When I am not building something on a computer, I like biking, running, swimming and outdoor sports in general. But I guess I should tell you about my CS background. Here we go…
My first exposure to computers was in high school when my parents sent me to a programming boot camp when I was in high school. Basic was the introductory programming language they used in the course. And then C (what a big abstraction jump eh?). I finished the first part as fast as I could to try to get as much time as possible with C. Both programming languages were fascinating but there was something special about C. The set of constructs are –relatively– small but some of them are very subtle. I got fascinated with it but it would take me a few years to truly understand how powerful the language was.
That experience triggered my appetite for understanding computer systems. That same year, my parents got me a Sony - MSX which I used to play games and write little programs. I was intrigued by how many things I could build with that little machine. That was my first interaction with programming computers.
When it was time for college, I knew I wanted to major in CS. Most of my friends went to Electronic Engineering. I found that strange, after all, we were around twelve people that went to college, and I was the only one going for CS.
In college, we used terminals connected to “powerful” hpux servers running UNIX to solve the computer assignments. We also used X terminals – a graphical version of terminals. At that time, the Internet access consisted in a couple of 128K ISDN pipes.
The first year of college for CS is heavy on math, physics, algebra, and electronics. But I was more interested in the UNIX machines. I wanted to know how they worked. I remember reading manual pages and discovering the power of pipes. The more I learned, the more I wanted to play with those fascinated devices. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t skipped my Math classes that first year through. I can’t believe we are still teaching Math the same way. There is so much room for improvement. But I digress…
In my second year, to help to pay for college, I joined the city council IT team. I felt like at home since all the infrastructure was UNIX based. We had many different UNIX flavors: Solaris, IRIX (Silicon Graphics), AIX (IBM). I couldn’t believe they were paying me to fix and write software for those machines. My main contribution there was to write a dashboard to automatically report different stats on the hundreds of domains under the city council. I am so grateful for that opportunity. It was a great experience and another iteration that exposed me to the power of UNIX.
I wanted to have that same power at home, in my PC. At that time, Linux was starting. I ordered the Slackware CDs and installed it in my machine. Now we were talking.
In my third year of college, during the summer break, I accepted an internship at a software startup in Switzerland. They wanted to build a platform to help NGOs by abstracting the nuances of running Internet services (mail, web servers, ftp, etc…). We had a web interface that would allow them to control those services. I remember the stack we used: Three beefy Linux boxes running Red Hat with tons of disk space (10Tb if I recall correctly) running RAID (hardware) over SCSI disks. On the software side, we had Apache, PHP and Mysql to serve the web app. We were using Postfix as a mail server and Open LDAP to keep all the lower level configuration details. I remember hacking together on Postfix and LDAP to accommodate the software to our needs. I had a great time and I was very luck to work with a remarkable and talented group of individuals. Jordi, if you ever
In my last year of college, I started a small company with a couple of friends. The main product was providing Wi-Fi infrastructure for hotels. At that time, that technology was starting and laptops did not come with Wi-Fi hardware. Customers would use PCMCIA cards to access the network. We had a dedicated machine controlling the access and sharing Internet access for the users. The technology we used for our product was OpenBSD in the server box and Apache, PHP and Mysql to run the web app. The product did well but for different reasons the company didn’t take off. We also offered VPN solutions based on IPsec running soekris hardware. Of course, also running OpenBSD.
For my final degree project, I joined forces with my good friend Sergio Ramos (you are an awesome dude). We built an mp3 player from scratch. Both hardware and software. We used a Fujitsu micro-controller with a bunch of external chips to do specific work (like decoding mp3) and Compact Flash for storing data. This was a micro-controller, we didn’t have a full OS running. We wrote our own firmware to implement the mp3 playing functionality. Also, we wrote device drivers for Linux and BSD) to transfer files to the player. It could store any type of file since we implemented a full filesystem (FAT32). What an amazing experience. I remember sending a white paper to Nokia explaining our work. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from them. I think I just wanted to show them what we built hoping they would be interested in it. Maybe getting a job? I got an email (or letter?) back. They told us that what we were doing was pretty cool but it wasn’t aligned with what the company was doing. Three months later Apple released the first Ipod.I am very proud of what we built. Sergio knocked it out of the park with the hardware. The board was very small considering the resources we had. And the functionality was rock solid. The only difficulty was the enclosure we built. It was metal based and it was too heavy.
When I finished college I packed my suitcase and flew to the US to pursue a Ph.D. I didn’t end up getting one but that decision changed my life. I went to UCI, looked for labs with work I was interested in and introduced myself to the advisors. I told them I just wanted an opportunity to show my abilities with the hopes of getting a position in their labs as a graduate student. I was still working for my startup back in Europe so I had enough income to sustain myself economically. I got a few offers but I decided to join a CS lab that was working on peer to peer networks and algorithms. At the end of my first year in the lab, I decided that the Ph.D. was not for me and I started looking for positions in the Industry. That’s when I joined Eracks, a small company in California that assembled hardware specifically for open source operating systems. My main contribution there was building a pipeline to install OSes automatically in the new boxes. The technicians would boot up one of my Linux images via PXE and from there, they would decide what operating system to install on the machines. They could also run different testing tools to validate the hardware prior to shipping. I also remember enjoying tinkering with the different OSes and the device drivers to make them work in our hardware. I remember sending a lot of emails to different mailing lists asking the different OS communities for help.
After spending a couple of years at Eracks, I worked for a company in San Diego called Digitaria, building web apps for different companies. It was a great experience also since we took care of both of hardware and software. We had our own datacenter running a wide range of OSes and hardware. There I also met my friend Manuel, a solid sysadmin with an outstanding work ethic. Thank you, Manuel!
After a couple of years at Digitaria, I went through a carreer change (to a certain extent). I joined the Human Genome Sequencing Center in Baylor (Houston Texas). The position was as a Scientific Software Engineer. I joined the organization in a pivotal time for the genomics field. Advances in genomic sequencing increased dramatically the amount of data generated when sequencing DNA. Baylor was one of the three centers in the world with access to this new hardware. We received important amounts of funding to use the sequencers’ data to help with Scientific discovering. I was in Baylor for about 7 years and I had a couple of main roles. It was an unforgettable experience. So many challenges and the opportunity to work with talented scientists from a wide range of fields: Statistics, Biology, Computer Science, Physics. I even had the opportunity to write a paper as a first author. Thank you for your support, Jeff!
After a wonderful time at Baylor, I joined a startup in San Francisco (Librato). We had an online product that provides metrics as a service. You sent us your metrics (servers, daemons, apps, etc…), and we would store them and expose these to you via our UI. You could create dashboards to look at your metrics from different angles. I worked there on the visualizations and also building full stack features. The founders sold the company to SolarWinds. After a few months there, management decided to create a new product to merge all the different services that they had acquired. I was part of the talented team that built the new app. What is now AppOptics.
And that is most of my career story. Currently, I work as a Freelancer where I try to create value for my customers using my experience and skills that I have accumulated over the years.
I’d love to hear from you!