DevOps Institute

[EP49] Joel Kruger – Struggling Musician Turned DevOps Professional


On this episode of the Humans of DevOps, Jason Baum is joined by Joel Kruger, DevSecOps Tech Lead at GovernmentCIO and DevOps Institute’s newest ambassador. 

They discuss his background including going from being a houseless musician to an IT professional, hacking his friend (with consent), the importance of community and more! 

The lightly edited transcript can be found below.

Narrator 00:02
You’re listening to the humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the SKIL framework

Joel Kruger 00:17
is a shortfall in the industry of talented DevOps professionals. So it just makes perfect sense to me. It’s like a win-win for everyone. And I think with the DevOps Institute, you can really bring that vision to life.

Jason Baum 00:33
Hey, everyone, it’s Jason Baum, Director of membership at DevOps Institute. And this is the humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m very excited today to be chatting with one of DevOps Institute’s newest ambassadors, and DevOps and Dev SEC ops professional Joel Kruger. Joel, welcome to the podcast.

Joel Kruger 00:54
Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here today.

Jason Baum 00:57
I’m excited to be talking to you. I know you have a pretty interesting background, and I can’t wait to just get right into it. Are you ready to get human?

Joel Kruger 01:06
I’m ready to get human.

Jason Baum 01:08
All right. Let’s do it. So I teased it out there you have a very interesting past very interesting story as to how you got into DevOps. I mean, honestly, almost everyone on this podcast does in some weird way, when we kind of when we get into the nitty-gritty. But yours is truly unique, I think, in in, in your backstory and how you got to be here. So why don’t we just start with how did you get to be in DevOps?

Joel Kruger 01:40
Right, right. Yes. So once upon a time, when I originally was choosing what I wanted to do for my career, you know, I was doing music. And so it all started one day when my dad brought home, a tenor saxophone from the pawnshop. And, you know, he intended on learning how to play it, you know, for himself, but, you know, me being me, I watched him carry it in my chrome work one day, and I was like, what is that? And so, of course, me being the curious kid, I was, I snuck into his closet to see what it was, and I pulled it out. And yeah, I was just playing the saxophone in his closet. And before I knew it, you know, like an hour had passed by, and he was going to come home from work soon. So I was rushing to put it back. And, you know, hide it and run away. And so he didn’t see me like, going through stuff, you know, but, um, so that went on a couple of days. And one day, I forgot to clean it up and put everything away before he got home. And he came home and saw me playing it. And instead of getting upset or something like I thought he might, he, you know, got inspired. And within a couple of days later, we had some saxophone lessons set up with one of the local studios, found a teacher and, you know, started learning how to play. And so I had, you know, really just picked it up and fell in love because my dad was an audio file. So he invested in, you know, the pretty decent stereo systems. And, you know, that’s how I really got curious with it in the first place was he would play you know, classic rock, you know, Pink Floyd and, you know, the Beatles and all those guys and plus, he also really appreciate it some old school, Delta Blues, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, you know, those guys and of course, the giants of jazz, you know, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, you know, Billy Hagen’s Max Roach, everybody that, you know, was part of that modern jazz movement I grew up with and so, you know, transcribe the recordings and learn how to progress over the changes in the music harmonies and, and all of those things, but so, you know, fast forwarding to college, went to music school, and really decided that that’s what I wanted to do is I want to, you know, finish my college degree in music, learn how to do jazz performance, and move to New York City, and do the whole, you know, starving artists dream. And so this all was going on, you know, I graduated college at University of South Florida, in 2011. And so that was during the post-2008 housing crisis here in America. And, you know, I’m sure that those financial consequences are felt beyond you know, the borders of North America, you know, and it probably affected more than than just us but for me, particularly Mike experience was pretty rough. Because upon graduating, you know, I walked across the stage, got my diploma, and got on a plane the next day, with my saxophone in hand, a backpack with some clothing and two grand in my pocket, and I left my brother, my car, quit my job and left. And so I didn’t even have anything lined up other than a place to stay when we landed in Brooklyn, where I was, you know, living. And so I was like, alright, we’re just gonna get a part-time job, and try to play some music, find some people to you know, get some gigs in the workout. And so, it turns out that a music degree won’t get you too far in the real world. Let me back up. At the time, in New York City, around 2011 2012, the music scene was just increasingly competitive, because, you know, people were having a hard time paying their bills and things were expensive. And

