Episode #66: The Story of the Serverless Framework with Austen Collins (PART 1)

September 14, 2020 • 51 minutes

In this two part episode, Jeremy chats with Austen Collins about the origins of the Serverless Framework, how it was able to grow a passionate developer community, build a company around it, and where the framework and serverless are headed in the future.

About Austen Collins

Austen Collins is the founder and CEO of Serverless, Inc. Austin is an entrepreneur and software engineer located in Oakland, CA. His specific focus is on building cheap, scalable Node.js applications while minimizing DevOps requirements as much as possible. An enthusiastic AWS Lambda user from day one, Austen founded the Serverless Framework (formerly JAWS), an open source project and module ecosystem to help everyone build applications exclusively on Lambda, without the hassle and costs required by servers. 


Jeremy: Hi everyone. I'm Jeremy Daly and this is Serverless Chats. Today I'm speaking with Austen Collins. Hey Austen, thanks for joining me.

Austen: Thanks for having me, Jeremy.

Jeremy: So you are the CEO and founder of Serverless Inc. The creators of the Serverless Framework. So I'd love it if you could give me a little bit of your background and just in case somebody doesn't know what Serverless Inc is all about.

Austen: Yeah, sure. Quick background on us, we make the Serverless Framework which is an application framework that makes it really easy to build applications on serverless cloud infrastructure. That is infrastructure that's auto-scaling. You never have to pay when it's idle and scales pretty massively. And the goal is to help developers deliver software that has radically low overhead and all of these serverless qualities at the application level as a whole.

So that's our goal. We make Serverless Framework, that's what we kicked off with. And I was excited to chat with you because I was thinking it might be interesting not to do just such a technical conversation, which I'm sure you've done a handful of already. But maybe talk about the history of Serverless Framework a little bit, because the project is now five years old. I think this is my fifth year of serverless development, which is crazy to think about, because it feels like we're so early in this journey in general. But I was thinking you might be interesting to talk about kind of the history of like how things got started, how we got started and our perspective of just like kicking off the serverless movement and kind of, we know what that looked like in the early days and the crazy days where we didn't... I don't think anyone knew how big of a deal this was potentially going to be, or that this would have become a big category for cloud or maybe even the cloud itself.

And when you reached out to me to do this podcast, I thought this might be a great opportunity just to kind of tell that story, at least from our perspective, my perspective. Because I think it's a fascinating one, not just for technical people, but for makers and entrepreneurs, anyone who's trying to get something off the ground. I think there's just a lot of interesting lessons learned along the way.

Jeremy: Yeah. No, I think that is something that is really, really important for anybody in the serverless space. And I think anybody who's developing cloud applications today is to look back and see, I mean, where we were five years ago. Because it has dramatically changed in terms of the technology that we have available to us, the building blocks that we have available to us. And also I think, JAWS as it was originally, and we'll get into some of that, the original Serverless Framework, what that was able to do compared to what it can do now, but also compared to what's available now and just the massive explosion of development tools and observability tools and everything else that has kicked off. Open source projects beyond the framework that have kicked off that really have built this amazing community. So let's start there. Let's go way back to the beginning, like this we're talking 2014, right. Lambda is still in preview and then what happened?

Austen: Yeah, Okay. Going way back, a lot of the credit first goes out to the Lambda team, the visionaries over there who kind of basically disrupted how they do compute over at AWS. Which I've heard a lot about that story. I listened recently to your podcast with Tim Wagner, kind of talking about the early days of that, but really like a lot of what we're doing here with Serverless Framework and building out our developer tool suite is just kind of standing on the shoulders of the effort that those people did, which I'm sure was hard figuring out what that looks like inside of an organization as big as Amazon. And so our story really I'd say they did a lot of the hard stuff and a lot of the really meaningful stuff and kind of my story starts right out when they did that announcement at re:Invent 2014. Yeah. When it was in preview.

Austen: And I was looking around at everybody else and there was definitely some excitement and I was just personally so enthusiastic. There's something, it just hit a note in me that still is driving me to this day and inspiring me to this day to build great developer tools and really capitalize on what the potential I first saw when it came out and still until today. And that is like... This for me, it was, I guess, I don't know about you, but I actually never got into this to be a developer. That was not my personal goal when I was just getting started.

