One-on-One with Dean Nelson

Founder of Infrastructure Masons and Head of Compute, Uber
InterGlobix Editor-in-Chief Jasmine Bedi talks with Dean Nelson about his background and passion for giving back.

Published in Issue 1 | MARCH 10, 2019

J: Dean, can you share with us your story and how the idea of Infrastructure Masons came to you?

D: Yes, back when I graduated from high school, I thought that I was a smart kid and I will just go get a job, make a lot of money and it would be really easy. And so I decided not to go to college, and I went to join a temporary agency. They sent us to all the jobs that nobody else wanted to do. So, I worked really hard for a year and made hardly any money and my last job was cleaning out the crawl spaces of a 50-year-old house. At that point, I was like ‘What am I doing?’ I told my dad that I was interested in doing something else, and he said ‘You were really good at electronics in high school, you aced all these classes and it was really easy so you should look at going to trade school.’ So, we looked at schools and I ended up going to DeVry University in Phoenix. I did a 2-year associates degree in Technical Management and I loved it.

So now in Phoenix, Sun Microsystems came to our campus along with a whole bunch of other companies from Silicon Valley. They interviewed all the students that were graduating, and they hired half my graduating class, including me. Then they said ‘Okay, you are moving to California, to Silicon Valley.’ I was like ‘Great, what’s Silicon Valley?’ I came out here in 1989 and I had never touched UNIX, I didn’t know what a server was, I didn’t know what Silicon Valley was. I had no idea who Sun Microsystems was, and I wound up spending 17 years there. The way I look at it is that I went to the University of Sun. Their culture, their innovation, their pace – it was just phenomenal for me.

J: How did you make the most of your time at Sun Microsystems?

D: So, I happened into this and I got the chance to join the company that I think was the infrastructure for 70% of the Internet. I spent two stints there – 12 years from 1989 to 2000 and then I went to join a start-up company and that was amazing called Allegro Networks. Then I came back to Sun and was there from 2003 to 2009. Those six years I did a whole bunch of stuff around data centers and infrastructure.

I started in manufacturing, actually debugging the hardware right on the assembly line. From there I learned networking and then started to learn the planning aspects and then the business side. And then in the late 1990s, we started doing a lot of the labs and then a turn into the data centers. I owned hardware and we did a lot of the development.

J: What were some of the more memorable problem-solving projects at Sun?

D: At Sun we would develop products two years before the customers would see them. So, we were always solving problems. Density, power increases per rack, containment issues – we had to solve all of those. In the 2000s we started showcasing this to customers. I was on the engineering side, so we started giving tours every week. We did 5,000 tours at our data center in Santa Clara. eBay brought 83 people to tour our facility. And guess what, they were just about getting started to do their first data center RFP. And I met a bunch of people, their CIO, CTO and their engineers and managers. Fast forward a little bit and I found myself working for eBay in September of 2009. One of the first projects I worked on was the integration of eBay with PayPal. I would say that was a lot of work, a great experience and I am so glad I did it, but I would never want to do it again. We consolidated eBay and PayPal infrastructure in 15 months because we had the executive direction to do that. Then they decided to separate companies, so we spent 10 months standing up PayPal infrastructure as a completely new entity, separating all the infrastructure that we consolidated. We made it really efficient by consolidating and that made it easier to separate.