A Slice on Thomas Hatch, Director of Engineering at VMware and Creator of SaltStack
Before SaltStack was acquired by VMWare, Thomas Hatch developed an open-source software that would become an essential tool to help developers communicate. This tool is called SaltStack, an automation, infrastructure and configuration management platform that allows commands to be executed remotely. It was built for speed and scale and is used to manage large infrastructures with massive servers at LinkedIn, WikiMedia and Google.
Thomas Hatch is the Senior Staff Engineer, Director of Engineering at VMWare and developer of SaltStack. Prior to developing SaltStack, Hatch began his career teaching classes on how to manage and set up computer infrastructures before being recruited by the U.S. Intelligence Community. Here, Hatch developed infrastructure deployments that are used by organizations like the CIA and NSA. Using this knowledge, Hatch began building cloud infrastructures for startups and this is where the idea of SaltStack was born. “SaltStack was actually the fourth time I tried to write the software,” Hatch noted. “Through the years, I wrote it once, then threw it away and wrote it for the intelligence community, and they still have it. Then we wrote it a couple more times. I had something that I thought could be used for general purpose.”
Now, what exactly is SaltStack? SaltStack, sometimes referred to as Salt, is a pioneer in building intelligent, event-driven automation software that, overtime, has become essential in communication between developers. Salt also automates ITOps, DevOps, NetOps or SecOps functions for its customers. For those of you not in the development and infrastructure industry, the aforementioned functions are important to the security of the customers’ data. Being able to automate these functions is essential to a secure business.
While SaltStack is seen as an essential tool in a developers’ toolkit, Hatch’s biggest challenge hasn’t only been monetizing a free, open-source software, but has been overcoming his own personal “shortcomings” as a founder. “I’m an engineer, I am not the most social fellow,” Hatch laughed. “Socially, I’m more than happy to sit down and say, ‘I’m going to do something crazy and bold’, but I’m not very good at telling someone about it.”
When asked about giving advice to entrepreneurs, Hatch usually answers with a joke, “Don’t do any of this. Just buy BitCoin.” However, to his younger self, he would have explained some things differently. “One of the things that fascinates me, is that most of the opportunities I had, had to do with the fact that I’d written really good software. But at the same time, it was interesting to see how the way the software was written and architected could pivot all the opportunities from a business perspective. I probably would have set out myself and said, ‘Separate these things into four pieces of software, and you’ll make 20 times as much money.’”
Looking forward toward the future, Hatch is always searching for the next thing. “There are a number of things I’m trying to build that, I think, from a computing perspective, would be really helpful but could also change how people write software and work in teams.” As someone who is motivated by time, Hatch is working towards a fulfilling life after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2010, where he had to learn how to walk and talk again. He started SaltStack out of desperation, born out of a worry that life was no longer long-term. His brain tumor, which he has now recovered from, changed his perspective; “I’m not just going to have a job anymore. I’m going to take risks, and do hard things because life is short. It’s interesting because now, my life doesn’t feel short anymore.” When asked what motivates him, Hatch noted that writing software and creating things that make him happy are his ultimate motive.
In closing, Hatch touched on the importance of blissful ignorance when starting a company. “It’s a good thing you don’t know what you’re getting into, otherwise you wouldn’t be willing to do it.” To Hatch, being an entrepreneur is still worth it, regardless of how hard the journey might seem. “There are a lot of days where you get up, and everything’s incredibly bleak, depressing and ridiculously stressful but you get out of bed.”
Thomas Hatch is the creator of SaltStack, an open-source software project used by developers to automate essential communication. He has spent his career writing software to orchestrate and automate the work of securing and maintaining enterprise IT infrastructure from core data center systems to the very edge of the network and IoT. Connect with Hatch on LinkedIn.