansion of alternate architectures to x86 in the server ecosystem (teams from ARM, ARM-based server-class CPUs, and RISC-V server-class CPUs all were there), and Open Networking solutions (specifically a large-scale SONiC Workshop at the event). The feeling I got from collective sessions was that SONiC’s time has come, and while it still has a long way to go for feature parity, optimization, and usability enhancements compared to proprietary NOS options, the partnership with Linux Foundation for a more open and agile contribution model puts SONiC on the right track to real adoption in the industry. On the alternate architecture point of view, I feel a certain amount of conflation is occurring. Out-of-order execution exists on ARM and x86 products, so do SIMD execution units and branch prediction. From a core perspective, there is a lot more that has converged between RISC and CISC architectures since the time when RISC was introduced to the world, but where I think particular implementations have shone is the focus on the uncore portion of server-class CPU to be power efficient. This innovation is where we see real divergence in certain players (e.g. Ampere). There are a lot of things I personally still want to see in the “many cores, more power-efficient architecture” processing units (personal frustration has been that security is an “upsell” on top bin parts vs. being available across the sku stack–to me this is like saying one only gets a key for a Lexus because Toyota’s are too cheap to warrant them…ummm…tell that to the person getting their car jacked.) Security has to be ubiquitous for consumers to trust their providers, and hardware companies need to view these solutions as foundational, without significant performance impact as a foregone conclusion.

Anyway, those are my quick notes from the edge…it felt great to be there with everyone, see the innovation from Chiplets to cloud service models, disaggregated memory to further hardening of server and CPU root of trust technology. In my biased opinion the future is open, not because innovation is slowing, but rather because the complexity of the problems facing our world involve collaboration–we cannot solve sustainable datacenter design, security, performance, and reliability in isolation, and the generations to come are relying on us to succeed.


OCP Global Summit: What Not to Miss!

We are a week away from the OCP Global Summit, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see you all in San Jose! I have been asked by a lot of folks what I think are the most exciting sessions/themes/content, so I wrote up my cheat sheet on what shouldn’t be missed at the event based on the current schedule. If you’ve never come to an OCP Global Summit, please consider this an unofficial guide!

Tuesday at 9 am is the kickoff for OCP with keynotes from industry leaders. This year is chalk full of fantastic speakers and topics as usual. You’ll get the chance to “meet” OCP’s new CEO, George Tchaparian, hear from Zane Ball on Intel’s reimagining of modern data centers, learn from Meta’s Alexis Bjorlin about open, large scale AI infrastructure (which is going to be amazing!), and check out more about sustainable computing from Ampere’s Jeff Wittich. Then you can hear from Broadcom’s brilliant execution machine, Ram Velaga about the fabric of high performance computing (hint: it is Ethernet), you will hear from my wonderful board compatriots Partha Ranganathan from Google about system design in an open innovation ecosystem, and Microsoft’s Zaid Kahn about advancing security, efficiency, and innovation at cloud scale. Finally you will hear from Samsung’s Sanjeun Cho on memory in action and the sustainable investments they have made to advance the leading edge of manufacturing technology. This is a star-studded line up of some of the largest consumers and producers of Silicon and Systems in the world. You absolutely should not miss it!

In the afternoon on Tuesday the heart of Open Compute begins. For most conferences the keynotes are the main draw, but at OCP the community and tech talks are where it is at! In our technical sessions the community shares how open standards can meet collective market needs through base specifications that allow for interoperability, reliability and scale, but still enable innovation and differentiation. These sessions basically break into four main themes: system contributions, sustainability (frameworks, thermal design innovation, etc.), open networking (based on SAI-compliant ASICs running SONiC and including such topics as SDN enhancements, monitoring, test frameworks, high performance packet processing, using kubernetes as a management plane, etc.), and memory and storage innovation (CXL, tiering, NAND density enhancements). The ones I personally am most excited about are the Cloud-Optimized Silicon for NVMe and CXL from Marvel, the SONiC workshop, and the SONiC in SDN Environment session from Google (where PINS is now supported, and this talk gets into the configuration, deployment, and monitoring enhancements required to operate SONiC at scale). 

