Meet Santa Cruz Works board member Drew Meyer

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Drew Meyer is almost certainly the only Amazon executive who got his start in tech after being laid low by an illness in the Amazon Rainforest. Here he tells that story, and a better one about the role the seminal Unix company Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) played in bringing him to town.

A longtime member of the Santa Cruz Historic Preservation Commission, boardmember of the Coastal Watershed Council, and former co-host of the late great KUSP Saturday morning talk show Geek Speak, Meyer also shares some ideas about his beloved adopted hometown, and how SCW can help make it even better.

So, please tell us how you wound up where you are.

Well, I got my start in tech 20 years ago. I'm from Coeur d’Alene Idaho, and my first career was as a professional whitewater raft guide. I started to realize after getting sick on a rafting trip to the Amazon that this might not be a long-term career path. And having met a bunch of other raft guides who were 40 and looked 60, and had no families or 401ks, I thought: This is probably time for a change. So I went back to Idaho and looked around the Northwest and got a job selling computers over the phone at Micron Electronics, a PC-maker based in Idaho.

How did you get to Santa Cruz?

After working at Micron for a couple of years, I got into product management and did a project with SCO, and they sent a girl up from Santa Cruz to work with me on the project. And the project was okay, but the girl was excellent. So we started seeing each other long distance. And of course I moved to Santa Cruz, and lived in a garage on the Westside within earshot up the surf. Which for an Idaho boy, that was a big deal.

I see on your LinkedIn that you started working over in the Valley pretty soon after arriving in California. Product manager at Quantum in 2000, after that marketing manager at Adaptec; senior product marketing at NetApp; from there to NETGEAR, Veritas …

My first company was in Campbell, so my commute was just to the first exit after Los Gatos. But after bouncing around Valley jobs, commuting for about 15 years, after Edith and I had just had twins, I realized that the commuting was really consuming a lot of time. And having an emotional reason to be attached at home with the twin babies, I was looking for something to do here. And Amazon was planning to open an office [for its cloud team], and I had picked up some network and security chops, so that's when the magic happened.

I came in when we were five or six people here, working in Next Space. So that became a whole new equation. The ability to work with Silicon Valley-quality people and a major global player, and yet have a lifestyle that included the best in Santa Cruz—mornings and evenings and surf sessions and mountain bike rides and sunsets and going to see the kids sports events.

The work-life balance came back to me. And it was the right time of my life and our family's life and in my career, so it was a magical combination.

Edith, Drew, Henry and William Meyer (clockwise).

Edith, Drew, Henry and William Meyer (clockwise).

And how are things going at Amazon now?

I've been part of the Amazon office here in town for about four years. We have roughly 180 people on two floors of the Cooper House downtown—mostly software development and engineering, with our fingers in a whole bunch of Amazonian pies!

Tell us why Amazon decided to become a Santa Cruz Works member.

To me, as a Santa Cruz Works board member, number one: It shows that we have the talent and the ability and the pull to create an outpost here in Santa Cruz of a multinational world player. I'm on my soapbox, but if you don't mind, let us not forget that we're in a global talent battle in Santa Cruz to attract and keep the type of people we need.

And we can bring the businesses and create the salaries that allow people to afford to live the lifestyle here. Local tech is a component of a sustainable future ecosystem here in Santa Cruz, a future economy.

So between Amazon and Poly and now Google's acquisition of Looker, we have three major industry players that have chosen to invest in our community. And all of our companies have people all the time who spin off, go out and do startups or join a small or midsize company. So we help create a tech business ecosystem.

The purpose of Santa Cruz Works is to accelerate this flywheel, which I think the good thing for Santa Cruz—getting these tech companies and startup founders attached to funding, attached to talent, attached to resources, facilities, economic development folks, the university. I mean we are the electronic blender of the Santa Cruz tech scene—without us, you’ve got a lot of fruit but not a lot of smoothies.

How has working in Santa Cruz affected the lives of the folks who work with you at Amazon?

I see people that I work with in town walking on the street, or walking on the River Walk, riding a bike, at our kids’ swim class at Santa Cruz Works New Tech Meetups. And so the community is beyond just my workplace. And I realized my peers at work are also my peers in the community. And all of our interests are much more aligned. It just becomes much more real when you see the same faces in both places.

Is there a direction you’d like to help take SCW as a board member?

I think we need to be a little bit more political, to get involved in the discussion and communicate the chain of connection, about having good jobs for local people. I want to help people understand that local tech is different than five guys from Facebook all buying waterfront houses and Airbnb-ing them out. That's not the result that we're looking for. It's the opposite. What we want is good jobs for local people.

Former whitewater rafting guide Drew Meyer still loves white water.

Former whitewater rafting guide Drew Meyer still loves white water.

ERIC JOHNSON