Again, I've always felt more like a creative type to be frank and more of an entrepreneur. And the programming, the development was kind of a means to an end, but also felt like potentially the greatest skill set to have at a time where the cloud programming gives you the ability to make anything, to solve any problem almost.

And I think a lot of my story and all the time that's gone into the Serverless Framework the same goes for the community members and whatnot. I think there's something similar where the people who are attracted to this are very much product focused. They really care about making things, they care a lot about the customer experience. And a lot of the technology is cool, but to some extent, we kind of want it to go the way so we could focus on the customer facing experience.

And that's kind of always been a strong theme for me personally. I see that in the serverless community everywhere, we've talked about it a lot and it was the thing I felt when Lambda first came out. I got so excited. It felt like for the first time there was really a technology where I could just put any logic out there and it would run for me, auto scale and charged me unless it was running.

And so that felt like amazing power. And I was looking around, there's definitely some excitement. It was so early in those days. I think AWS, maybe you remember this better than I do, but they were pitching it as like event-driven code kind of glue code. And there was no serverless category. There was no serverless buzzword or anything like that. It was kind of just a stitch together, kind of shuttle some data from one place to another largely from S3 and had very limited use cases at the time.

Jeremy: Right. If you remember all the way in 2015, even once it became generally available, there was no API gateway to connect. So you weren't able to do those web use cases, which again are probably one of the most prevalent things that serverless is doing now.

Austen: Yeah. Very limited. And I don't think all the pieces were there and enough of the pieces were there for people to get kind of the overall vision, maybe how meaningful it was, or at least how meaningful I felt it was. So I went away from that, re:Invent trying to chat up my network, my colleagues, my friends, and say, and see if they're excited about this new compute services as I was. And I was thinking like, what if we take this new compute service and pair it with other infrastructure that has the same auto scaling kind of never pay per use qualities. We could deliver software that as a whole has a really low operational cost, right. Almost like you set it and forget it architectures. And that again, kind of touched on a theme that I really like, and that's just the ability to build more and manage less.

Right. And so I was going out of my network trying to raise a lot of excitement about this and just see if people were equally excited. And there was some. Again, early days, some people were into it, but not a lot of people cared then. And so I kind of took it upon myself to see what would happen if you could actually take Lambda and build an entire applications on it. And see what that process looked like and see if it was possible. And right at that point in those like early personal experiments, I ran into the problems of kind of the serverless architecture that we're still dealing with today. And that is that this is a distributed system. And the other day you were actually working with a lot of cloud services, perhaps more cloud services than any other architecture out there.

Because if you really want to build a application like a web app, you're going to need Lambda. You're going to need to work with IAM. You're going to need to work with API gateway. You might need to work with DynamoDB, CloudFront, maybe Route 53, a lot more. There's just a lot of stuff in there. And so the value prop was like deliver software that's super-efficient, but how do you actually take all these pieces and easily put them together to form a nice application experience that developers would really enjoy? And that was the initial problem that sent me off on my journey. And I think it's the problem that we still are trying to figure out today. It's like, how do we streamline serverless development and make it as zero friction as possible?

Yeah. So I started working on the framework and it's just a personal nights and weekends project. And at the time I just moved up to the Bay Area. I was still pretty new. I'm originally from Los Angeles. And I think I was working on another startup at the time and also building out a backend inventory management system for a larger company. And it was just spec and this is a personal experiment. And I think that somehow I had published something to GitHub and Jeff Barr found it. So Jeff Barr is amazing as we all know. I don't know how that guy does it, but he's looking at everything at all times. And somehow when I was just kind of publishing some stuff to GitHub he found it and I still don't know how he does it if he has like an army of interns or something like that, but he found it and he sent me an email.

He's like, "This looks pretty cool. Would you be interested in like talking about this at an AWS event or us promoting it on the blog or something?" And I was pretty honored because I've been a big AWS fan for a long time, user for a long time. And the fact that Jeff Barr was reaching out based on this thing I was working on over the weekends was so cool. And I told him, I said, well, let me work on it a little bit more and finish it before you kind of push it out to the Jeff Barr audience. Right, because you know how massive that is. And I told him, I was like, "Okay, give me like a few weeks to really flesh this thing out."

