Dreamforce 2017: Google Cloud SVP Greene On Founding VMware, Gender Discrimination And Her Vision For The Future Of Tech

Greene Room At Dreamforce

Google Cloud Chief Diane Greene was an unexpected guest at Salesforce's annual Dreamforce mega-conference, her attendance revealed only after a surprise announcement of a partnership between the two technology giants.

To better introduce the former-VMware CEO to the Salesforce community, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff spent an hour interviewing her in depth about her upbringing, marriage, and legendary career spanning from naval engineering to VMware to Google Cloud.

Benioff, displaying some serious journalism chops, got Greene to open up about her formative experiences, gender discrimination, meeting Google's founders, and her vision for the future of technology.

"It's probably one of the greatest success stories in the software industry," Benioff said in describing Greene's career.

"This is my first Dreamforce," Greene told Benioff. "Shame on me. I love how non-commercial it is. And inspired. It's sort of holistic and yet we've all got jobs to do and we're all moving our jobs forward."

Here's what we learned from their conversation.

Greene and Benioff First Met Two Decades Ago At Oracle HQ

Back in 1998, one of Benioff's friends told him he needed to meet someone getting a startup developing an interesting new technology off the ground.

"I'm like, who's Diane Greene?" Benoff said.

Then one day Greene knocked on his door, just down the hall from Oracle founder Larry Ellison's office on the 11th floor.

"She said, I'm starting a company, and my husband and I have a huge vision for the future," Benioff said.

Benioff Might Have Invested In VMware, If Not For The Oracle Affiliation

Benioff was so impressed with the new virtualization technology Greene explained to him at Oracle's headquarters, that he remembers the meeting like it was yesterday.

"I actually thought it was wow," Benioff told Greene. "You had this huge vision for virtualization. You painted this vision of greater efficiency."

Benioff might have invested, he said, but alas, Greene didn't seem interested.

"I wanted to invest, I didn't get that chance. We'll talk about that later," Benioff told her. "I think you were worried about Oracle potentially being a competitor."

Greene said that was likely the reason, but acknowledged she remembers the meeting less clearly, probably because she's been trying to shut Oracle out of her mind.

"So am I, actually," Benioff retorted.

Don't Trust Greene's Wikipedia Page

Greene said that while Wikipedia places her birth in Rochester, N.Y., that's actually not true. But she appreciates the error, she said, because it gives her a way to tell when someone pulled her bio from the online encyclopedia.

Greene was actually born in Annapolis, Md., where her family lived mostly because of their love of sailing, she told Benioff.

Perhaps some Wikipedia editor got wind of that comment, because the site, checked hours after the Dreamforce session, does indeed reflect Annapolis as Greene's place of birth.

Father Smeared In McCarthy-Era Hysteria

Greene's father, an aeronautical engineer, was CEO of an aircraft parts company. Back in the dark days of communist witch hunts, a competitor looking to get the upper hand named him as a communist to the federal government. Greene's father lost his security clearance, and thus his job.

But justice saw its day. In William F. Greene v. the United States, he successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to reinstate his clearance.

Greene's parents met when someone brought her mother along to go flying with her father in an airplane that he built himself.

Competitive Sailing Led To Bouncing Around Colleges

Greene's love of racing sailboats led her to study naval architecture. But she bounced around between three undergraduate colleges, more interested in pursuing sailing opportunities than her education.

She finally went to MIT to further her studies in naval architecture. However, due to the dominance of the oil industry in hiring grads in the field at the time, it was a career that was ill-suited for an ambitious woman, she said.

Gender Discrimination In Oil Industry Led To Computer Science

When Greene left college, the oil industry was the largest employer for naval architecture grads. But, back then, it was terrible industry for a woman to start her career in.

While Greene mostly wanted to spend her time on the open seas, women weren't allowed to go offshore to drilling sites.

"I would design a lot of things, but couldn't go offshore to install them," she told Benioff.

Part of her job involved doing a lot of Fortran coding, so she decided to shift to computer science, and went to study the subject at Berkeley grad school.

Gloria Steinem, On An Airplane, Helped Make Sense Of The Gender Discrimination Greene Experienced

When studying computer science at Berkeley, the percentage of women in the field was at an all-time high -- despite recent progress bringing women into the industry, it still hasn't caught up to those days.

Greene said she didn't understand why those early days were so much more gender-balanced until she spent nine hours sitting next to Gloria Steinem (pictured) on an airplane.

"What's going on?" Greene asked the feminist icon.

Steinem explained that whenever a field is starting out, there's no established ways of doing things, and gender doesn't matter "because everyone's inventing this new field," Greene said. "But as soon as money comes in and status come in, the men come in, and they take over."

"And I'm thinking that was the oil industry," Greene said.

