Steve Newman, CEO of Scalyr
Steve Newman is the Founder and CEO of Scalyr. Steve learned to program at the age of eight and is a lifelong engineer and entrepreneur, with Scalyr being the sixth company he has founded. Steve’s most recent company, Writely, was acquired by Google to become Google Docs. Prior to Writely, Steve started San Andreas Systems (the 2nd graphical web page builder, acquired by Claris), Bitcraft (acquired by Macromedia) and Peninsula Game Works (makers of Spectre, the first 3-D multiplayer game on the Macintosh). He also spent a few years at Intuit where he built the Quickbooks Customer Manager. Steve studied mathematics at the University of Michigan and received his master’s in computer science at Stanford.
Scalyr is the company engineering and operations teams trust for blazing-fast log management and increased observability. Unlike traditional log management tools built for IT cost centers, only Scalyr is architected for modern development techniques and practices. With Scalyr, engineers can go fast at scale, keep things simple, and share with their teams. Driven by purpose-built, streamlined database and the full power of its massively parallel cloud computing cluster, Scalyr is the fastest log management platform in the industry. Its search speed exceeds 1.5 TB/second, and 96 percent of queries complete in less than one second. Scalyr’s rapidly-growing customer base includes NBCUniversal, Business Insider, CareerBuilder, Grab, and Zalando, it has the highest rating in its category in G2 Crowd, and has been named a 2018 Cool Vendor by Gartner. Additionally, Scalyr was named a 2018 Forbes Cloud 100 "Rising Star" and won the 2018 SaaS Award for "Best SaaS Product for Web/App Development."
Jennifer Carl: Tell me about Scalyr’s mission.
Steve Newman: Scalyr is the visibility tool for modern applications, in a world where the sophistication and velocity of applications are constantly increasing. Our mission is to give today’s engineering teams the insight they need into how their applications and systems behave, so they can quickly resolve issues, and even head off problems before they surface. We do that by providing radically faster, easier access to logs and other operational data, reducing the typical time to pose and answer a question from minutes down to less than a second. Traditionally, everyone treats visibility as a search problem and throws their logs into a keyword index, which doesn’t work very well for server logs. We’ve built a unique technology stack that is orders of magnitude faster and enables a different kind of user experience.
Jennifer Carl: What were you doing before you founded Scalyr and became CEO?
Steve Newman: I’ve co-founded six startups. Prior to Scalyr, the most recent was Writely, which was acquired by Google in 2006 to become Google Docs. During my time at Google, I led a database infrastructure project to unify the backends for Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Photos, and related applications. It was a complex project, with many moving parts, and gave us a taste of the challenge of operational complexity that so many teams wrestle with today. Across the engineering team, we spent between a third and half of our time just investigating production issues. Much of that was due to problems with the toolkit we had for visibility: slow, complex, and fragmented across 17 different tools. Scalyr was originally conceived as a reaction to that experience – combining the power of that internal toolkit, with the performance and usability to enable engineers to really get value.
Jennifer Carl: How did you get your start in the technology industry?
Steve Newman: The chain goes all the way back to age eight, when my parents enrolled me in an after-school programming class. This was so far back that I had to sit at a Teletype machine – which was bigger than I was – and dial in to a county minicomputer over an acoustic modem, like in the movie WarGames. I was pretty much hooked from that point forward.
The full plunge came after my freshman year of college. I took a summer job at a startup company, building software for the early Mac, and had so much fun I wound up dropping out of school for a while. We were building one of the early graphics applications. None of us had any real idea what we were doing – I think the average age on the team was about 21 – and we made pretty much every mistake you can make. So, it was a huge learning opportunity. But the industry was so new in those days that you could learn as you went and still create something worthwhile.
Jennifer Carl: What are your goals for the next 5 years? Where do you see yourself and Scalyr’s?
Steve Newman: We’re building the great operational visibility company. Applications are only getting more complex, and customer expectations – for availability, performance, and reliability – are only increasing. Our goal is to turn visibility from part of the problem – “how the heck do I figure out why performance is down 30% today, so I can fix it and get back to work?” – to part of the solution. We want to give the entire engineering team the information they need to quickly solve problems, but more importantly, help them head off problems before they arise, optimize their applications, and use operational data to gain insight.
We’ve already knocked off some important milestones. We’ve built a data management engine that provides search speeds of 1.5 terabytes per second, and answers 96% of queries in under one second. And we’ve built an exploration tool that harnesses that engine to enable non-specialists to interactively explore large operational data sets. The next big frontier is to build more understanding into the tool so that it can guide users to the most important data, and automatically highlight problems and make recommendations.
As for me, I’m happy so long as there are new and interesting challenges that lead to a better product. We’re unlikely to run short of those. :)
Jennifer Carl: Give us your TechTip of the month
Steve Newman: Involve customers from the very beginning, as you develop your narrative. As a young startup, you will often find that prospects “misunderstand” your message. If so, they're right and you're wrong – you're building, or saying, the wrong thing. People are primed to hear messages that make sense to them, so if they’re hearing something different than what you’re trying to say, listen. It’s probably a better message, and might point you toward a better product.
This helped us focus in the early days at Scalyr. Our original concept was a "unified operational visibility platform”, a single product that did the work of those 17 separate tools we’d used at Google – log management, metrics, tracing, network monitoring, error tracking, and so forth. The prototype UI happened to resemble a log, and in demos, people tended to gloss over the unified platform and comment on how they really needed this “incredibly fast log management tool" we'd built. We realized that there was an enormous unmet need just for giving people access to their logs in a practical way.