Jeremy: So where were you though when you were starting to work on this? Right. Because API gateway came, I think it was an early 2015 or mid-2015. I think it wasn't until 2016 that there was even VPC support. I mean there was just all kinds of things that have gotten... I mean, it's really crazy to think back at how limited it was back then to where it is now. And when I first started using JAWS the original framework, I know that it had API gateway support in there. So that must have been around version 0.4 maybe or something like that. But what was available at that time when you first started building it?

Austen: Not much. Looking around there's still a lot of some definite challenges there in the architecture. But way back then, it was so much harder. It was crazy hard. And I had done a few versions of those even before APA gateway came out. And I think there was one other project, I can't remember the name of it. And it was kind of really, really strange also trying to work around the complexity of using this new infrastructure that was just so raw and early. But there were a few versions I worked on before API gateway came out. And then when API gateway came out, obviously that was the missing piece for one of the major use cases. Now that it was still the backend, APIs, microservices, all that. So worked on it a lot. And then API gateway came out, I think July, 2015, it was July?

Jeremy: Something like that, yeah, that sounds right.

Austen: And then I did a whole new version of it. And started, I think it was that time where I really kind of honed in on the essence of the framework and that was, okay, there's a lot of cloud infrastructure that you have to work with. Developers have to know about. Now unfortunately, developers don't really like working with a lot of cloud infrastructure. They like kind of building apps and getting stuff out there as fast as possible, and the least amount of distraction in their flow as they're working on something, creating something. And so my goal was to kind of hide the infrastructure complexity first and foremost. And by the time API gateway came out, I think the opinion that was honed in on was that serverless applications are a simple story of functions and events.

And it's like that is the essence of a serverless application. And that whole idea is how the framework is going to be designed. And so that's what you get in a serverless.yml file, you get that functions property, and there you could list out all your Lambda functions and just add in your business logic, your code. And then there's an events property where you could hook up anything to trigger that function.

And while it's a bit strange to define an API as like an HTTP event triggering a function it just brought order to a pretty kind of chaotic, especially back in those days type of architecture where the developer could just quickly look at it, understand that story. And with a lot of kind of abstract configuration syntax, the framework, also something that it did, that's a bit different than a lot of other application frameworks is it helps you kind of structure your code, but it also provisions the cloud infrastructure, right? So it's this kind of weird hybrid thing. And the goal was don't make developers have to know a lot about the infrastructure. Come out with a nice kind of application model that allows you to focus on logic and what triggers that logic to run.

Jeremy: Yeah. And I think it's important to note too, that that idea of event driven applications. I mean, that's not particularly new. There were other... When we were doing even microservices or we were doing what's the other thing that I'm thinking of there, service oriented architecture, things like that, that you had a lot of events flying around. But building those types of applications were ridiculously complex because you had to have a deep knowledge of this idea of some sort of event bus that was running there. You had to have the individual microservices set up as different components. You had to know all the different ways in which these could communicate. And one thing, and I don't know if the Serverless Framework deserves credit for this, but I'm going to give you credit for this, was that paradigm shift of saying, I'm a developer, I want to write code.

And I just want to think of it in of all how does my code get triggered? Right. What's the thing that triggers my code, because if you look at how ClouFormation was structured to do and provision API gateway, I mean, obviously the SAM, which is the serverless application model, AWS came out with, they essentially used what the Serverless Framework had come up with that sort of idea of functions and then having the triggers against the function.

So I think that's a really, really good way to think of it because you're right most developers... I mean, I work with a lot of developers and most of them had no idea what was happening behind the scenes. All they were like is here's my code make it run somewhere. And that was throwing it over the wall to a completely different team. And that has, for the most part, especially with full-fledged or full stack serverless applications, that's gone away.

Austen: Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. Yeah, it just seemed right at the time. It just seemed like there was just a lot of chaos and it needed some simple stories, simple way to think about it, to bring order to that. And looking back even at the time it was just so weird to... Yeah. Again, define your API like that and stuff. But also I think we were just so excited about Lambda in general and just its event driven qualities and whatnot. I mean, it's a really amazing thing maybe this is kind of far out there, but it has never been easier to write code that reacts to events. Right. You could just go put it in a Lambda function, tonight I'll deploy 1000 functions, right. 200,000 different things, just sitting waiting for something to happen.