Joel Kruger 06:17
so the musicians that were actually playing and getting gigs and making any money off of it, you know, we’re only basically going to the musicians that had been established and, you know, had a following already. In other words, people that the club owners thought would be profitable, right? They didn’t want to take a chance on some newbie like me, just trying to break out onto the scene. So at that point, you know, I just went through a series of jobs here. I was a busboy at a restaurant, I worked as a clerk at a hardware store. I was a mover, you know, and that’s not an easy thing to do in New York City, where their elevators can be scarce. And I was even a food courier driving food to homebound folks that were sick. I was driving one of those big Ford Econoline vans, and we have the continental carrier thermal tubs that we put these frozen meals in. And so the company that I was driving for it was a nonprofit. And their mission was to deliver food to homebound individuals who are sick with, you know, cancer and AIDS and leukemia and just really had a compromised immune system couldn’t get out, or they were too weak to do it. And so part of that involves, you know, double parking and running into a building and, you know, leaving food there and getting back before getting towed or a ticket or honked at or threatened by angry New Yorker

Jason Baum 07:56
doing this noble thing, you come back, there’s a boot on your car.

Joel Kruger 08:00
Right, right. And so, you know, it was a rewarding experience, because I got to, you know, drive around all five boroughs and see all of the architectural history and just the local culture to some extent, but, you know, it was hard work, and I had to be there to set up and load the truck before sunrise. And oftentimes, I wouldn’t get back until the sun was starting to come down. You know, the real transition for me happened in that time. And at that time, I was already on food stamps. I’m having trouble paying back my rent and my credit card bills and my student loans and feeding myself. And, you know, I was actually at a point where I was relying on my roommates to just kind of eat their scraps for a while just to keep, keep it going.

Ad 08:57
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Jason Baum 09:46
So things are going well for you financially, clearly. Yeah. So at what point did you make that decision to pivot like this is not working out for me?

Joel Kruger 10:01
was after I was homeless and living in the hallways of so you know, first I was staying right where I was just in the hallway outside of my old apartment. Wow. Then, you know, there’s a couple of times where I had to say on a stoop outside, but that wasn’t you know, it sounds worse than it was right I was homeless but it was only the whole episode was only for about a month. But the final stretch of that I was just crashing on somebody’s couch for two weeks. And the strategy that I had was to just put everything I owned in a cheap storage unit and just live like a nomad. And then I like you said that what was it that made me change. And then this was that I was like, This just can’t go on. I don’t know about music as a career. Personally, I might just play later on in life when things are a bit more stable, but I need to change something. And so it was at that time when I decided, you know, I’ve realized that I’ve always been curious about the Linux operating system, even back when I was in high school, you know, and I asked people about it, you know, because back in those days, I was still one of the Napster users and the Casa users. And you know, you had to be relatively tech-savvy, just

Jason Baum 11:12
Are you allowed to admit that these days? I guess you can write the statute of limitation is up now. We’re all Yeah, we did that.

