Season 2

S2E22: Building for Indestructible

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S2E22: Building for Indestructible
February 2, 2023

S2E22: Building for Indestructible

We speak with Spencer Kimball, Co-founder & CEO of Cockroach Labs.

Spencer Kimball

Spencer Kimball

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Episode Transcript

Episode Summary:

In this episode, we speak with Spencer Kimball. Spencer is the co-founder and CEO of Cockroach Labs. He is one of the original authors of GIMP. Worked on databases during the heyday of the dotcom era and worked for Google during much of their biggest growth and impact.

Spencer talks with us about building a next generation database with Cockroach Labs. He discusses the importance of distributed databases to use effectively and efficiently the commodity hardware found in the cloud, that can’t be specialized and can scale rapidly. Spencer explains about the new realities of doing business across multiple regions with diverse databases, and what is being done to protect information and maintain continuity. He also sheds light on how CockroachDB on what they can do to help them push the envelope.

3 Takeaways:

  • In the modern era, certainly since the advent of the web, the scale that many applications have to grapple with rapidly exceeds what used to be considered enterprise scale.
  • The use cases that demand distributed database capabilities are the norm today, as opposed to a newly ascendant luxury kind of capability.
  • Consistent replication is something that you really need, and the ultimate differentiator comes in if you care about multi-region operation.

Key Quotes:

  • “What really defines the sort of flavor of distributed database, which Cockroach is, is a need to really use effectively and efficiently the sort of commodity hardware that you find in the cloud. That's the critical thing, so it can't be specialized hardware. The distributed database is just sort of the natural evolution of any of these architectures when you realize that you can only scale vertically so far. And, as you scale vertically, you're really limited to a single location where that hardware sits, and it might be a big, supercomputer, very expensive, but it's still only one location.”
  • “Ultimately you do have to distribute, if you want to have the kind of business continuity that's required in most mission critical applications, because a data center can go down. So, that means you have to be re replicating your data to another location. So, you immediately have redundancy if you've got a failover or a distributed, you know, just a de facto distributed database.”
  • “When you're talking about just scale, and data intensivity scale, and how much data is under management, and how quickly is it growing? It's big tech. I mean, some of these use cases are mind blowing with the total amount of data that they're starting to write every day. And, it's accelerating in many cases.”
  • “What we've seen is that you can pretty much do anything, but you're going have to make some trade off. And, those trade-offs often are quite reasonable. So, that's sort of the art really, of composing these systems.”

Best Career Advice:

Start off at a company where there's a lot for you to learn at the best company that you can find.



Spencer Kimball

Co-Founder and CEO of Cockroach Labs

Spencer Kimball is the co-founder and CEO of Cockroach Labs, where he maintains a delicate balance between a love for programming, distributed systems, and the excitement of helping the company grow smoothly. While attending the University of California at Berkeley, he was one of the original authors of the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). He worked on databases during the heyday of the dot com era, and worked for Google during much of their biggest growth and impact.

After college he co-founded WeGo, a company providing tools for building web communities and served as the company's co-CTO. In 2000, he created a web-based version of GIMP,, with the technology subsequently folded into Ofoto's online image manipulation tools. Kimball started work with Google in 2002 where he helped spearhead Colossus, a new version of the Google File System. He also worked on the Google Servlet Engine. In January 2012, Kimball launched the company Viewfinder which developed an app that allowed social media users to share photos, chat privately, and search photo history without leaving the app. The company was acquired by Square, Inc. in December 2013. He then formed CockroachDB, an open source project he started on GitHub in February 2014.


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