People Blog

Starting at WANdisco: Gordon Vaughan, SDM

Hello world.

So, I’ve been asked to write a blog about my experience of starting at Wandisco. It was only 5 weeks ago, but it still feels a bit weird to write about it because it simultaneously feels like yesterday and a year ago, in equally positive measures. I’ll try to give an idea of why that is, and why I’m happy that I chose WANdisco as the next step in my career.

With my previous employer, I’d had a brilliant time for around 3-4 years; working my way up, gaining experience, pushing myself to go above and beyond every day. It was fantastic. Then, after a great run, things started to slow. The business got quite staid, opportunities to learn dried up and instead of progressing we were living in a perpetual ‘firefighting’ limbo. At the same time, my employer was owned by a larger organisation that was gradually, but perceptibly, making changes that impacted on the way our business performed. I’m sure many readers will have seen their employer go through similar absorption, and felt the tremors themselves first hand.

After a couple of years of stagnant career progress, albeit in a comfortable and fairly happy setting, an opportunity was pointed out to me at WANdisco.

It’s important at this point that I make something clear: I am not a technical expert. I’m one of those people that complete novices think are magical because I know how to use Google. On your initial Googling of WANdisco, that could seemingly rule you out because they talk in confident terms about their MultiSite products, enabling active-active replication of development environments across the globe at LAN speed with… Nope, I’m lost again… When I stepped away from Google and thought in isolation about what it was they were saying, it made a lot more sense. A change management system, that runs globally as fast as locally, that’s the same wherever you access it from. We forget sometimes that massive files take ages to download over large geographic areas, and if that’s happening all the time then how much time is lost waiting for updates? That, plus the fact MultiSite means, by its very nature, having multiple copies, you also have effective disaster recovery. I suddenly found myself interested.

Have to admit that Big Data was the product that made me really excited. Some of the stats around production of data are mind-blowing. By the time you have read this far down the page, it’s likely the amount of data globally recorded outstrips anything from the early 90s back to the beginning of time. All that data needs to go somewhere and it’s probably all usable, but how? I mean, physically, how? I saw a video by David Richards, the man who started WANdisco, explaining that Big Data had been used in the automotive industry to accurately predict the failure rate of components on cars to make pro-active repair possible. The video went on to mention how that could apply to healthcare, and then that wave of realisation hit. Big Data could well be the biggest thing to happen to this world since the Internet itself. How *amazing* would it be to help our customers build and shape that product to their own specification? Notice the ‘our’ in that sentence – I was already on board in my mind 🙂

After polishing my CV, having a shave and a haircut and all the other prep you would normally do for an interview, that ‘our’ became a reality 6 weeks later.

The role I fulfil is that of Service Delivery Manager. In title, that meant doing exactly the same thing as I did in my old workplace. In reality, it was everything that role should have been, and more besides. We perform quarterly service reviews with our customers, whether they have needed our support team or not, to talk to them about how we’re doing from a global support perspective, how the product is working for them, if there are any challenges or changes coming up, etc. That’s a mandated part of the service and not a nice-to-have – unless of course the customer chooses not to have them! What’s key is that we’re always talking to our customers, always looking for the next hurdle before it hits us, always being open and honest about our performance. It’s that approach that we believe will provide us the valuable intelligence we need to keep evolving, and showing our customers that we’re listening and adapting constantly to their needs.

The thought of having these kinds of conversations with customers without product knowledge was, frankly, terrifying. Thankfully, WANdisco had a full induction plan in place to ensure I had a full days’ worth of training across Subversion, MultiSite and Big Data to get the basics, and since then it’s been topped up by more in-depth sessions, particularly on Big Data. What I think is brilliant about the industry we’re in is that a lot of the software and processes we work with are open source, and there’s a wealth of information available on them. It’s not like the textbook models of old; it’s seminars, product demonstrations, lectures and other learning tools presented in engaging formats across the internet. YouTube has been a fantastic resource for learning; where previously I’d used it solely for watching Nanners and Sips playing various games, now I find myself lost in hours of concepts and theories that are still sinking in. It’s the diversity, yet relevance, of the information available to you that simply boggles the mind, and it’s all so new and rapidly changing that it’s compelling. WANdisco provide a good proportion of that content, either themselves or via exposes/conferences, which really makes you feel like you’re part of an important player in the community.

