June 27, 2011
This was originally posted on themarkphillips.com. Please use the original post for all comments.
When someone asks me, “Where is Basho located?”, I usually respond with something along the lines of: “Much like Riak, we are completely distributed.” Some three years ago our team was all working out of Cambridge, MA (which is still our headquarters). Slowly but surely the team grew in size, but it quickly became apparent that requiring all employees to work in the same geographic location would result in us missing out on some talented and downright brilliant people. So we resolved to “hire where the talent is.”
As it stands right now we have physical offices in Cambridge, MA and San Francisco. The team, however, is now completely distributed; in addition to Cambridge and San Francisco (and several other CA cities), we have people in Oregon, Oklahoma (various locations), Florida, Colorado (various locations), New Jersey, North Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia (various locations), Maryland (various locations), Idaho, New York, Germany, and the UK. The latest tally put our entire team at just over thirty people.
Hiring where the talent is means we don’t sacrifice great hires for location, but it also presents various hurdles when attempting to build culture and community. Anyone who works at a startup or as part of a small team can speak to the importance of culture. It’s crucial that distributed employees feel as though they are part of a tight-knit crew. If you show up every day and your engagement with your coworkers doesn’t go much beyond a few passing phrases in a chat client, you should be doing more. The leadership at Basho made it clear many moons ago that we were going to work hard to build culture and community. Just because you’re committing code 1000 miles from your nearest colleague doesn’t mean you need to feel like they are 1000 miles away.
I spend most of my time pursuing ways to strengthen and extend the various external communities that are growing out Basho’s open source software, but I thought it might be useful to examine what we do internally to build community and culture. As should be apparent, we’re not doing anything too crazy or innovative with the ways we connect and collaborate across states and countries. But it’s the little things that matter when culture is concerned at a distributed company, and I think we do a lot of the little things well.
For as long as I can remember, Basho has used Jabber for real-time chat collaboration. This is where we spend most of our time conversing, and the entire company idles in one room we call “bashochat.” At any given time you can find any number of conversations happening concurrently; several developers might be chasing down a finicky bug while several others are discussing the merits of the latest cat meme. Hundreds (if not thousands) of messages fly through here daily. At times it can get a bit distracting, so signing off to focus is encouraged and done often. We also just started logging bashochat to make sure that those who are out for the day or signed off to chase a corner case can stay in the loop.
In addition to Jabber, the Client Services Team also uses Campfire as their chat software of choice (for various reasons). There’s certainly no reason why multiple chat programs can’t co-exist under the same corporate umbrella. Basho is flexible, and if it works for your team, go with it.
Interacting via Skype serves as a great compliment to what happens in Jabber (even if Skype itself offers less than five nines of uptime). Everyone uses Skype at least once daily for our morning status call. We are still small enough where getting the majority of the company on the phone for a 10 minute status call is feasible, so we do it. Topics range from “What’s the current status of bug fix X for customer Y?” to “Did you get any questions at yesterday’s meetup talk that you couldn’t answer?” Video chats are also invaluable, and jumping on Skype to speak “face-to-face” for even five minutes is incredibly worthwhile and serves to reinforce the team feel (especially when a new hire is coming aboard).
Yammer is a great piece of software, and it recently worked its way into our suite of collaboration tools. When it was first introduced to our team (around the beginning of this year) I was a bit skeptical of how well it was going to work for us. We already use Jabber quite heavily. How would the two co-exist? Since then Yammer has become the home for low-volume, high quality messages that deserve more than just a passing glance or ephemeral response. In other words, the signal to noise ratio in Yammer is much higher; links to blog posts about Riak (or our competition), results of a long running benchmark (complete with graphs), or links to a new GitHub repo are all typical of what appears on Yammer. That said, the message volume has been growing steadily over the past months, and I’m curious and interested to see how this tool evolves for us.
At some point you have to actually meet and physically interact with your colleagues. To this end, we’ve been doing quarterly developer meetups for about six quarters now. These are 3-5 day gatherings of the entire team where it’s business as usual, with the exception of some team building activities scattered throughout the week. Lots of amazing ideas and and moments are born at these meetups, and we all look forward to them.
