Interview Conducted by Christy Smith
Christy: I remember your first visit to Atlanta. A few Ions had stepped out after work for a happy hour, and at least four people pulled me aside to exclaim over your background. Tell us a little bit about your journey from Software Engineer at Cisco to VP of Integrations and Enablement at Ionic. You’ve led some significant development over the years and even founded your own companies.
Bill: I was super lucky. Out of grad school, I joined Cisco Systems in Athens, GA. It was a really small group that was part of NTI– Network Translations Incorporated– and it was a great place to work. I don’t ever think the group got larger than ten people, so it operated much like a start-up within Cisco. I met Jim Jordan there– who now works on Ionic’s platform– and we were completely enabled to learn and grow.
We were working on the PIX firewall, and we wrote a real-time embedded operating system called Finesse, and, with the web just coming out, we built a load balancing switch: a Layer 3 through 7 load balancer, which was the very first one on the market.
A group of us left Cisco and started Pharsalia Technologies– which ended up being acquired by Alteon WebSystems, and ultimately by Nortel Networks– doing global server load balancing and content delivery network solutions. Jim and I started another company, Steelbox Networks, focusing on the delivery and storage of large-scale video surveillance across the network, which was a wide-open market at the time.
I’ve always been in a start-up environment, always enjoyed the high-energy enablement and the ability to do what’s needed to get things done.
Christy: As a part of your role here you oversee technical partner integrations at Ionic. What does that mean?
Bill: It can mean a lot of things. We build some of these integrations ourselves, so if there’s an opportunity where we see there’s some IP we want to own, then we’ll move the development forward.
But we’re a platform company, so this also means bringing in and supporting partners who extend our ecosystem by building on top of our platform. It’s crucial that we help other companies integrate with Ionic and bring their solutions out into the marketplace.
My job is to enable them, to make it easy, and to make them successful, technically.
Christy: Your role has expanded across your time here. What other functions do you now oversee and what gets you excited about them?
Bill: I’m super excited to make sure that we are aligned with customer goals. I love to make customers successful, whether we’re talking about people adding new technology to expand their own solutions out in the marketplace, or whether we’re talking about enterprises, like our financial services, federal, and large- to mid-market customers who are deploying Ionic internally.
All of these I view as my customers. My goal is to align Ionic resources– professional services, support, our developer experience, our integrations, and applied research efforts– all around customer success.
Christy: Why should someone consider integrating with Ionic?
Bill: That’s an easy one! If you have to handle something that needs to be encrypted, something that needs to be secure, then you’re not going to be out there rolling your own key management. You shouldn’t be rolling your own crypto libraries; it’s just not good practice.
So you’re going to use someone else’s library, and you’re going to need some sort of key management. Also, I cannot imagine a situation where you’re going to have an application that doesn’t have to make some sort of policy decision. This policy usually gets hard-coded into the application.
Bringing Ionic in around the data instead abstracts out the key management and all the code around the policy decisions into the platform itself. You get easy four-line crypto key management. Bang! One problem solved.
But the next piece is: Wouldn’t you like to externalize all of that policy complexity into one policy plane that you can have across all your applications? You don’t have to build it yourself, and when your policies need to respond– to new situations, changes in requirements, or regulations like CCPA or GDPR– you can react without a huge engineering effort or rollout.
As most people know, you can change one line of code in an application pretty easily, but changing even just that one line of code means that you have to go through the entire engineering testing, release, and rollout process. And policy? Policy is not just one line of code. We’ve spent years building a really powerful policy engine, and it just doesn’t make sense to replicate that in-house yourself if Ionic’s already offering it.
Christy: One of the main objectives set out by our CEO Eric is the theme of simplicity. How does Ionic make things simpler for developers? How are you looking forward to making that process even easier?
Bill: I’m going to answer your second question first. The developer experience is really where we’re focused right now. Ionic started with some of the largest enterprises out there with some of the biggest challenges around, and we worked on solving those challenges with a lot of professional services and field engineering.
To bring these capabilities to the market more easily, we’re building a true developer experience (DevX) that you’ll see us iterate on at dev.ionic.com. Over the few months, you’ll see us add more content and develop what the head of our DevX efforts, Michael Floyd, calls learning paths. This involves bringing in easy-to-consume use cases that you can walk through to enable your applications with Ionic protection, policy control, and visibility.
What do we do naturally to make things simpler? We’ve got massively-scalable key management that’s currently in use with some of the largest organizations. We externalize policy into a huge, powerful engine. We bundle this with visibility into every data transaction and policy decision. And we make all this available to you, with just a few lines of code. This simplifies so much for an application developer.
Christy: I have to bring up your passion for surfing. How did you get started? How does surfing impact your attitude towards life and code?
Bill: I’ve always been very active, enjoying whatever outside activities are available wherever I live; it’s one way I maximize enjoyment of my environment. I moved out to California, and if you look around Santa Cruz, if you’re not surfing, then you’re in the minority. I started surfing by myself, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it most days.
Surfing is 90% paddling, and you really need to be aware of your situation: the other surfers, the waves, the conditions, the current, and everything else going on around you. You don’t get the time to internalize work issues or other problems. It allows you, mentally, to just relax and be in the moment. It’s a super awesome sport. It’s always challenging, and I’m always learning.
Christy: It’s almost an Ionic rite of passage to go surfing with you during a visit to the Santa Cruz office. What surfing tips do you have for beginners?
Bill: The tip I’ve been told that’s the most successful is: When you stand up, don’t stand straight up like a trophy and lock your knees. If you’ve been skiing, then you know that if you stand up straight, you fall down. It’s the same with surfing: If you stand up straight, you also fall down.
The other tip is: just relax. It’s important to start slow and figure out what you can handle. Falling is a part of that. If you take a tumble and you get rolled, relax and realize that you’re still in a situation that you can handle.