And in some ways, I don't know, maybe that's how humans work. Maybe that's how businesses work. They're just kind of logic sitting there kind of waiting for events to happen and then it runs. And this felt like just such a nice natural model that could really scale. And yeah, so it felt natural. Looking back certainly fast forward ahead, and we can certainly dig in this later, serverless has grown a lot, the use cases, the types of infrastructure, all that. Is that still the right model? I don't know, but I will say that developers still love it. They get it so easily. And most of them, you know the interesting thing for us was when we first surveyed our audience we realized that 30% of our users had never even used AWS before.

Jeremy: Oh wow.

Austen: They came to the framework because I think it just surfaced the few things that you really need to know about on AWS and gave you a simple model to deploy serverless architectures on Amazon. So yeah, that was the theory back then. And again, just me working nights and weekends on how do we bring order to this complex new architecture that has these great values, but unless we bring order to the architecture, no one's going to be able to realize that value, that potential. And so that was the solution that was designed. Now, there's another part of this though, it's kind of interesting to talk about and that's the marketing. And marketing I don't think is something that developers think a lot about or the cloud industry. I mean especially maybe more so back then now it's increasingly important and whatnot.

But my background, I actually grew up outside of Hollywood and I was always around growing up. I'm a self-taught programmer, but I was actually hanging around a lot of screenwriters and directors and people in the film industry. And I had learned so much from them around designing product for emotional impact. That is taking something and wrapping it in a story. Because if you can get a great technical solution and wrap it in the emotional charge of a narrative or a story or an idea, then I think you could really deliver a more profound effect on like the end user more profound message and experience overall. That's your personal product philosophy is kind of this weird... I had this weird hybrid of being around that culture while also being an engineer.

And now I think a lot about that in terms of how you bring products to market and whatnot. But looking back, I think that was equal equally important, if not more important piece of this whole thing. And because I spent probably just as much time trying to come up with this framework and this technical solution as I did designing some marketing and whatnot. So hence for those who don't know, the serverless framework was originally called JAWS and it had this cool shark mascot icon and the big, bold, all caps JAWS texts. And I had recycled that branding from another project. Also my background is in design motion graphics. And I had recycled that branding from another project, but I guess I was kind of trying to find a way to embody how big I felt this architecture was and this framework was, right.

I was trying to personify it in a way that felt like a blockbuster. And JAWS was kind of like one of the original blockbuster films way back in the day. And I wanted to feel like a big deal. And so I take some of those mascot, the branding, all that stuff and wrapped it in this cool experience. But the last piece of that, probably the most important piece of that was the term serverless, right? Because these days the word was not really around at all. Lambda was always event driven code, glue code. But I had read while I told Jeff Barr, I was like, "Okay, give me a few weeks or something. And let me try and figure this out."

I had read a blog post on the Amazon Compute Blog from Tim Wagner and it was the first time I ever saw the serverless buzzword, the serverless word in general. And he had wrote in there like buried in the middle of the blog post, there was one sentence. And that was, you could use AWS Lambda to build entirely serverless applications. And as soon as I saw that word, I thought that's a great word. I love that. I'm not sure what it means. Right?

Jeremy: Right. I don't think we know what it means now, but sure.

Austen: That's a whole other podcast debating that. Right.

Jeremy: Right. Exactly.

Austen: But the developer in me, the maker, the person who just wants to hopefully build cool things one day. I just loved that word because it meant to me like the technology that kind of gets out of your way and less management, all that stuff. So I loved it. And I started putting it with the JAWS branding all over the project. So I totally admit a lot of over the top propaganda.

Right. So it was JAWS, the monstrously scalable serverless application framework was kind of the tagline with the shark icon. And he's like coming out of the water, trying to take a big bite of the text. And then on the GitHub README there were some badges, 100% server free, no servers guaranteed. And because we're kind of this badge-oriented society, right. Where we're looking at GitHub repos like, hey, does this have all the badges I need? And you're at the market looking at all the badges on the product? And it was just over the top. It was fun. I wasn't really thinking about anything kind of later down the road. And so before I had a chance to even talk to Jeff Barr, I did the typical Hacker News post.