Of course, it’s very early days for me in learning, and there’s a strong chance that I’ll never have the knowledge that some of the people around the business hold. I wouldn’t have it any other way though; I love that we have so many brilliant minds across multiple sites. The culture within WANdisco is very similar to that of the open source community as a whole, in that we share, we collaborate, we discuss, and everyone learns. Everyone is approachable, and you can bet if the first person you speak to doesn’t have the answer, they will be able to walk you over to someone who does. In my role it’s vital that I have access to that knowledge quickly and easily, so it’s fantastic to have that ‘resource’ so accessible.

At this point I need to confess something: it’s now 13 weeks since I started, and it’s taken me 8 weeks to write this because I’ve been so busy. I’ve loved every second of it, and I love the fact that when I see a clock say 4pm I now think ‘where has the day gone?’ instead of ‘oh no, there’s still 2 hours left…’ There aren’t enough hours in the day, genuinely.

I’ll sign off there, but if you’re looking at WANdisco as a potential employer, or even if you think you’re happy where you are but find yourself reading this for some bizarre reason, do take a look at our careers site. It’s a great place to work, a great place to learn, and simply a great place to be.

WANdisco Engineering Offsite 2014

Hello from Belfast!

I’ve been enjoying a quick visit to Belfast this week to participate in WANdisco’s engineering offsite meeting. WANdisco has engineering offices in California, England, Northern Ireland, and India, and it’s really a pleasure to work with great people around the world. Belfast is also a terrific city to visit, with an amazing local food scene and a fun downtown area.

WANdisco is a fast-paced company and it’s always interesting to take a breath and catch up with colleagues that you normally only see on video conferencing. We’ve achieved an amazing amount in the past year, launching two new products (Access Control Plus and Gerrit integration for Git MultiSite) with a few more in various stages of work. Every WANdisco office has people with different viewpoints and skill sets, but keeping the communication channels open requires an investment in keeping in touch. Of course from one perspective it’s really easy: we use our MultiSite products internally, so sharing source code is dead simple…

Anyway, our batteries are recharged, we’ve got a plan for the rest of this year going into 2015, and we’re going to continue to deliver products that solve tough problems and delight our customers. That’s all for now – someone said there were pubs in Ireland, so I’m off to explore!

 

Unlimited Holidays? Old news to us!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great idea, though it also looks a bit like an attempt to sell a book – but this is Sir Richard Branson, a very smart and exceedingly canny man, who I believe has pledged to never undertake any task in life if he can’t make any money from it. This may sound mercenary but to my knowledge Sir Richard has never done so at the expense of or by stepping on other people. Which is nice.
Anyway, holidays. To all of us here at WANdisco, this kind of thing is old news. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that adopted the same policy a couple of years ago and I tell you what – it’s liberating, is probably the best word. I realise it may not work for every individual, but to know that you’re trusted to do your job and to know enough about what your colleagues are doing and what projects are on the go and to plan your holidays around that is something special.
Much like Netflix, we’ve found that treating people like grownups works. If you’re forced to report weekly, daily, even hourly in some cases what you’re doing and need to put your hand up to ask if you can use the bathroom do you feel trusted? It’s a weird feeling, having been out of school for several years and then find yourself in an environment that’s not much different. No one wants to feel like just a number, and policies (or lack of!) such as these have a big impact on working life.
A common question when people announce this sort of thing is ‘won’t the office just be empty all the time?’. Here at WANdisco we found that not to be the case, in actual fact last time we crunched the numbers we had to go out and ensure people took their statutory minimum holiday entitlement…. in addition to the 8 bank holidays. All of us appreciate the fact that we’re given the choice to take holiday when we need it, but for the most part we love coming to work.
It may not be the sort of thing that could work at your company, but if you want to engender satisfaction and loyalty in your workforce and if you want them to be proud of the company they work for, it’s certainly worth considering.

Starting at WANdisco (part 2)

Part 1

So, that was the majority of my first few months. I can do forums, blogging, writing, all that – that’s fine, but I needed to learn Subversion and Git because I need to be able to answer posts in forums helping people to use it, and arguably more importantly I need to be able to replicate issues that are raised and report them to the developers.