Husband And VMware Cofounder Impressed With A Motorcycle Ride

Greene's husband, Mendel Rosenblum, is an internationally renowned computer scientist and Stanford professor. But he made a more of a bad-boy first impression.

One day, Berkeley grad students were attending a session at Lawrence Livermore Labs. Rosenblum offered Greene a ride home, on the back on his motorcycle. She had never been on a motorcycle before, and didn't know Rosenblum, but hopped on.

"He took a wrong turn and we ended up on the freeway," Greene said.

Benioff expressed doubt that it was indeed a wrong turn.

Had An Early YouTube Vision

After Berkeley, Greene went to Sybase, then Tandem Computers, then SGI. Then she got involved with a startup in 1993 that did "low-bandwidth streaming video."

"We had the whole YouTube vision," she said, with a technology that could do real-time video coding and decoding.

Microsoft bought the company.

VMware Was Born At A Mayfield Fund Breakfast

Husband Mendel Rosenblum was doing virtualization research at Stanford as a way to instrument systems, and was getting good performance. At a Mayfield Fund sunrise breakfast, he started talking with colleagues about the technology's potential.

"He said if you ever get a level of indirection between processor and operating system, you'd really have a chance of changing things," Greene told Benioff.

"I think that's when VMware was born," she said.

One use case was diversifying the operating system options on the market. At the time, "nobody would adopt new operating systems because you didn't have the applications," she said.

"We decided this should really be brought to the x86 architecture."

IBM had already virtualized mainframes for other reasons, but the technology fizzled.

"We revisited it. We just thought it would be so useful," Greene said.

Greene Worried Acquisition By EMC Would Destroy VMware

VMware grew incredibly fast, with the business more than doubling every year Greene ran it and was highly profitable. In 2004, approaching $100 million in revenue, its founders were starting to think about filling an S1 and going public.

Then Greene got a call. "It had to do with my board members," she told Benioff. "We got acquired by EMC."

"They all started descending on us, and I was like, oh, they are going to destroy the company," she said of EMC.

Greene came up with a plan.

First, she asked EMC's leadership to assign one vice president for all things VMware to go through to streamline corporate relationship building.

She also asked EMC CEO Joe Tucci (pictured) for "a huge tranche of stock" she could disburse if the company hit $1 billion in revenue by a specific date. Tucci thought it was impossible, but agreed, Greene said.

The stock idea held the company together, she said. A year later, in 2007, VMware finally went public.

Sergey and Larry Wouldn't Buy Her Desks

Greene knew Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (pictured) from their time as grad students at Stanford, where her husband was a professor.

But it was at an event held by Brewster Kahle regarding his Internet Archive at which she first heard the early Google vision.

"Well someone said I know how to do this search thing, and it was Larry," Greene told Benioff.

Despite the revolutionary technology Page described that day, after Google was founded, Greene's most-pressing interest in the company was selling them office furniture.

"We were moving out of our place and we were trying to convince them to buy our furniture. But they were buying tables, not real desks," she said.

The friendship cooled when both VMware and Google started hunting among the same pool of talent.

"We were both going after strong systems people," she told Benioff. "It was quite the competition."

"I always thought the world of Larry and Sergey," she added.

Greene Asked Google, Why No Cloud?

While Google's founders had broached the subject of bringing Greene to Google after she left VMware, she didn't think it was a good fit because of the company's consumer orientation.

"A few years later [in 2010] they invited me to join the board, and I thought that was really neat and did that," Greene told Benioff.

"So I joined the board and started asking, why don't you guys have a public cloud?"

Page and Brin suggested Greene come in and help establish that enterprise business. Instead, she offered to help hire someone else to do so.

Google Buying Bebop More Than A Diane Greene Acqui-hire

Instead of going to Google, Greene founded Bebop, a cloud-based development platform for enterprise applications, in 2013. Husband Rosenblum wasn't interested in the startup at first, but later got involved when he realized the potential of its technology for making enterprise software easier to use, she said.

At the same time, as a board member, Greene was meeting weekly with Google's cloud team, "helping Google look for their cloud person," Greene said. But "they weren't finding someone Googly enough."

Bebop had just closed its first round of funding from Marc Andreessen when Google pulled the trigger on the acquisition two years ago.

"They didn't realize what a gem they got," Greene told Benioff.

Among the applications Bebop built to showcase the platform was a recruiting app that has since become Google Hire.

"Now I'm on the Alphabet board and a Google executive," she said.

Benioff Asks The Googly Question

"What does Googly mean?" Salesforce's CEO asked Greene.

As far as it applied to her, it was simple, she said.

"I really love working with engineers, yet have a lot of fun on the business side," she explained.

For Google's culture, "that was a good combination."