Right. So that was like on a Tuesday, I was about to go out to lunch. And before I did that, I thought before I send this over to Jeff, I'll just put it on Hacker News real quick, because it'd be great to get some feedback before Jeff Barr's audience and the AWS audience hear about this.

And I posted it and I just walked away, had a sandwich someplace and I came back and front page immediately tons of upvotes, a ton of like enthusiasm, people were going and they're pretty excited about it. And I had no idea this would happened or anything like that. It wasn't orchestrated, it was just such a casual thing. And literally overnight just it caught on and it just kept picking up momentum like nothing I've ever seen before.

And I know you're a fellow entrepreneur, developer, and I'd built so things before this, right. So many projects, right. Behind every successful project there's 100 skeletons of projects.

Jeremy: Absolutely, right.

Austen: And sometimes I think there's the notion of product market fit and sometimes maybe you get lucky and I think luck has a lot to do with it, timing, all that. You just hit the nail on the head and it works. And all of a sudden you know it when you see it, it really takes off and starts to form a life of his own and it kind of almost becomes beyond your control. And it was just like that. And it was a totally, totally phenomenal experience.

Jeremy: And so I have two questions for you. One, did JAWS stand for something?

Austen: Yes. So one of the projects I had recycled the branding from was just the JavaScript AWS framework was the goal. So I'm a big JavaScript fan and there was never at the time, there just wasn't a good application framework for AWS. Something that could just help developers be productive on AWS with, again, not knowing a lot about the cloud infrastructure, it's kind of a big theme of mine and especially for the JavaScript community. So I had kind of designed a JavaScript application primer, but it was really early. I think I just worked on the branding and kind of got caught up with that before the project was there even. So, yeah, it was the JavaScript application framework, but then when Lambda came out, recycled the branding all that, and I kind of ditched the acronym because it wasn't as important.

Jeremy: Right. So then my other question is when did you buy serverless.com?

Austen: Okay. Yeah, so-

Jeremy: Or am I jumping ahead too far?

Austen: No, no, no, this is a great question because it kind of starts going from JAWS to Serverless Framework and establishing the company of course. So I think after that initial Hacker News post, things picked up a lot and I was working hard just to promote it and get it out there. And people were really excited to hear about it. So I was doing a lot of events. I was in San Francisco, AWS has one of the AWS Lofts here. And I was kind of demoing the framework almost every week. And I remember like the first time I met Tim Wagner in person, he was there doing a presentation on Lambda. And I just approached him like right before he was going on stage.

I said, "Look, I built this great application framework. I'd love to just show it off. Will you give me some time on stage to just show the audience here." And Tim's so cool. He's just like, "Sure." And I was pretty excited, you could probably tell the enthusiasm. And he probably had a hard time saying no to me at that point because I was just so pumped up at everything about this project. And so he let me on and I presented there a lot and also re:Invent too, the Lambda team, Tim, Jay, they told me the last minute you want to go present at re:Invent at 2015. Yeah. And I was like, "Yeah, absolutely." And I had even done one other cool kind of maybe growth hacking thing.

And or maybe just something that came from my unconventional background, but I had put together a JAWS Serverless Framework, movie trailer. And I don't know if you've ever seen it.

Jeremy: I haven't. But send it to me and we'll put it in the show notes because it will great.

Austen: Yeah. So I took clips from the movie Jaws and I was going to show it on this, but if you put this on YouTube or something we'll probably get in trouble and there's like music in the background and stuff. And it was like, I just took clips from the movie Jaws and I put these titles, like the Serverless Framework is coming for your infrastructure. Intercut with the clips of like the s,hark from the movie, in the water you can see people swimming, you never see the shark, which is the early brilliance of Spielberg when he was making that movie.

But you just see the innocent victim, shark, POV and stuff. And I had posted that before re:Invent and I was so excited. Werner the CTO over at Amazon had retweeted it. And we were like, this is mesmerizing or something like that. And anyway, I've been such an AWS fan for so long. It was so cool to kind of go through that whole experience personally. And so, however, at the same time when this thing was picking up some momentum, that was when, I don't know if you remember, but there was also equal amounts of kind of shade and doubt and being thrown at this whole kind of burgeoning kind of serverless movement thing. And I totally think, well first off, the first time I posted the framework on Hacker News, I think like the first comment or something was this is a horrible idea. And I think that's how they say hello on Hacker News, but-

Jeremy: Right, exactly. If you don't get criticized on Hacker News, I mean, what's the point.