Joel Kruger 11:22
It was a thing. Hard times in New York had changed something. And I overrode my Windows laptop with Ubuntu Linux. And, you know, I just started to dive right in. And, you know, people were telling me that there’s a stable opportunity to support yourself in the IT industry, plenty of opportunities, the pay is good. And, you know, for me, honestly, that was just like, the requirement, but the main interest was, I needed to replace my career was something that would still stimulate me intellectually the same way that jazz music and improvisation would. Because, you know, when I was in college, I did, you know, cashier work, and, you know, the service jobs. And even while I was still playing in New York, I was doing those kinds of gigs, too, but they just weren’t stimulating for me, you know? Yeah, I really wanted to have a job that would keep me interested, and, you know, make me feel like I had something to stimulate my mind with. So, you know, I started to learn how to use the bash shell in Ubuntu. And eventually, my roommate made a bet with me. And he’s like, I bet you couldn’t hack me. And it was kind of like a neener, neener Neener. You do it, kind of thing. And so I was like, Man, I don’t know how to do any of that. But I’m gonna try and sit there. Yeah, there, right. So I viewed that as consent. And it was verbal consent. So what I ended up doing was learning how to perform a simple man-in-the-middle attack. And basically, what that involved was learning how to enable IP forwarding on your local Linux machine, ipv4 forwarding, and then change your IP tables to perform ARP spoofing by pre routing TCP connections on port 80. And redirecting them to, for example, Port 8080. And then you have to find your target IP address using a tool like Nmap, for example. And then you can redirect the packets from the victim’s computer, you know, through you know, your computer, before you forward it on to the router using a tool like Arp spoof to do that, and finally, you know, you can use a tool like drift net to monitor packets and images, or URL snarf, URL snarf to output URL request and capture traffic in common long format. And, you know, you can further analyze the traffic with a tool like Ettercap or perhaps TCP dump. Yeah. And so

Jason Baum 14:30
we should probably preface but don’t try this at home, right.

Joel Kruger 14:34
Yeah, don’t try this at home. So actually, thankfully that early on, in my endeavors, I had the foresight to I had this old MacBook at the time that was too old to update to use, like modern web browsers. It was still one of those power PC MacBooks and friend had given it to me just because he had no need for it. And so I used that as My target computer to practice on my, my victim, right? And, and then I used my Ubuntu machine as the attacking computer. And so I did this, it was basically one of those lonely Christmas nights in New York when you’re too broke to fly back home, and you don’t have anywhere to go and you’re too broke to do anything except, you know, learn how to hack. But again, for me, it was always the curiosity about how things work. Like, I’m not the type of person to take those skills and try to take advantage of people. I want to know just how people do that in the first place. Like, you know, I’m always interested in these things called Rube Goldberg contraptions, you know, where, for example, you tip over a domino, and then it has a cascading effect. And then, you know, a spatula flies something across the room and presses a button on the other side, like, that’s what I think DevOps really is, right, like, you’re just all these series of interlinking data systems interacting together to cause a curated output. And so that’s my deep curiosity with, with technology. And that’s why I got the idea that I could really make this into a career and quite frankly, I thought maybe at the end of the day, I wanted to do cybersecurity, you know, I’ll Mr. Robot or something like that, you know, and, you know, really just kind of focus on that. But then I realized, believe it or not, DevOps is I think, more in demand and more meaningful. And I think in the industry these days, from what I seen. Enterprises tend to treat DevOps DevSecOps and security, specifically as a checkbox to avoid a lawsuit rather than something that they’re genuinely interested in doing to protect their clients. I think it’s more of one of those, tick the box type exercises, just to say that they did it so they can avoid any kind of legal action in the event of something happening. But we’re getting off the beaten path. Now back to music, and it right, so I was working at the Blue Note jazz club at this time and learning how to use Linux. And so my, my roommate gets back from his Christmas break. And, you know, he’s like, Hey, man. And so, you know, he had some friends over and was having a good time. And so it was like, Hey, man, I bet you I could hack you right now. And he’s like, Nah, ah, and so I did. And this was the first time I ever tried to hack his computer. But because I was using, like I said, the old power PC MacBook up until this point. And I found some very funny stuff that I won’t repeat here. But it just goes to show you how important it is to make sure that your IRC traffic is encrypted with TLS. Otherwise, people might be able to read what you’re chatting about. But anyhow I felt like, I don’t know, like this supervillain, but in a good way, I don’t know, I felt great at the time, you know, and so we all celebrated and had sushi that night, I remember. Um, but so in that moment, I realized, you know, I can, I can really make a career out of it. And so an associate of mine hooked me up with the job is a 3d printer manufacturer in Brooklyn that is now defunct, but at the time, the company was solid doodle. And they were known for kind of having the most affordable 3d printers around at that time back in like 2012 I would say is around that time period. And so we you know, we were doing tech support and you know, a little bit of everything and keeping the manufacturing process going and that was a really cool job because I got to interact with hardware and software and you know, seeing kind of a 21st-century approach to manufacturing techniques and stuff.

