Last week we kicked off our Community Spotlight series, and our interview with Linda Liukas was a huge hit. Our goal with this series is to showcase people of interest in the tech community, and learn about the projects they’re working on in addition to what excites them about the community today.
This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Andy Gross, Chief Architect at Basho Technologies. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Basho they make and maintain Riak, a distributed, highly available NoSQL database that’s used by companies like Google, CNN, and Yammer. Andy was the one who designed and developed Riak. During his time at Basho he also developed Webmachine, a RESTful webserver in Erlang, and RiakCS, an S3-compatible, large-scale object storage system. I’ve known Andy for years and he’s one of the smartest engineers I’ve met — he’s a modest guy so I figured I needed to say it for him. What makes him great is that he’s adaptable and capable of solving problems no matter what language they’re written in or what systems are involved. You can learn more about his work on GitHub or follow him @argv0.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Andy Gross, Chief Architect at Basho Technologies (we make Riak, a NoSQL database). I love cats, rap music, and computers. I was lucky — my dad bought me a Commodore 64 when I was four or five years old, and I’ve been programming since. In 2010 Basho opened a San Francisco office, and I’ve been living and working here in the city since then.
What kind of work do you do?
I’ve been at Basho for a little over six years — when I first started it was all coding, all the time, but now I do a little bit of everything. Coding-wise, I do a lot of prototyping of potential new database features for Riak, but I also do a bit of marketing, sales and product management. My general programming interests are distributed systems, databases, programming language theory and compilers. I tweet a lot as well.
How do you stay motivated when you’re stuck on a problem?
I usually just walk away from it for awhile. Get up, go outside, think about happier things than computers. Usually my brain will keep grinding on the problem in the background and I when I come back I have a fresh perspective, or maybe even a solution.
Burnout is a real problem. People don’t like talking about depression and mental illness, especially at startups it seems. When I was younger I would burn out often by not knowing when to step away and put some distance between myself and my work. I think it’s important to set limits — no startup is more important than one’s health. I try not to be too serious about anything, including work.
Who are the developers you admire, and why?
First I’d have to say my friend and co-worker Chris Meiklejohn. He’s self-taught like me and recently went back to school to get a graduate degree in CS, all while working full-time at Basho. I respect and admire curiosity and hunger for learning more than anything else, and Chris vacuums up more knowledge about more topics than anyone I know.
While he’s not strictly a developer, Peter Bailis (a PhD student at UC Berkeley) is a “developer’s academic”. He can explain complicated distributed systems concepts to laypeople and a lot of his research is focused on real, applicable problems that developers face every day.
Thank you for your time, Andy!