Austen: Exactly. Some skepticism about the product and the project whether it would actually work for real world use cases, which is par for the course, if you're building out something new. And also early days back then cold starts were more of an issue. It took the whole architecture, kind of get out of that cold start kind of fear, uncertainty, and doubt territory. And now we hear about that less and less AWS has done such a great job. All the other infrastructure providers have done such a great job to reduce that cold start. I even remember when I was first chatting with the Lambda team, someone who will go unnamed just like, "After you deploy the application, could you just ping their Lambda real quick to warm it up behind the scenes."

And I thought like, "I don't know. I don't know if I feel right about that. I'm sure it'll get better. Just keep doing the great work that you're doing." And then there was, we were talking a lot about NoOps back then, right. That was a big... I think everybody was kind of starting to get excited about Lambda and stuff and then NoOps term came out, which I don't think it's right. And for this architecture, I think it kind of alienated some people out there. So there was a lot of kind of pushback on the whole idea. And meanwhile I was having some challenges with the logo and the branding. Right. Which I should have known, I mean, it sounds like I should have known, right.

But the trouble was not actually from Spielberg or universal or something like that, because trademarks are usually registered respective to a specific type of service or good. And there was another project out there, a screen reader application called JAWS, which is essential to a lot of people to gain access to computers and start writing code and stuff. And so I remember I put like when JAWS was kind of picking up some momentum, I decided to try, I'll put a sponsor link on here and see if someone might send a donation and the only donations I ever got were from people who kept sending me $1 donations and they always put the hashtag like, change your name, the visually impaired community or something. And I got a bunch of these and then I started to get more and more threatening emails which, totally understandable.

I mean, it's like you're born into this world on someone else's property and you've got to figure out how to kind of carve out your own space. So I knew like almost immediately after it took off, it was going to be kind of a challenge. And while this brand and stuff I thought it was so beloved it seemed by some of the users of the project and everything. I knew we had to change immediately. And so also at the same time I was wanting to build a company around this. I mean, it very much felt to me even back in the early days and more so today that serverless is not this fad, it's the natural evolution of cloud. Right. And that is like the cloud and serverless almost seem like they're on a path where they're going to merge soon and severless will just be the cloud.

Right. And that's just what you should expect from your cloud infrastructure. And I wanted to build a company around this because I felt like there was a huge opportunity to build a next generation set of developer tools to help developers capitalize on this great super powerful cloud infrastructure. And so I was kind of going around and doing some meetings with the VC community around the Valley. Also super funny, it turns out when we raised a lot of our investors are actually Dockers investors, and yeah-

Jeremy: Interesting.

Austen: And I think they are very much looking at us in the early days almost as like a hedge to some extent. Right. And I remember in my pitch deck I had kind of JAWS the branding and everything and a lot of our community members in the early days were coming from the Docker community.

Because I think a lot of those people kind of realized that they didn't want to think about containers. They just wanted to think about product. They just want to think about building apps and getting it to market as fast as possible with the least amount of maintenance. And so we were getting an influx of that crowd and I had put out one of my pitch decks like the JAWS branding. And there was just one slide where there was the Docker whale and it was upside down in the ocean and it had a huge bite taken out of it and this kind of cross over its eye. So and then like the slide after that was just JAWS, that was the introduction to the pitch deck. And I remember I was just looking at the VC's portfolio again, like right before the meeting and I saw, oh, there are big investors that Docker, I took out that slide immediately.

But there was potentially some cool branding we were going to do around that. But anyway, so I was raising capital trying to turn this into a company, this kind of like the scrappy effort into a real company selling great dev tools to people who want to take advantage of all this. And so I had to change the name, I missed all of this. And again, it wasn't quite clear still that serverless was going to be the term, the category that it is today. All I knew is that serverless is the word that generated the emotional reaction in the user base. Right. That was the thing that developers were responding to emotionally that got them to lean forward in their seat and say like, "Oh, this is something different." Right. And so I had like 10 names and I was kind of running them by even some of the potential investors.