Joel Kruger 19:24
And so, at that job, I had my chance to really flex the, you know, Linux skills that I had developed because we didn’t have an installer for the host software that we used to control our 3d printers. And this is the kind of software that you would load your 3d model file into connect your printer and warm all the plastic up and you know, calibrate things and so you’d install this on your computer. So we had this installer for Mac and Windows but not for Linux. And I was like, Man, I think this is a big part. Have our audience that’s missing right now. It was open source software, by the way. And so what I did was I spent some time, you know, learning how to install all of the dependencies to make it work and install using a bash script. And it ended up working so well that we’ve published it on the website as our official installer to connect our printers to a Linux machine. And so, you know, I was just so happy to see this personal passion project of mine be used in, you know, a real business something that was outside of music. Because the imposter syndrome was real. The imposter syndrome at that time for me was like, Well, you know, I just kind of took Creedence with the old phrasing in the jazz world was fake it till you make it, right?

Jason Baum 20:54
I can imagine. I mean, you’re, you’re not self, you’re self-taught. Right? , your only background has been music to this point, right? I mean, you’re, you’re busking in the, on the streets, you’re you took that starving artists dream, literally. And now you need to actually, like, have a roof over your head. So you taught yourself Linux, like, I mean, it’s, it’s, I like music, I could never I’m not the person to self teach myself. Linux, you know, like, it’s, I guess that that tech piece must have been so interesting to you or your ears that the curiosity just fed you this whole time. And you just kind of instead of obsessing about and obsessing, that’s a bad word. But instead of like, going all-in on the saxophone and your music dream, you’re just kind of I’m going to put that energy towards this.

Joel Kruger 21:50
Well, yeah, at that point, I just felt like I was in a survival situation. It was literally life and death for me. And I think that this is something that’s perhaps not as easily understood in other parts of the world is how, you know, this country could be so wealthy and have so many opportunities, but there’s so many people that go starving, and homeless and in the streets every single day. And you might not think that this could ever happen here. But it does to anybody, you know, I had a college degree, I was an educated human being, and, you know, had a career interest that was in line with the humanitarian effort of, you know, just healing with music. And, you know, I saw that, that as a nonsustainable career choice at the time for me. Granted, I did things in a very independent way. And it was a very sink or swim approach. But I think,

Jason Baum 22:44
and not to cut you off, I’m sorry, but as you kind of has an entrepreneur sense about you, it’s kind of like, you know, if you watch Shark Tank, or if you fall, if you talk to entrepreneurs, I talk to entrepreneurs all the time. It’s like, they always tell you, if you have a lifeline, you’re not going you might not be successful. Because it’s like, you need to have that sense of all in and pouring everything you have into it. And it is that sink or swim, and sometimes you’ll sink, but when you swim, it’s really good. And so, you know, it’s you kind of have that about you with with your approach here.

Joel Kruger 23:19
Well, thank you, I’m grateful for that comment, I think the thing that ultimately drove me to persist that way, and through all of the hardship was, you know, my dad thought that I was going to come back to town, you know, back to Tampa, with my tail between my legs, and I wasn’t gonna make it and I was, that was not an option for me personally, and all of the starvation and suffering and homelessness was was worth it to me just to say that I could stand on my own two legs, and lead my own effort.