Starting at 5 pm there is an opening night reception in the Expo Hall hosted by IBM, and it is no secret that my band, Sinister Dexter is playing. Come join us for a drink, visit the booths full of partners building on top of OCP specifications, and who knows maybe come dance with us on the floor (or bring your instrument, and sit in!)

Wednesday is one of my favorite days at the summit because it starts with the Future Technologies Symposium. OCP has two primary goals: meeting our community’s current market needs, and seeding future innovation–the Future Technologies Symposium is all about that second objective. We start early on day 2, but it is worth not partying too hard at vendor events on Tuesday night so you don’t miss the incredible volunteer leaders of OCP speaking about storage, networking, server innovation forthcoming. Some of the topics that will shine here are how we as an industry are going to come together to adopt standards for Scope 3 GHG emissions reporting, the future of software defined memory, the management of fluid in data centers (because we absolutely are seeing TDPs in processor roadmaps that are forcing more efficient use of the power we have ESPECIALLY at the edge), updates on cloud serviceability models and how we need to operate across system components to ensure reliability, security, and scalability, storage disaggregation, telemetry and workload planning for dynamic control and sustainability in data center operations, chiplet proof of concept and ecosystem advancements, optics, and much much more. The Board’s very own Andy Bechtolsheim closes out the sessions, and then there will be a Block Party hosted by Meta and Google at the main entrance plaza of the convention center to cap off the day.

Thursday is the final day of technical sessions, and I may argue the best day since one of my very own team members, Sung Park, will be presenting that day. Day 4 is more focused on manageability, security, and server modularity specifications (DC-MHS, ORV V3, OAM, OCP NIC 3.0, OSF/MinPlatform, etc.) I personally will be looking forward to the DC-MHS M-DNO concept review with Dirk Blevins and the DC-SCM 2U/wide chassis presentation with my friend Siamak Tavallaei presenting. The theme of sustainability runs throughout the day from open system firmware and management, new standards so the community can see through marketese in this domain–Eric Dahlen and DJ will be co-presenting on new standards for modern data center assessments–PUE is a metric of the past friends and I’m super excited to see the biggest consumers and producers align on how we will report emissions, modularity (to maximize reuse of server components lowering embodied carbon footprints over time and reducing e-waste), and better thermal design from the silicon and systems to dynamic operation and control. There are even sessions on Time Appliances and synchronization mesh methods for clocks (turns out this REALLY matters in global fleets–glad to see standardization around it because not every server can be shipped everywhere, and there are some problems hardware is better at solving), network performance anomaly detection, and a lot of security innovation on top of DC-SCM (Caliptra, HYDRA, etc.) for disaggregated root of trust and attestation flows to improve security and isolation at scale. 

Long before I was on OCP’s Board, I viewed the OCP Global Summit as the industry event where the community speaks about their real world applications of new technologies. We are the systems builders, the ones who have to make it real. I cannot wait to see you all there to empower open!

Book Recommendations

Best Hardware Engineering Papers

It is somewhat amazing to me how often I get the question, “where do I learn more about systems engineering?” The books for learning the fundamentals of computer architecture and systems engineering are excellent: Patterson and Hennessey’s Computer Architecture is the bible of computer architecture, but other essentials include Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms and Source Code in C, Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools, Signals and Systems, Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems, etc. and I must give a shout out to my alma mater for beating the Covid “remote learning” trend, and having launched MIT Open Courseware long before it was cool. There is free content on there from some of the best minds in computer science and architecture to learn the basics. Truly though, one of the things I find most incredible about this industry is how many innovations are driven by engineers in the industry, are spoken of openly at conferences, and are on corporate blogs and research pages. This field is constantly evolving, in a Renaissance of creative reimagining, and some of the greatest minds in the world are actively creating silicon and the specifications to build them into systems not based on theory, but through the hard-fought lessons of operation. So this is a list of some of my FAVORITE papers / blogs / videos in no particular order, the ones I think are seminal to understand critical innovation in distributed systems from the silicon to systems:

  1. Datacenter Networks are in my Way – by James Hamilton

What I love most about this is the economical approach to viewing the technical problem. So rarely do architects have that insight–it isn’t just solving the problem elegantly, it is doing it in a way that actually makes economic sense. Industry innovators know this and hold their teams accountable. If you’ve never read James Hamilton’s blog, you are welcome. Grab your popcorn and get ready to be schooled!