And I remember the feedback I got was serverless. Like, what does that even mean? That sounds really weird. Right. Yeah. And so I set my eyes on it and I thought, well, I got to get the domain and see if that's available. I've got to have a great domain because in .com we trust. Right. So I started the hunt for that and it took honestly two months of cold calling because I could not find two on the domain or anything like that. Two months of calling around trying to find this person and then like another month kind of negotiating because the person who owned it kind of sensed maybe that there was some opportunities, I was expressing interest of course.

So that took a long time and it was still just me working on this project, trying to build out the product, the marketing, the promotion, do the name change, do some meetings around Silicon Valley.

And I had somehow been fortunate enough to kind of be able to get the domain name and then eventually like close around the Capitol. And that was like, I think right at the end of 2015, and we became... JAWS transitioned over to Serverless Framework. And we became Serverless Inc. Which was, again, seemingly we didn't know it was going to be so big, but of course now we're in this awkward position where we're named the same thing as the category. Right. So now I hear all types of creative ways of people how they explain when they introduced the company or something, how they differentiate it from the architectural pattern, like the movement and the company.

Jeremy: Yeah. I know my youngest daughter, who's 12 now for the longest time because again, I've been using the Serverless Framework for so long, but then building things servelessly and whatever. So she always was getting confused like, "Wait, so serverless is a company, but also what you do... So do you work for serve...?" I'm like, "Okay, let me try and explain it to you." But it is funny cause I'm the same way. I'm like, ah, serverless capital S or the Serverless Framework, so it is... It is a bit of a challenge, but I think good for you, right. If you default to be sort of the namesake there.

Austen: Yeah. It's good. And it also really confusing, the experience your daughter went through is the experience that almost everybody had to go through at some point. A lot of people had to go through. I've got to take the time in the beginning of a lot of meetings and presentations to try and provide some clarity now. So it's very interesting, but yeah that was always the word to me. And it was just based on, I think something to do with my background. Thinking about how you design products for emotional impact and always looking at what really generates excitement in end users at the end of the day. And it was that word. And I never forgot the first time I read it, the credit goes to Tim Wagner. That's how I felt the first time I saw it. I don't know when you saw the serverless word for the first time. Do you remember?

Jeremy: It's funny. I honestly don't remember. I do remember in early 2016. So that must have been just as you were making that transition because I started using JAWS. I don't remember when I found out about JAWS. Must've been late because I had already started using Lambda. I'd already started playing around with Lambda as soon as it became GA. I wasn't paying attention to the re:Invent stuff. And so I didn't know about it in 2014, but then once it became GA I started using it. And then it was later on that year that I discovered JAWS. And then I continued to use JAWS though up and through the beginning of 2016. It wasn't until I think you switched over to the version one that you changed it to Serverless.

The history is just, again, so much has happened in five years. It's hard to keep track of all that stuff, but I don't know when the term serverless made it into my mind. It's sort of like, but I think you're right though. It was exciting. It seemed like something different. It was a different category of things. It wasn't event driven. It wasn't SOA or whatever, it was something that was like its own category.

Austen: Yeah, it's amazing. It's been five years and all this stuff that's happened since. But yeah that's the story behind the domain and the name and all the things that kind of led up into just transitioning from JAWS over to that. Looking back now, I mean, it just seems now serverless is like such a massive category, a lot of vendors in this space every major public cloud provider has a serverless compute offering. That part of it was just a wild surreal experience.

Jeremy: All right. So now we're into like 2016 at this point. I think it was still JAWS at that point, or whatever, but you started building a company around it, you started getting some other people involved. You made the massive faux pas community projects where you changed it to non-backwards compatible when you went from 0.5 to 1.0, or something like that. I remember being so angry at the time like, why are they doing this? I've written so much now in the old and the old format. And then as soon as the new format came out, I absolutely fell in love with that. So no problems there, but so what happened there? How did it start as a company? When did you start bringing people on? And when did you start growing this thing?