She added, "also, I don't really like to tell people what to do. I like to have us figure it out and go."

The Future Of The Cloud

"The cloud has become even more than I thought," Greene told Benioff. "It is the place every company is really changing how they work."

"VMware was pretty wonderful, and we had a lot of success. It was a subset of what the cloud is," she said.

Benioff credited Greene's old company for developing the technology that enabled the cloud.

But true cloud has entirely changed the relationship vendors have with their customers, Greene added.

"At VMware, we were talking with chief architects and sometimes the CFOs because we saved them so much money," she told Benioff. "Now it is really a conversation with all the top people in the company about how to change their processes."

Google And Salesforce

Google's partnership with Salesforce is about "taking all this data and putting it together, then being able to run analytics and machine learning on that," Greene said. "It's a real revolution in all the processes in the company."

"I like Google," she told Benioff. "Google is always trying to do the right thing. Similar to you guys."

Benioff also likes Google.

"We have 30,000 users on G Suite, and getting off Microsoft Office was probably one of the best decisions we've ever made," Salesforce's CEO said. "But we don't have to talk about that."

Another connection between the companies -- Bret Taylor, founder and CEO of Quip, a company acquired by Salesforce, co-created Google Maps before a stint as CTO of Facebook. Taylor, now a Salesforce executive, was Greene's husband's student at Stanford.

GCP Infrastructure And Open Source Hybrid Differentiation

Google spends $10 billion every year on its data center infrastructure, Greene mentioned.

"I think we have the best infrastructure," she said, "like our performance and availability and security is really quite excellent."

"When did Google go down? And our mail, we don't get hacked," she added.

But where Google really differentiates from competitors is around analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Google also operates the cloud "that's really serious about open source," she said.

"The way Google runs internally is with these containers that you can pop up and down and get orchestrated," Greene said. That technology, built for its cloud, was later called Kubernetes, and open sourced.

With recent advances in allowing its cloud technology to run on-premises, Google now really has an "open source-based hybrid strategy."

VMware's Founders Always Anticipated The Container-Tech Revolution

The rise of containers hasn't surprised VMware's former CEO one bit.

"The reason VMware had to have full virtual machines is because we couldn't change the operating system," she told Benioff. Because of that limitation in the past, "you have to be completely self-contained and run a whole operating system."

But now that virtualization has become so commonplace, "you can do it in a lighter-weight way with these containers," Greene said.

"So that we always knew would happen," she said of containers displacing virtual machines.

Security Woes In A Tiny, Windowless Room

"I think security's become the No. 1 problem for the world," Greene told Benioff, before qualifying that statement, "in tech."

Having confidence that IP, assets, communications, are secure is difficult for everybody, she said.

When Greene first started at Google, "they took me into a little, tiny, windowless room with two top people in our security group, and they just told me all these stories about how people had broken into things, with like a 2-nanosecond window," she said.

"It was very sobering."

But Google offers unique security capabilities across its portfolio, she said, from Chromebooks with a custom chip verifying every boot, to Gmail authentication protocols.

Greene told Benioff that while he would probably never give away his personal password, if he did, "we should recognize it and say, Marc, I think someone wants to log in, and I don't think it's you."

A Comprehensive Vision

Benioff asked Greene a simple question: Is Google's vision as comprehensive as it seems?

In short, yes.

"Google historically had this very comprehensive view of the best way to bring their applications to the world," Greene said. "With cloud, we can bring everything Google has to the world" through APIs.

And the strategic partnership with Salesforce announced the previous day is the start of something new as far as integrating data across the portfolio and from outside sources, she said.

"Maybe it took someone like you to really help us make this happen," she told Benioff, "but now we're coming together as one Google."

Where's It All Going?

Benioff asked Greene the big question: "where is all this going?"

"Paint us a vision for the next one to two decades," he said.

Greene replied, "clearly, people talk about democratizing AI. I think we're democratizing technology."

With the cloud and all the platforms and utilities and APIs available to connect to with an almost "lego-structure," almost everybody can realize their unique vision using software and data.

"Everything is taken care of. It's just out there for people to use," she said.

"That's sort of been a vision of yours too," she noted to Benioff.

As data gets shared more, companies are increasingly going to work together.

"It's not that much work to have two things work together anymore, where it used to be years and years of project planning," she said.

"I hope that happens more and more. I've always loved partnering," Greene told Benioff.

Blockchain Is Phenomenal

At the close of their discussion, Benioff mentioned that Greene hadn't mentioned blockchain once.

That omission in no way conveyed her opinion of the distributed ledger technology.

Blockchain is revolutionary, and not just for facilitating financial transactions, Google's cloud leader said.

The "distributed way of knowing what's okay and what isn't. I think it's a phenomenal technology," she said.