The Edge, Open-Source and Raccoons: A Discussion with Fastly CTO Tyler McMullen

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Computing at the edge is only really starting to come into fashion now. But Tyler McMullen has known the merits of working at the edge for a long time. As the CTO of Fastly, he’s been advocating for the edge and helping companies such as The New York Times and others realize that through Fastly and edge computing, you can create a whole new and better experience for your users. He explains all of that and so much more — including his unexpected love of raccoons — on this episode of IT Visionaries. 

Best Advice: “Be flexible. The job is going to change. It’s going to look extremely different one week, one month, one year later. Be ready to work on things and do things that you didn’t expect.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Explaining the benefit of working at the edge
  • How being open source is mutually beneficial to the developer community and Fastly
  • What is the current state of the edge and who will be the main users in the future?

Tyler’s origins

The way Tyler first encountered technology is a familiar story — through video games. He specifically enjoyed Nintendo and Final Fantasy. Eventually, he learned the intricacies of the game and realized that it’s not as complicated as he’d thought. Nevertheless, he loved technology and being able to turn it into entertainment.  

Working at Fastly

Fastly is an edge cloud provider that helps customers deliver content and run programs on the edge. Depending on what their customers need, the focus of the company can change to be anything from optimization and security to image recognition or content delivery. As the CTO, Tyler is in charge of making all of that possible. And it’s important to work at the edge because by doing so, you’re able to achieve results much faster than ever before. Plus, with faster computing speeds, you’re giving more ease of use and a better experience to anyone using your product or visiting your website.  

Over the years, Fastly has grown as a company and in turn, Tyler has had to grow as a CTO. He went from being essentially a chief engineer to now a manager and focusing on future products and projects that will move the company forward.  

“Studies have made it clear over the years that even fractions of a second can make a big difference in how much our users are actually sticking around on your site.” 

“The role of the CTO in a company that has grown as quickly as Fastly has over the last nearly nine years now actually is kind of a fascinating one because it ends up starting as the primary engineer on the system and then very quickly grows into a management role and then changes in scope multiple different times. So I feel like I’ve had eight different jobs of the past nine years.”

Why be open source?

Tyler explains that at its heart, Fastly is an open-source company. As such, they wanted to give back the community that made it possible for them to exist. Fastly has a number of open-source projects that are open to developers, who they feel are their main customers anyway. Plus, when Fastly puts something out to the community, Tyler says that in the end, the company benefits because the community will work on it, improve it and find even better ways to do something that Fastly can take advantage of internally.  

“When we’re doing things internally, in some ways, I almost consider it a bit of a loss if it’s just used by us. If we’re doing something that’s so great, this is something that we want to build a community with, especially given that developers are our primary users.” 

The state of the edge

Initially, eight years ago when Fastly was getting started, Tyler says that the edge was viewed simply as where to do content delivery. Much of the last few years has been proving to people that computing on the edge is useful in more ways. He explains how Wikipedia was able to do bulk caching and reduce the amount of work done at its origin servers, which in turn proved to be a faster and easier user experience for the end-user as one example they give. 

“I certainly think that people who create or deliver massive amounts of content will always have a use case at the edge. I actually think the primary users are going to start becoming not just that, but rather customers who have users spread around the world or who have low latency requirements. I think that over time this is going to be much less about the massive amounts of content and much more about the user experience and being able to make that as fast and as pleasant as possible.”

Being a technology curmudgeon and a raccoon lover

Tyler’s bio is … different than most in the I.T. world. For starters, he openly calls himself “a technology curmudgeon,” and he says it’s because he knows that there is no perfect technology. Additionally, if you look close enough, you’ll find that Tyler loves raccoons. This dates back to his days as a skateboarder and the times he would ride around the city at night and it would be just him and the raccoons. 

“I feel like I’ve worked with a ton of different types of technology and nothing is ever perfect. As much as I want to love every individual piece of technology, there’s nothing where I’m like, ‘This is the perfect little thing.’”

The Bytecode Alliance

 For the last few months, Tyler has been working with The Bytecode Alliance, which is “an open-source community dedicated to creating secure new software foundations, building on standards such as WebAssembly and WebAssembly System Interface (WASI).” The idea is to come together from multiple angles to help create the future of web assembly and build a solid ecosystem from which everyone can move forward.

“I think this fits into the role of a certain type of CTO, the type of CTO that I try to be, as one that is focused on the community as well as very longterm projects. And I think that this particular type of project fits into that so well. It’s the type of thing that makes a difference, not just within our company, but actually across the entire computing community if we can do it right.”

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Tyler McMullen, the CTO of Fastly, joins IT Visionaries to discuss the edge, open-source and… raccoons?

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