When Julia Austin finished her eight-year tenure as the innovation executive and Cambridge site lead for VMware in 2013, she wasn’t exactly planning to work full-time at a tech company again, at least in the near term.
But then, after meeting a New York-based company called DigitalOcean in December 2015, she was intrigued by the fast-growing company’s cloud infrastructure product — territory she was immensely familiar with, thanks to her work at VMware and, before that, Akamai. As a mentor-in-residence at Techstars Boston, one of the city’s most prestigious startup accelerators, Austin said she was introduced to Digital Ocean, a TechStars alum, through the Slater Victoroff, the CEO and co-founder of another startup that went through the accelerator, Indico.
Austin first agreed to advise the company — building off the CTO coaching she had been doing for startups in the Boston area — but then, as she got more involved, she went into consulting. Eventually, the company asked her to become interim CTO for the summer of 2016 while she had free time as a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. But then the question from the company’s leadership and board quickly evolved into “can we make this work full-time?”
With the caveat that Austin would keep her HBS gig, she agreed to serve as DigitalOcean’s CTO. But not only that. She would also become responsible for leading the company’s second office, in Cambridge, which held an official launch party last week. The office currently has almost a dozen employees, with plans to eventually reach 60.
Up until the new office opened, about half of the company’s 300 employees were working remotely, Austin said. That happened because the company was having difficulties finding the best technical talent in New York, so it started looking everywhere. At the same time, Austin said, the workforce became almost too distributed in some ways, so she and DigitalOcean’s other leaders agreed to open the office in Cambridge, with Austin in charge.
With Austin’s deep roots in the Boston tech ecosystem and the area’s strong clusters of universities, Austin said, “this was where we needed to be.”
DigitalOcean provides cloud computing software that helps developers quickly deploy apps into the cloud without the hassle of other cloud providers. “[T]he simplicity is our innovation,” Austin said.
That has led to fast, organic adoption by developers at large companies, including HP, Salesforce, Xerox, Akamai and Zendesk.
The company has raised over $100 million in venture funding from investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, and Austin described the company as “pre-IPO,” though there is currently no timeline for when it would go public.
Austin said DigitalOcean’s Cambridge office was modeled to look like its New York counterpart. It was also important that the company had the same amenities, she added, so that the Cambridge office didn’t feel like a hand-me-down. That means DigitalOcean’s Cambridge office is splashed with blue hues and plenty of ocean-themed decorations.
Another important part of the office culture, Austin said, is that the company’s CEO, Ben Uretsky, has committed to visiting the office twice a month. Employees at the Cambridge site will also have opportunities to access other company leaders, as well as the chance to climb the leadership ladder.
Something else that is equally important to Austin is that DigitalOcean keeps its doors open to the Boston startup community. She said the office was designed to facilitate meetups, which DigitalOcean kicked off with its launch party last week, with plans to host and sponsor other events in the future.
“Sometimes companies don’t realize that when you open up an office, it’s not just, ‘let’s make it pretty,’ but ‘how are we actually going to become ingrained into the community?'” Austin said.