Jason Baum 23:53
And you caught up carved out a new profession here, that’s been pretty fruitful for you. So I mean, it’s kind of like, it was meant, not that it’s meant to be because you, you, you orchestrated it. But you had to go through all those bumps to get there, I guess. Right. I

Joel Kruger 24:10
did. And I also wanted to kind of defy the millennial stereotype that, you know, we were just lazy or something and like, didn’t have any passion or responsibility about I

Jason Baum 24:21
mean hasty generalizations about an entire age group is wrong.

Joel Kruger 24:26
I would say so, most of the time,

Jason Baum 24:29
yeah. I would definitely agree with that. So So now your, you know, carving out your tech career. You know, you worked for the 3d printer company and now, you know, how did you get to where you are, I guess today in your DevOps journey after that piece?

Joel Kruger 24:50
Right, right. So I was guiding myself towards a penetration testing career I thought, you know, at the time But I knew that that was the kind of career you didn’t just jump right into. And I, believe me, I tried, I reached out to a few, you know, big-name contractors to try to get into, you know, just some junior penetration testing roles. And, you know, we’re just running automated tests, and there’s not a lot of manual activity involved, but they wanted all kinds of certifications that I didn’t have, I didn’t have the time or money to get them, you know, and I was like, already facing, you know, these economic circumstances. So, you know, like I said, saying the overall thought was, I’m gonna get to this penetration testing goal, and use DevOps as my bridge to get there. And so, you know, my next position, after that, I ended up working at a virtual private server company, that was one of the original ones, called Linode. And Linode, is, you know, probably a little bit less popular than DigitalOcean, a lot of other people might have heard of, but Linode came before them, actually. And so, this was even before Amazon Web Services got started when, when they, when they, you know, made their company. So I was working for them after this 3d printer company, because, quite frankly, they were going out of business. And they did. And I needed to keep this dream alive of working in DevOps. And so I was doing tech support at Linode. And, you know, that was a reality where I got a lot of my fundamental, I would say, and, you know, the role of that job I had was to take calls from our customers and assist them with setting up, you know, basic website configurations with Apache web server, or Nginx. Or, you know, securing their server with a firewall like IP tables. And, you know, maybe best practices like making new system users for long-running processes, rather than privileged accounts, you know, a lot of these kinds of things that are basic, but people, you know, take for granted, or, you know, don’t always pay attention to. And so it was those fundamentals that I learned at Linode that really allowed me to progress and move on to my next positions. And at the time, you know, when I was working for Linode, they actually asked me to move to their base in New Jersey, which is outside of Atlantic City, in-app Seacon. And so I moved there from New York to work for Linode. But then they opened up a sister office in Philadelphia, while I was working there. And they asked if anybody wanted to be the pilot people to start that office. And I’m thinking to myself, Philadelphia, that’s a heck of a lot closer to Brooklyn and New Jersey. I’m going to go there. So you know, I lived out there and was working for Linode had a great time. But, you know, I knew that I wanted to be doing engineering work, real DevOps, engineering, not tech support, you know, taking calls necessarily. And so a buddy of mine who’s a musician who also graduated from USF was finishing up it was like a music festival in Aspen, Colorado, he uses a big timpani and orchestral percussionist really big on, you know, marimbas and mallet instruments. And also, he was a really sick jazz kit player, too, right, well-rounded musician. And so he was getting back from this festival, because, you know, it was like a four-month festival and he was coming back into town and needed a place to stay, and I was sick of my job. So he’s like, Hey, man, you want to just split a place down here in the DC area? I hear there’s a lot of IT jobs. And I know you’re looking to upskill right now you want to come and make this work? And so that’s what we did. Yeah, I just left Philly quit Linode and got my first Junior operations engineer position. And so, at that point, you know, I knew I made it because I got to one of those jobs where they give you a laptop. I was like, oh, man, this is so nice of you guys, you know, but I didn’t know that was like, part of the status quo nowadays.

