SOFTWARE ENGINEERING

The Riak key-value database: I like it

The Riak key-value database: I like it

(Note: This is a writeup I did a few years ago when evaluating Riak KV as a possible data store for a high-traffic CMS. At the time, the product was called simply “Riak”. Naturally, other details may be out of date as well.) Riak is a distributed, key/value store written in Erlang. It is open source but supported by a commercial company, Basho. Its design is based on an Amazon creation called Dynamo, which is described in a 200-page paper published by Amazon.

What happens when you screw up?

Non-engineers want to know: what happens when a big bug is found in your software, and the bug is causing real users real problems, and you’re the one who wrote the code? Engineers do sometimes write bad code, and sometimes it makes it into production, it’s true. But shipping production software involves a lot more than writing code. It goes beyond that one engineer. That engineer is not the only person who saw or ran that code.

Good Python Interview Questions

When we were growing our team of Python devs at CMG, I was involved in a lot of interviews. I really enjoyed it, meeting and hiring interesting and talented engineers. I’m not a big fan of quizzing people on technical minutiae in interviews. I do think that asking some questions about technical likes and dislikes can be very illuminating though. For example, “What’s your favorite standard library module?” (My favorite answers are itertools or functools, but anything that shows they have hands-on appreciation for the depth of the standard library is good.

Remote workers and how to keep them

I’ve been working as a remote software developer for over five years now. I gather that some outfits do this better than others. In case they’re useful/inspirational for anyone else, I want to highlight the key things that have made this workable for so long. The key idea: Treat your remote workers as first-class, full-fledged members of the team. Have a chat server which everyone is connected to whenever they are working.

Aesthetics and computation

This evening, the Western Mass. Developers Group was treated to a talk by Ben Fry of Processing fame. It was excellent and inspiring. Having not much prior exposure to Processing or his work, I left hungry for more. (The title of this post is taken from the name of the group at the MIT Media Lab where Fry did his PhD work.) I liked the graphical-REPL flavor of his live demos.

Racebike building and software engineering

I just came across this list in an old “should blog about this someday” file. It’s from a 1983 interview of legendary racing motorcycle tuner Rob Muzzy, speaking to legendary motorcycle journalist Kevin Cameron. It’s about how to be smart about going fast. I don’t do a lot of work that’s extremely performance-critical, but most of what Muzzy says rings true for me when applied to software systems. The engineering mindset looks remarkably similar across disciplines.