Just as an aside here, this is a fairly important place to be – in between the devs and the customers, understanding the language of both sides and translating from one to the other. I find it extremely satisfying and quite often have a lot of fun with it.

*ahem* training. Subversion was where I started, which is probably the smart move as it’s a fair bit simpler than Git though arguably not as good depending on your point of view. My understanding is that Subversion was written so that non-coders could have some control over what code gets committed or not, whereas Git was written by coders for coders, with the things that coders want in it, hence it’s significantly more complex.

It was good training, in fact the same training that our support engineers are given when they start (and our support engineers are incredible guys). It taught me a lot about Subversion – especially because it was written for Windows and TortoiseSVN and I was following it using SmartSVN on a mixture of OSX and Linux. In all honesty I can totally recommend that approach as you learn so much more in applying instructions for one thing to something fairly similar in a lot of ways but in others fundamentally different.

The svn command line stuff is all the same no matter the operating system – you’re giving commands to the program, so they’re the same whatever platform it’s running on. It’s when you get to the GUI stuff that things are different. TortoiseSVN is not the same as SmartSVN, and when your instructions are to view the repository log or even find the graph version of the log with helpful screenshots of a totally different application there’s a lot of looking up in help files and googling.

And as for setting up a server…well. Windows may have its share of detractors, but tickboxes for ‘start SVN server on startup’ and ‘install as a service’ basically take care of everything you need to worry about for a standard setup so it’s hard to argue. It took several VMs before I had a working SVN over http server running on Linux and (yes, noob, I know) several more before I had one that would still be working after a reboot.

Git…now that took a little longer. The training was a bit more in depth, but also very good in that it’s basically a list of tasks – achievements, if you will – and fairly vague ones at that. It also included a list of resources, although I mostly used the Git book (http://git-scm.com/book) which is invaluable, seriously. I’m not sure if it works this way for everyone but I certainly remember a lot more when I’ve had to figure something out for myself.

For example, “Rebase to edit a commit message”. That was it, that’s the full instruction. Not the first one in the training though, so at least when I came to it I definitely knew what committing was and why it would have a message. Rebasing I had to read up on. As I said though, fortunately for me and indeed everyone else, the Git book is brilliant.

So I learned a lot about Git, Gitlab, Gitosis and in the process a fair bit about Ubuntu and CentOS as well (I’d used Ubuntu before – in fact it runs my home server), and come to the conclusion that I like both of them even though installing and configuring Git over http on Linux is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Throw something like Gitolite with its dependency on Ruby into the mix and you may well spend a fair amount of time following installation guides.

So, training done, let’s hit the forums, but not literally because that would be silly. Forums are the lifeblood of my job and the hub of the WANdisco community, whom I am here to help and grow as much as possible – we’ll leave aside the occasional urge to lmgtfy (which I’ve managed to resist doing so far).

At the moment things are fairly quiet but the spam is cleaned out daily (I make sure of that) so that’s improving things, and now we have someone in there during (UK) business hours as well. At present things aren’t busy enough to warrant them being looked at outside those times, though I’m sure some of our guys in the US look through them from time to time, but if I have my way (and I fully intend to) it’ll get a lot busier.

So, how?

Well, in the first instance, by cleaning up the spam and being present in the forums. Then getting the word out. Social media is very powerful, but I think our best strategy is to be as knowledgeable and helpful as possible. The more that happens and the more we get out there and help with stuff, the more word will spread. Along with our own forums for Subversion, Git and Hadoop there’s StackOverflow and LinkedIn for those more technical queries, Facebook and to some degree LinkedIn again for less techy more human stories, and Twitter to tie things together and also point out new articles, forum threads and with any luck, engage in some banter as well.

The blogs, then – release blogs usually, for a new version of one of our products, but if something interesting happens then we like to talk about it, so we do. Hence this, and other blogs you’ll see shortly. We want to talk about what we’re doing a bit more in the office, whether it’s related to Big Data, improving our working environment, or just plain having fun.

So that’s it, really. Hopefully this has given you some insight into my journey and an idea of what we’re hoping to accomplish in the near future. Beyond that? I dunno. World domination might be nice.