2. Towards a Next Generation Data Center Architecture: Scalability and Commoditization – by Albert Greenberg, Parantap Lahiri, Dave Maltz, Parveen Patel, Sudipta Sengupta

Of a similar time to the above blog, I view this as one of the seminal papers that started the Open Networking movement–speaking about the real challenges of managing large scale distributed systems with a chassis-based network design. It is BRILLIANT.

3. Cores That Don’t Count – by Peter H. Hochschild, Paul Jack Turner, Jeffrey C. MogulRama Krishna Govindaraju, Parthasarathy RanganathanDavid E Culler, and Amin Vahdat

This paper shares how hardware systems have hit a level of complexity (shrinking die sizes, 2/3D stacking techniques, leakage issues with substrate thickness, aging effects, etc.) that you cannot always trust them to be “correct” and how software designers must change methodologies to embrace the next phase of “chaos engineering” to prepare for our industry’s transformation. I found this paper enlightening, and somewhat terrifying.

4. Attack of Killer Microseconds – by L. BarrosoMichael R. MartyDavid A. PattersonP. Ranganathan

If someone has ever spoken about “tail at scale” and you wondered what it meant, read this paper.

5. Jupiter Evolving: Transforming Google’s Datacenter Network via Optical Circuit Switches and Software Defined Networking – by Leon Poutievski, Omid Mashayekh, Joon Ong, Arjun Singh, Mukarram Tariq, Rui Wang, Jianan Zhang, Virginia Beauregard, Patrick Conner, Steve Gribble, Rishi Kapoor, Stephen Kratzer, Nanfang Li, Hong Liu, Karthik Nagaraj, Jason Ornstein, Samir Sawhney, Ryohei Urata, Lorenzo Vicisano, Kevin Yasumura, Shidong Zhang, Junlan Zhou, Amin Vahdat

If you wonder about what Software Defined Networking really means, read this paper. It is probably the most logical introduction to what it means in application to a real problem.

6. Maglev: A Fast and Reliable Software Network Load Balancer – by Daniel E. Eisenbud, Cheng Yi, Carlo Contavalli, Cody Smith, Roman Kononov, Eric Mann-Hielscher, Ardas Cilingiroglu, Bin Cheyney, Wentao Shang, Jinnah Dylan Hosein

If you start with Jupiter, then you can deep dive here on dynamic reconfiguration of the function of load balancing–a critical aspect of SDN.

7. Large-Scale Cluster Management at Google with Borg – by Abhishek Verma, Luis Pedrosa, Madhukar R. Korupolu, David Oppenheimer, Eric TuneJohn Wilkes

Before there was Kubernetes, there was Borg. Distributed computing at scale forces innovation not just in application development, but in the orchestration and management of workload distribution.

8. TMO: Transparent Memory Offloading in Datacenters – by Johannes Weiner, Niket Agarwal, Dan Schatzberg, Leon Yang, Hao Wang, Blaise Sanouillet, Bikash Sharma, Tejun Heo, Mayank Jain, Chunqiang Tang, Dimitrios Skarlatos

This is one of the many papers starting to really address the mounting memory problems facing us in datacenters. Memory continues to rise as a percentage of our cost of ownership–cores increase, while reducing cost/core consistently, but memory just continues to increase in cost structure. Add to that the increased percentage of memory getting stranded in systems, and the inability to unlock that more dynamically. MUCH more innovation needs to be done in this domain, but Meta is absolutely leading the charge in attempting to reasonably address the rising costs of memory as a portion of the bill of materials in an easily adoptable fashion. If we don’t have innovation in memory disaggregation hand-in-hand with transparent software adoption, it will be yet another buffer strategy gone awry.

9. Azure Accelerated Networking: Smart-NICs in the Public Cloud – by Daniel Firestone, Andrew Putnam, Sambhrama Mundkur, Derek Chiou, Alireza Dabagh, Mike Andrewartha, Hari Angepat, Vivek Bhanu, Adrian Caulfield, Eric Chung, Harish Kumar Chandrappa, Somesh Chaturmohta, Matt Humphrey, Jack Lavier, Norman Lam, Fengfen Liu, Kalin Ovtcharov, Jitu Padhye, Gautham Popuri, Shachar Raindel, Tejas Sapre, Mark Shaw, Gabriel Silva, Madhan Sivakumar, Nisheeth Srivastava, Anshuman Verma, Qasim Zuhair, Deepak Bansal, Doug Burger, Kushagra Vaid, David A. Maltz, Albert Greenberg

Much has been made of the IPU, DPU, etc. but it all started with this paper on SmartNICs. While many in the industry were innovating with NPUs, Microsoft is the first I know of who published on the topic. I love this paper, and the writers are the brains behind infrastructure acceleration, SONiC, and many more innovations in Open Networking.

