Jonathan Schneider and Olga Kundzich are co-founders of Moderne, a Seattle-based startup. Moderne received $4.7 million in seed funding in July 2021 to commercialize OpenRewrite, an open source automated refactoring tool for code (initially Java) that Schneider started while at Netflix. Moderne’s technology reduces the tedium and time it takes for software remediation; a big problem in today’s world of cloud-native development. The video is below, followed by a transcript of the conversation.
Announcer: This is Digital Anarchist.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another segment of TechStrong TV. We have a new company to detail for you, and we have two cofounders here to tell you all about it. It’s a great open source story as well. Let me introduce you to – and I’m gonna do my best not to mess it up – Olga Kundzich, Kundzich, Kundzich – three times the charm – and Jonathan Schneider. I think I got that one on the first try. Olga, Jonathan, welcome to TechStrong TV.
Olga Kundzich: Great to be here.
Jonathan Schneider: Thanks. It’s good to be here.
Alan Shimel: Thank you. So the only rules is only one of you can talk at a time, but both of you can talk as much as you’d like. But why don’t we start off with maybe a little bit about each of you. Olga, if you don’t mind, why don’t you go first and maybe share with the audience a little bit of your background and how you came to be here today.
Olga Kundzich: Great. So my background, I was working at Pivotal on a Spinnaker continuous delivery solution, and that’s where Jonathan and I had met. We worked together there for about a year and a half. Prior to that, I worked at EMC in engineering for, in different functions for a number of years. So when we were working together on Spinnaker, we talked to a lot of people in the industry. There was a lot of interest around that product, and kind of we realized that everyone had sort of the same problem. We would start a conversation about some old feature, and it will come back to, well, all my application is still stuck on this old, aging framework, and let me talk to you in a year when I migrate all of this back.
So and the problems were highly repeatable and kind of same framework, same third-party vulnerabilities, same libraries, APIs, so after reflecting on this we realized that this is really not a coincidence. It’s a consequence of modern application development practices. Our software right now is 90 percent third-party dependencies, open source, APIs, so the problem’s kind of highly repeatable. And that’s kind of led, what led us to, back to technology that Jonathan developed earlier at his time with Netflix and kind of take it, develop a lot of more functionality into that sort of large-scale distributive factoring that will help us solve these type of problems, the framework migrations, API migrations, CVE patching that cross all of these open-source and third-party dependencies.
And I will let Jonathan speak about his background and a little bit on the open-source framework.
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah, so Netflix had this engineering culture called freedom and responsibility, so product engineers were sort of, had the freedom to do whatever they wanted really. They could use their, a different build tool, they could use their particular Java style, they could use whatever libraries they wanted, and so forth. And so as a central team, if you’re on an engineering productivity team or you’re on a platform team and you’re trying to effect some change inside the organization, we couldn’t put up gates in front of product engineers that would, say, break their build if they didn’t comply with a certain thing. Instead, you tried to build tools that would help bring them along on a journey with you, and I kept hearing the same thing over and over again from engineers which is, hey, I got a lot on my plate. Happy to move forward to this new pattern that you want to see, if you do it for me. If you just do the work for me, I’m happy to commit it.
Alan Shimel: Nice of them.
Jonathan Schneider: And of course, you know, you think there’s two of us and 700 of them, and that doesn’t scale super well. Right? So that’s where we started working on a way of actually automating the source code transformation. When we developed that technology, one of the consequences of that freedom and responsibility is that there was not a consistent style of the code or consistent patterns, necessarily. So that refactorization we built had to make transformations that were, looked like they were a developer writing in that code base stylistically consistent, hundred percent accurate changes. And so we got some interesting results out of that, so when Olga and I were working together and you would hear, “Oh, I’m still stuck on Spring Boot 1 and I’m trying to get to Spring Boot 2,” or, “I’m stuck on JUnit 4. I’m trying to get to 5,” we just found another application of this at a larger level in a highly repeatable problem space.
Alan Shimel: Fair enough. You know what, I’ve spent the last 20 plus years talking to founders. I’ve founded my own companies. This is what happens. You see a real problem. Right? See a real-world problem. There’s got to be a better way we could solve it. Sometimes you find out solving that problem is not as easy as you thought. Sometimes it is, very rarely. But you work through it and that’s what startups are all about. In your case, though, I mean, look, Spinnaker, which is now part of CDF, right, was managed by CDF, but Google, Netflix were instrumental in the development of Spinnaker. But Spinnaker is an open source tool, and you guys went with an open source route in what you’ve developed. Why don’t we talk about that a little bit?
Jonathan Schneider: Sure, yeah. There’s really two parts to our product offering. There’s OpenRewrite, which is GitHub slash OpenRewrite. OpenRewrite is that core refactoring technology we’ve been talking about that can make stylistic automatic and consistent changes to a code base. On OpenRewrite we built recipes, so we have a recipe to migrate you from Spring Boot 1 to 2, from JUnit 4 to 5, to do code cleanup things, to do security vulnerability fixes. We want those recipes to always be Apache licensed and open source. Framework authors are going to develop the recipe, so the Spring team will develop the recipe that will move you from Spring Boot 2 to 3, or the Quarkus team at IBM or Red Hat would develop the recipe that’d move you from one version to another.