 


If you want to find me you can on the above forums, I’m on Twitter as @WANdisco_Matt or there’s always my LinkedIn page – give me a shout if I can help with anything, and cheers for reading this far 🙂

Starting at WANdisco

9 years. I hadn’t expected to last at a job that long, but then I’d never had a job that felt like a career before. Unfortunately, it stopped feeling like a career and went back to being a job, so when a new opportunity knocked I answered with ebullience.

I’d been working in various customer forums and social media for the past half decade or so, and the opportunity to become Communications Lead for WANdisco was quite simply far too good to pass up.

So, that was it… off I went. It’s surprisingly easy to change jobs, in spite of how difficult it seems. Bear in mind if you’re thinking similarly, it’s the change that we fear and it’s nothing to be scared of. It’s a good thing. Chances are it’s what you need, especially if you feel bogged down and like you aren’t going anywhere. As an aside, if you like what you’re reading and think we’d be a good fit for you we are recruiting at the moment – why not check out the posts we have on offer at http://www.wandisco.com/careers?

Having said that though, moving from ISP support (essentially) to supporting version control systems is a fair leap and has involved an awful lot of learning. This also has been a good thing.

So, the runup to the change. Some clandestine emails (from a personal account of course), an after work visit to the new office for a chat, and finally the handing in of notice, which was kind of satisfying but mostly…melancholy, I think is the best word for it, though it wasn’t unpleasant. After sorting out the remainder of my holidays and arranging for a week off in between jobs (heartily recommended and well enjoyed), the first day dawned.

office panorama

Apologies for potatocam. Panorama shots are like that sometimes.

As luck would have it, a few others had trodden the path I was soon to walk so I wasn’t heading into a strange place filled with new people – several of them I’d worked with before which certainly helped tamp down the first day nerves. I even found myself sat next to a friend I’d had since secondary school, which was an interesting experience – we spent more than a few classes sat next to each other and while we hadn’t done the same in, oh, twenty years or so, it felt eerily familiar. Fortunately we were both professional enough to not let things interfere with the work that has to be done.

The other people I didn’t know? Lovely, lovely people. All of them. Especially the content team (but then I’m biased, and also a part of that team. Coinkydink? Decide for yourself). I feel like I fitted in well and nothing has happened to make me think otherwise so I’m going to assume the feeling is mutual or at least not totally opposite.

And the coffee? Oh my, the coffee.

COFFEEEEEeeeee

The coffee machine says ‘COFFEE READY’. The sticker says ‘GLADIATOR READY’.

Never underestimate the power of a decent coffee machine. You’ll save so much money, at least you will if you like coffee. It’s what, £4 for a decent sized cost-bucks? Twice a day for some people, especially in the IT industry. There’s also pool and ping pong if you like that sort of thing, which I do. So that’s nice.

pool and wiff

Also bike parking and meeting rooms with panoramic floor to ceiling windows (not pictured).

So that’s the people and the office, summed up in a couple of paragraphs. I could go on, but I don’t think that would be the best thing in the world, so I will move on to training and learning and working which are all things that happen in the world of jobs.

To start, version control. I’ve not written code. I’ve tinkered, and could – with much messing about and no small amount of internet searching – probably hack existing code with copy and pasted bits of other code in order to get it doing what I want it to do. I realise that’s how most hackers get started, and I enjoy it, but I’ve not done enough to actually learn code. I could explain an array or a variable, but I couldn’t write one without googling.

Therefore, I have never used version control. It sounds simple enough, right? Keep a copy of this code, if someone makes a change remember both how it was and how it is now, and give each change a sequential reference.

Now, let’s scale that up.

But… but we can’t. You have a repository server, which clients connect to and commit code. How can you scale that?

Well, you have more than one repository server.

Eh?

What do you mean, ‘Eh’? More than one. Many. Many servers, for many many many clients.

But…

Well, indeed. How do those servers know about each other? How do they know when a client has connected and added more changes and files, and how do they talk to each other to make sure there aren’t conflicts and that changes aren’t missed?

That’s what we do. We sell software (and support for said software) that guarantees 100% uptime for distributed version control systems. We have a number of large clients with big names, too. (Oooh, get me.) We also do training, which is lucky as (to finally close this rapidly expanding circle of text) I needed some.

 

 

Part two to follow in a week or so. If you want to find me you can on our forums, I’m on Twitter as @WANdisco_Matt or there’s always my LinkedIn page – give me a shout if I can help with anything, and cheers for reading this far 🙂