10. A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture: History, Challenges and Opportunities – David Patterson

I often wax poetical about David Patterson–his book on computer architecture, which was part of the hardest course in my entire formal education, is the bible for electrical engineering. This presentation should be required for any student who wants to build something innovative. We don’t have enough Electrical Engineers graduating in the world…I think those folks haven’t listening to Dr. Patterson and if only they would, we would see a world of Electrical Engineers, Hardware Designers, Systems Engineers, SREs, and so much more. The time to embrace this industry is NOW. I cannot wait to see what we all will continue to do. If you have additional papers you recommend, please add them to comments.

Book Recommendations

Summer Reading List

I’ve been asked by a few folks recently for book recommendations as they go into summer travel season. In specific the request was for authentic leadership: which books helped cultivate an authentic leadership style. Honestly, that topic transcends books to friendships, therapy, and a lot of running, but I’ll still write up my favorite books on management and leadership. As background I’m an avid reader, and tend to find nuggets in everything I read, so a focused list on one topic is not usually my jam. However, every book I’m recommending below has contributed at least something to how I approach management, so I’ll try to break that down in the recommendation without giving away too much.

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When The Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny. I honestly believe this book made me a better partner and parent…not just a better manager. It is focused on how to prepare for saying what you want to say in a critical situation with tools, techniques, frameworks, and methodologies. So if you are concerned about presentation skills, running effective meetings, hiring or firing someone, this book helps you ensure you say what needs to be said in an authentic and clear manner.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. Anyone who has ever worked for me has definitely heard me ask the phase “are the behaviors you are using achieving the outcomes you desire.” That phrase (which I ask myself regularly) was one of my key takeaways from reading this book. Also the concept of winning together–real clarity around how rarely scenarios are zero-sum especially if you are working at the same company with a clear mission. If you are ready to delve into who you are and how that manifests in your work, this book is a great journey.
  • The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson. When I first read the title of this book, I cringed a bit. I hate the term “fearless.” We all have fear, but we also have the capacity to be brave–to do something even though we are afraid, and that is actually the goal in my mind. Still, I REALLY recommend this book. The most important thing I took away was not that psychological safety would mean everyone was nice, there would be no conflict, etc. but that high quality innovation requires a commitment to excellence, operational urgency, and the belief that all voices matter. Cultivating that environment is what leadership is, and methodologies to build your approach is the goal of the book.
  • Strengths Based Leadership from Gallup is all about self-reflection (with a question-based “strengths” analysis, which is a great tool for allowing teams to get to know themselves and one another). This is definitely one of my go-to books for team-building. Sharing each other’s results, and discussing how the variance makes us better and stronger as a team is a great way to connect and create space for one another to bring their best self to work. Knowing your team, their strengths and opportunities for development always makes you a better manager and leader.
  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury was a really important book for me and a very hard one. I am a youngest child of a large family and by nature an appeaser. Negotiation for me historically meant drawing a line around the things I absolutely NEEDED and then letting everything else go. Woe be it to the person who tried to take away one of the things I needed, but outside of that box, I was pretty easy going. I also am not a fan of conflict–raised voices, etc. shut me down quickly. So, when I picked up a book about negotiation my first thought was, “this isn’t me. I just want to do what is right and if it truly is, then everything will work out.” This framing is actually incredibly unhelpful (in life and business)–it took for granted that what I initially wanted was “right”, and if it wasn’t right, I lost (without inviting inquiry as to how the process I used contributed to the outcome). This book is all about identifying common ground, what is needed for parties to “win”, and what is negotiable, and then optimizing for the best joint outcomes with clarity. It absolutely changed my personal relationship with negotiation by providing a healthy and proactive framework for it. So much of work and life is actually a negotiation, which I truly never saw until reading this book.
  • Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski was a book I read really early in my life (I think I was 16-years-old) and had a huge impact on education and career choices I made, and more generally the approach I’ve taken to life. This book is the personal journey of the author from his original life path (which followed the steps of his successful father) to one that was more meaningful for him. He is the founder of the American Leadership Forum and the Global Leadership Initiative, and his journey was one that inspired me to read Rilke, Goethe, and Bohm (particularly On Dialogue, which is incredibly accessible and fascinating in terms of helping understand why we don’t always connect with one another despite our desire to do so). Sometimes you read the right book at the right time–this book was that for me, and may not be as meaningful to others, but it is an easy read and a calling to reflect on what is truly important to you.
  • Radical Focus 2.0: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke is a quick read (told as a story) and a great one for making sure you are thinking through how to help your organization or team be successful. Creating operational urgency and accountability is hard–if you do it with too strong a focus on accountability you can nip innovation and psychological safety in the bud, but if you are completely unstructured in your approach to innovation you’ll never achieve those wins that generate momentum and help bring the broader organization together in joint purpose. This book absolutely makes the “must read” list for companies big and small trying to actually drive a common approach toward a culture of achievement and success.
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts by Annie Duke is AMAZING. I think it is likely my desire to be perfect (which is something I’m always working on) that made me so adore this book because in a sense it gave me permission to be wrong. The crux of the book (for me at least) was to realize you have to make decisions without all the facts, and the best way to do that is to clearly elucidate what you know and what you don’t know, eliminate the knee-jerk bias/self-destructive inclinations in that process (a TEAM/partner/buddy are really helpful in ensuring you see more perspectives than your own bias, also walking away and coming back to the decision later, etc.) and then giving yourself permission to know that you did your best with the best data you had, and sometimes that will still yield a bad outcome. This book invites you to think of decision making as a process in your learning journey, and with that framing even bad outcomes are great learning opportunities.
  • The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company by David Packard is a classic; my absolute love of hardware, and admiration for the humans who made sand into semiconductors (I could do a whole post on my favorite biographies and autobiographies of this era) is likely why I love this book so much. My very first engineering awareness seminar was at HP in Roseville, near where I grew up, so that is likely the other reason this one stuck with me so much. In that weekend full of building popsicle bridges, egg drops, and early Pong programming, I fell in love, and I’ve never looked back. If you want a glimpse into the journey of one of the titans of this industry, I struggle to recommend a better one. The concept of “walk-around management” is one that really stuck with me, and something that I strive to create even in this world of remote/hybrid work through regular skip-level meetings, emails/chat room threads focused on inspiration as much as work, and asking questions of my people for the purpose of listening…truly listening. In my head I try to tally up who is doing more of the talking…them or me, and if it is the later, I stop.
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown–I actually just read this one. I had read Atlas of the Heart and Rising Strong (both great books), but mostly looked to Brene’s work as part of my personal journey: understanding and naming emotions, so I can manage my reaction to them, work on communication skills, so I can show up better with the people I love: family, friends, etc. to live and love one another even (and maybe especially) when we DON’T agree. Dare to Lead applies those lessons in a business context, and while much of the research and conclusions for self-management are the same/similar among books, one application in the business context as a leader REALLY stood out to me: be consistent in your communication. When a leader says “I wouldn’t say this to <other person>, but I’ll tell you…” they are creating rumors/secrets/inconsistency. Now there may be a reason: that leader may be able to say something to a manager that cannot be shared with the broader team yet, there may be financial data that is limited to need to know, etc. but the reasoning should be clearly called out. The risk is that the leader comes across as spinning it one way for one crowd and a different way for another crowd, and a leader who plays games is hard to trust. It is human nature to try to establish camaraderie, and a normal way to do that is to share secrets/gossip/etc., but sharing data inconsistently or data that isn’t your own to share sends an implicit message to the confidant that you would do this behind their back as well. Trust in an organization is vital. One cannot afford to have “in crowds” or inconsistent communication. Your job as a leader is to set priorities. Clearly. Consistently. And when they change, even if that negatively impacts someone, you owe them the truth. This is a critical part of being a brave leader. I have so often seen this behavior. I have occasionally participated in this behavior, and my key takeaway from the book was DON’T. It isn’t making you closer to anyone, it just makes you appear biased and untrustworthy.