Austen: It's so funny that you brought that up because we still get grief for that. Like after it's been years, that was 2016. Now, it's 2020, certainly a lot of other stuff going on in the world, but I'll still hear from someone back and I can't believe you did a breaking change. Right. Especially at re:Invent. When we go to re:Invent people bring that up and they're like finally I got to meet the people who made that breaking change and tell them about it.

Yeah. I started as a solo founder which is a whole different type of experience for building a company. And I think if you have a co-founders I don't know what the right way is, but I do know that solo founders have to do a lot.

And so it took me a while to kind of build out the team and do everything because it was just one person trying to still build out the software, all that. But the best part of all of this is the community. It's the people who helped along the way and made a huge impact. So going back all the way to Tim and Jay on the Lambda team, all the great folks there who were pioneering. And I remember the early conversations we had back then, not even they really knew what they had yet it seemed, right. Compared to how they talk about it today. And everything just seemed so clear and obvious now, but back then the conversations were just all over the place. People were trying to describe it. There's a weird thing that you see sometimes when stuff takes off, like something takes off before people can describe it.

Right. And that's just an interesting phenomenon. So they did a great job, I think, early on back then, 2015, 2016, there was a lot of AWS community who were kind of helpful along the way. Jeremy Edberg, if you know Jeremy, Peter Sankauskas, I can never pronounce his name and his last name correctly. Mitch, like these were the original at least in back in 2015, the cool kind of AWS luminaries. Right. And I'm sure you see this. And but it's like the people who are in kind of the AWS user community, like there's different waves of people, but back then it was like Jeremy, Peter, and Mitch. And they were certainly helpful. I spent a lot of time chatting with them about this.

We had another friend of mine, Ryan Pendergast, who I haven't spoken with for a while, but he was instrumental in really helping design the first version, or then the first few versions of the framework after we got launched and shaping where it would go. He was great. And back then also A Cloud Guru, I mean, credit to them for being some of the early visionaries in this space. Sam and Ryan. Ant working with them. They were doing the original serverless conferences. So I don't know where you at the first one in Brooklyn? I can't remember when that was. I think it was 2016.

Jeremy: I wasn't, no I wasn't.

Austen: It was such a funky fun conference that was amazing. It was like this cool little kind of almost dive-y conference venue in Brooklyn. And it was like the middle of the summer in New York.

And like everybody's sweating. There was like no air conditioning and there's only, I don't know how many people were there. I don't even know if we hit 100 or anything, but A Cloud Guru got in front of this and really helped promote the movement and all that. And so they should get a lot of credit for that. Ryan Scott Brown, Jared Short, as you know he was big contributors early on. Jared especially loved the JAWS stuff. I remember he loved sporting the JAWS hoodie. And Herique, Anna from Red Badger, Marcia who's at AWS now. Alex Casalboni. I mean, there's just been so many brave people. Rob over at Nordstrom. Eric was at Nordstrom. It was one thing to be a solo founder.

But it's another thing to be a solo founder with all these great people helping out via open source, working on this project, trying to define we all knew, hey, there's a great new architecture here that could really enable more people than ever, but we got to make it easier. You got to make it accessible. Otherwise people will not be able to realize all this.

So I think we only scaled to like a few people in 2016. And for the first couple of years we just focused on community development. That was it. We didn't do much of anything else. And that a lot of that credit goes to Dan Skolnick who was kind of one of the original investors in the company. He was over at Trinity Ventures, now he's at another firm and he was just like, I think first money in the Docker or at least kind of one of the initial investors in the Dockers.

He's got great instincts. And I remember we had a conversation where he said just focus on building the community right now. So just make that community as big as it can be and just take time to focus on that. And that was really instrumental for the company, I'd say. To just to hear that, especially coming from an investor, you know what, don't worry about anything else. Just like build out community and all that. So 2016, 2017, all the way to even like 2018, it was just a lot of like working on the framework, which as I'm sure you know is no small feat because that thing has grown so much as an architecture in terms of like the surface area it has to cover because it's in a tough position of trying to abstract, create a simpler experience over a growing amount of AWS infrastructure and configuration options and composition options.

It takes a lot of calories to keep that project going. So without the open source community, without like the blessing of our investors. I don't know how big the framework would still be today, but that was what we focused on back then. And I would say just instrumental to kind of the growth and the scale that the framework has right now.