What Moderne does commercially is we take those recipes and we run them at massive scale, so I could take that recipe and run them against tens or hundreds of millions of lines of code, and you can see that, the impact of that recipe running against your whole organization’s code base.
Alan Shimel: Fair. And so you mention – how did – it’s not Modern. It’s Moderne. Correct?
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah, we call it Moderne. Yeah.
Alan Shimel: Moderne. So that’s the name of the company.
Jonathan Schneider: It’s the name of the company, yeah.
Alan Shimel: And OpenRewrite is the open source aspect of it or –
Jonathan Schneider: That’s right.
Alan Shimel: – owner of the solution. So let’s get into the mind of the entrepreneur here a little bit, Olga. Having worked at Pivotal and EMC for years before this, you saw this issue. You saw this problem. There’s got to be a solution. When did you say, you know what, this is something worthy of starting a company, right? When I was starting companies, one of the big questions is, is this a feature or a product? Right? Is it just a feature of someone else’s product, or is it truly a product in and of itself? And that makes a big difference in, obviously in what you’re building and what your aims and all of that. Olga, I’d like to hear from you. Feature, product, how did – what was kind of your thought process in saying, you know what, this could be its own company?
Olga Kundzich: I think this, something like this is essential for managing modern cloud-native applications. These are becoming, the applications sort of become a glue code teaching all of these third-party components. They evolve and change at their own pace, and developers really right now are just restitching those things back together, upgrading CVs, upgrading versions, and it takes a really significant amount of time just to – sort of anecdotally we hear from people that 20 to 30 percent of their time, engineering time, is just now dedicated to these tedious migrations. So if we can automate this, we can unlock innovation, productivity of engineering organizations, and help a lot of businesses actually innovate.
Alan Shimel: Got it. Jonathan, what about from your end? Well, let me ask you both. Is this your first time starting a company?
Jonathan Schneider: It’s first time starting a company, yeah. I think it’s real special to me. I think one thing I love about this business is that we’re really after helping organizations fix their code, and our outcome and our future success is tied directly to how much code we’re able to fix, how much help we’re able to provide. We’re not about reporting and saying like, you know, here’s the problems that you, engineering team, need to fix. When we partner with an organization, we’re kind of in the trenches with them getting these issues off their plate.
We talked to one organization recently – and this is why I think it’s a product and not a feature. We talked to one organization recently and they say we just look at our top ten issues reported by a series of static analysis tools they have in-house, and it says, well, it’s gonna, these tools estimate it’ll take 1,700 developer days to fix these top ten issues. So that’s like 4.8 years’ worth of developer time to fix those top ten issues that they have, and those aren’t false positives. Those are just literally top ten critical problems they have right now. So we developed recipes for a lot of those, and their engineers said, you know, “We estimate it would take us five days with these recipes to apply that change and be done with it.”
When I think about 1,700 developer days or 4.8 years of time, what that really means to me is infinity, or like it means that the engineering team is never going to get through that backlog of issues. Five days seems like it is possible, and that’s, there’s this line we have, the, basically software grows until it can no longer be maintained, and I think our business is in keeping that software in a maintainable state so that the business can continue to innovate and thrive.
Alan Shimel: Absolutely. So companies launch now – we didn’t even mention the website. Shame on –
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah.
Alan Shimel: What’s the website?
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah, so the website is moderne.io, so it’s modern with an E.
Alan Shimel: Can you spell that, Jonathan? M-O- –
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah, it’s M-O-D-E-R-N-E, so modern with an E, dot I-O.
Alan Shimel: Dot I-O.
Jonathan Schneider: Yep, that’s right. We do have a restricted beta going on right now that you can just sign up for that on that website, and we’ll do an invite to you and you can see how we can apply these recipes across tens of millions of lines of code.
Alan Shimel: Absolutely. Are you working with CDF and the Spinnaker community?
Jonathan Schneider: We’re really in an adjacent product space now. I think there’s a lot of value to operational automation, what Spinnaker is doing, what different APM vendors are doing. I think we were working in that and we saw just an adjacent pain point that we just decided to go after instead.
Alan Shimel: Good stuff. Well, guys, I want to wish you nothing but a lot of success with this. It’s always, you know, I gotta be honest with you. I always enjoy interviewing new companies coming out of stealth and beta, first-time entrepreneurs, ’cause you make the world go around. And good luck. Keep us posted. Come back on and tell us more as you, as the story continues to unfold here.
Jonathan Schneider: Yeah, look forward to talking again soon.
Alan Shimel: All right.
Olga Kundzich: Thank you.
Alan Shimel: Jonathan and Olga from Moderne, M-O-D-E-R-N-E, dot I-O, here on TechStrong TV. We’re gonna take a break. We’ll be right back.
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