OAKLAND, California – When Jeff Barr, a prominent manager of Amazon’s cloud computing division and a great corporate blogger, celebrated his 60th birthday last year, Corey Quinn had a surprise for him: a music video that mocked Amazon’s business .
“Jeff, can you blog me?” An Amazon comic book manager sang to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”. “What we built is a mystery to me. But it’s huge and bespoke, and its console is a joke. But when it is shipped I could do VP. “
After the video was released, Mr. Quinn, who is consulting Amazon customers to help them cut their cloud computing bills, indulged in tweaking the tech behemoth.
“The best days start with knowing that my planned stunts will lead to at least eight internal @awscloud meetings and a crisis response plan,” he wrote on Twitter. “Today is such a day.”
The world of cloud computing is not known for humor or oversized personalities. Mr. Quinn, 38, is an exception: a bold and outspoken person who is part tech analyst, part internet troll, and part watchdog. With a disrespectful style that blends technical acumen and a sharp mind, he publishes a weekly newsletter to 21,000 subscribers, records four podcasts a week, and makes YouTube videos full of geeky jokes for cloud computing insiders. He also maintains an extremely active Twitter feed.
Officially, Mr. Quinn calls himself a cloud economist, a term he came up with when he started advising in 2016. He found them less depressing than cloud accountants.
He seldom passes the opportunity to examine, analyze, explain, ridicule, and defend Amazon’s cloud entity – sometimes all at once. He works with major Amazon clients such as The Washington Post, Ticketmaster and Epic Games, who seek advice on contract negotiations or the best ways to reduce cloud computing costs.
His San Francisco-based consulting firm, the Duckbill Group, has 11 employees and only works with Amazon Web Services customers, so his comments carry even more weight on Amazon. It also gives him more leeway to be the company’s top pest.
“It’s a frenemy relationship. When he speaks, the people there listen, ”said Ana Visneski, a former Amazon employee who spoke frequently with Mr. Quinn as she led the new product release process. “Although some people weren’t interested in the snark.”
Amazon Web Services, better known as AWS, is Amazon’s most profitable business, but it doesn’t generate the same amount of attention as the company’s retail business, although the impact may be greater. The computers in Amazon’s data centers power large chunks of the Internet, including Netflix and Disney +, while businesses large and small rely on AWS infrastructure to stay digitally connected.
“Everyone wants to talk about the other aspects of the business that are easier to get into their heads,” Quinn said. “But when we look at Amazon’s next 10 years, it’s pretty clear that AWS will.” be the determining part of this narrative. “
The growth of Amazon’s cloud business has opened up an opportunity for Mr. Quinn to build an engaging following. At the 2019 AWS conference in Las Vegas, a few dozen participants came up to him for selfies.
Amazon declined to comment on this article and did not make Mr. Barr available for comment. In response to a description of Mr. Quinn as a funny person in an industry with no humor, an Amazon spokesperson responded with a link to a light-hearted video for an AWS product launch and a smiley emoji.
Mr. Quinn took a detour to become a cloud computing influencer. In 2003 he left the University of Maine, where he studied computer science. He jumped from one cul-de-sac before joining technology consultancies and startups. In 2015, he was working for a financial technology start-up when investment firm BlackRock acquired it. A year later he left this job to start his own consulting company.
“I’m absolutely terrible as an employee,” he said. “I have sharp elbows. I get bored easily and drift into other people’s alleys. “
After years of trying to understand his company’s AWS bill, a confusing set of fees for services and data storage and transfer that could exceed 100 pages for heavy users, he decided other companies could leverage his expertise.
“I can describe my job in six words: I’ll fix the awful AWS bill,” he said.
He also made a bet that more companies would be using AWS and using it more often. He was right. Today, for many internet software companies, the cloud computing bill is the third largest expense, just payroll and office space.
To promote his consulting firm, which later renamed the Duckbill Group with an angry platypus as its mascot, Mr. Quinn launched his newsletter “Last Week on AWS” in 2017.
In 2018, he almost got a job on the AWS billing team, but the company demanded that he sign a comprehensive non-compete clause preventing him from working for an Amazon competitor. In a blog post accompanied by a photo of a man with his middle fingers outstretched, Mr. Quinn called such clauses “unfair” and said the assurances that the company would not enforce them were often false.
The problem re-emerged last year when Amazon sued Brian Hall, a former AWS vice president of marketing, claiming he was non-compete when he joined Google in a similar role.
“What’s the secret sauce he’s going to take away? Publish a bunch of things with terrible names and then market them incredibly poorly to infrastructure engineers? “Mr. Quinn was writing at the time. Amazon agreed to settle the lawsuit a month later.
Mr. Hall said Mr. Quinn was “a very helpful attorney” whose opinion matters to Amazon.
“Someone like Corey helped introduce AWS to their customers, sometimes in a way the company liked and sometimes in a way the company didn’t. That made him someone to listen to, ”said Mr. Hall.
Like many industry analysts, Mr. Quinn is paid by the companies he criticizes. AWS sponsored its newsletter and paid him for advice, but Mr Quinn said Amazon never tried to contain his statements. Google said it paid him for insights too.
A common target of Mr. Quinn’s pokes is uninspired AWS product names. After Amazon released a number of new services during a carefully planned keynote presentation at a developer conference in December, Mr. Quinn offered his unfiltered point of view.
“Look at those awful service names. Look at their horror, ”he said. He brought up a slide with the worst offenders: search for equipment; Trainium; Glue elastic views; SageMaker Data Wrangler; and Amazon Outposts, the little ones.
Mr. Quinn recently released another AWS parody music video. Instead of a birthday message for an executive, he toasted the seemingly endless rollout of Amazon with more computing capacity.
“Don’t stop publishing,” a platypus with sunglasses sings to Journeys “Don’t Stop Believin ‘”. “Data centers are increasing and hiding somewhere in your city. Don’t stop posting. “
Mr. Quinn said trillion dollar market valuation companies were fair game to his needling, but that he avoided joking at the expense of individual employees or executives. When he was making the Mr. Barr parody video, he checked with someone close to the Amazon executive that he hadn’t crossed any boundaries.
Mr. Quinn said he made an exception for Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle, because “nobody likes him”.
An Oracle spokeswoman did not respond to an email asking for a comment on Mr. Ellison’s popularity.