Jason Baum 29:39
And now you’re a DOI ambassador. So now you’ve really made it. So tell like how’s it going as one of our newest ambassadors, how are you? How are you liking it?

Joel Kruger 29:52
So far, so good. Um, um, you know, was thinking about a challenge at work, and it was kind of getting some more imposter syndrome again, right. And then I was like, wait a minute, I have an entire league of ambassadors, I can consult for help, right? Like, I don’t have to do this on my own. And I realized at that moment that this is something that I was kind of not really seeing what a lot of people aren’t seeing these days is the value of community. And the value of sharing ideas, and not being a silo, and, you know, you don’t have to assume all the risks, yourself, there’s a lot of passionate, compassionate people out there. And so, you know, with the DevOps Institute, I think that it was a really compatible moment for me because my mission is to use all this skill set that I’ve developed over these last 10 years, to help people that are facing the same situation that I did 10 years ago, back when I was struggling and paying not being able to pay my bills, or feed myself and on food stamps, I, I see that happening these days with the pandemic and the economy. And, you know, just, there are so many people out of work now. And, you know, I just want to try to give back and give these people a platform to elevate themselves and their families, and give them a sustainable opportunity. And I think DevOps is the way to do that the demand has never been higher. And thus there’s a shortfall in the industry of talented DevOps professionals. And so it just makes perfect sense. To me, it’s like a win win for everyone. And I think with the DevOps Institute, you know, I can really bring that vision to life.

Jason Baum 31:54
That’s awesome. And appreciate you mentioning community because I think that is what we are all about. And that is, that’s a piece that’s, I think what everybody is missing right now is, is the fact that we don’t have that, that face to face, that networking component, that piece that is truly taken. I think we all kind of took it advance, you know, for granted. In now, with virtual being our only source of it, you feel like it’s lacking. So I’m glad that you brought it up. And I’m glad that you’re feeling that that connectedness because we are trying to make sure that that’s what we’re doing with DevOps Institute.

Joel Kruger 32:33
I think that the DevOps Institute is doing a fine job at that. And I think that in terms of DevOps, it’s crucial, because, you know, throughout my experience working as a DevOps professional, I see so many people that don’t implement it the way that it was originally intended. And I think that sometimes it can get a little bit overhyped and under implemented, and then people get frustrated that it’s not going the way that was promised. And just a little bit of sharing, and community building, I think will help save this movement.

Jason Baum 33:11
Definitely. I think that’s a great place to kind of wrap this piece because that’s a great sentiment. And so now is like the this is a goofy part of the show. We landed on such a good note. And now I’m going to totally throw you off. Are you ready?

Joel Kruger 33:31

Jason Baum 33:32
All right. I mean, you’ve shared so much about yourself already. But I typically ask this question, what’s one unique thing about you that maybe nobody knows that you haven’t shared publicly?

Joel Kruger 33:44
That I have a very unique talent that I can simulate the sound of a bike horn with my mouth.

Jason Baum 33:53
Okay, we want to hear that now. No, you have to do it.

Joel Kruger 33:57
Here we go. You’re ready. So this is my biting my mouth.

Jason Baum 34:03
Wow. That’s fantastic. Well, thank you for sharing that. And thank you for being on the podcast today. It was a lot of fun. And you have an amazing story. And congratulations to you. Because to go through what you went through. And I don’t know how many people could actually do it and come out on the positive. And you know, have it be you know where you ended up today?

Joel Kruger 34:30
Well, I’m grateful for the time, Jason, this has been super fun. And again, it all just highlights the importance of community and support.

Jason Baum 34:39
Definitely. And thank you for listening to this episode of the humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m going to end this the same as I always do encourage you to become a premium member of DevOps Institute, be part of the community and get access to even more great resources just like this one. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and most of all, stay human, long and prosper.

Joel Kruger 35:01
Live long and prosper.

Narrator 35:03
Thanks for listening to this episode of the humans of DevOps podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong

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