Basho is firing on all cylinders right now (fixing more bugs, writing more features, closing more deals, resolving more tickets, etc.), and I believe that our dedication to building a distributed culture and community internally has had a lot to do with it. Though Basho’s “system” is still a work in progress, in my opinion we’ve managed to build a strong internal community and culture that lends itself to heightened levels of productivity and overall happiness. We are still relatively small (right around 30, as I stated above) and making this scale will surely be a challenge. And I’m sure that the tools we use will change, too, to accommodate our needs (speaking of which, where is the Skype replacement already?).
You can’t force community and culture. It starts with how you hire and is tested every day (whether you’re working in the same physical location or not). Build (or seek out) a team that is committed to making something special across the board. Collaboration tools and processes will follow according, and they should compliment and enhance the way you work, not dictate it.
June 10, 2011
More awesome news coming out of BashoHQ: Joseph Blomstedt has joined the Basho Team! (Well, to be clear, he’s been working on Riak full-time for about three weeks now; this blog post is a bit overdue.)
Joe initially caught our eye after releasing riak_zab, an Erlang port of the Zookeeper atomic broadcast protocol that was designed to integrate with riak_core. Joe built riak_zab in order to support a strong consistency layer on top of Riak, allowing a single Riak cluster to be used both for eventually consistent and strongly consistent operations. We got in touch with him soon after this was released, and the rest is history.
Joe is currently finishing up a PhD at the University of Colorado with a focus on compilers, parallel code scheduling, and heterogeneous CPU/GPU systems. During his time in graduate school, he has also been a frequent intern at Intel — twice in the research division, and twice on product teams.
Outside of making Riak better by day, Joe also has a strong interest in expanding riak_core both in capability and popularity. In particular, he intends to work towards increasing the visibility of riak_core/Erlang in the academic community, where most distributed systems research builds on Hadoop/Java. He is also of the belief that there is considerable research still to be done in the area of eventually consistent distributed systems, and that Basho has a role to play in producing novel research.
Joe currently resides in Boulder while he finishes up his PhD, and takes turns working from home and the university campus. This fall he plans to move back to Seattle, where he previously lived during his undergraduate years (UW CSE, 2005). In the meantime, Joe is enjoying his remaining months with Boulder’s great food, beer, and open spaces. If you’re in the area, feel free to contact Joe if you want to talk Riak over lunch or beers.
May 26, 2011
Eric has been active in the Riak community for some time now, and, in addition to the numerous patches and bug fixes he has contributed to the Riak Python client, he’s also gone out of his way to help educate new and existing users about all things Riak on the Mailing List and in #riak on Freenode.
Make sure to keep an eye on the Riak Wiki Repo for his commits.
April 15, 2011
We’ve been expanding at an impressive rate as of late (we’re trying to keep up with GitHub), and today we’re thrilled to announce that another amazing developer has joined the Basho Team. Join us in welcoming Jared Morrow!
Jared started his career working on autonomous aircraft for Northop Grumman, then moving to Qualcomm to work on various government products. His most recent position was at Schneider Electric, focusing first on embedded applications and then moving to developer tools. It was these tools where he first dabbled in Erlang and began deploying Riak internally.
And it’s on tools where he’ll be spending a lot of his time (at least initially) at Basho. Jared will be taking on the role of making every piece of software we release more stable and robust with a suite of build and release tools he’s working to deploy. (In other words, Riak, Webmachine, Riak Search, and everything else we develop is about to get even better.)
Jared lives with his family in Fort Collins, Colorado, and in the winter, after a big snowfall, you can find him snowboarding in Summit County. (Please don’t talk to him though, because as you know, “there are no friends on a powder day”.)
April 13, 2011
We are pleased to announce that Ryan Zezeski has joined the Basho Team!
Ryan has been coding since 14 and was hooked after writing his first program in Visual Basic 3.0. (It was an add-on for AOL that would automatically block a user that spammed the chat room.) He wrote his first line of Erlang in late June of 2010 on a plane ride to Mountain View, CA, and his fingers haven’t stopped since.
In the last six months Ryan has been hard at work putting various pieces of Basho software into production at AOL including Rebar, Riak, Riak Search, Riak Core, and Webmachine and sent us numerous high quality patches for Luwak and Riak in the process. (It was his work on Luwak that initially caught our eye.) He’s planning to spend as much time as possible with Riak Core and expose it to the greater public through his working blog “try try try.”
On a personal note, Ryan resides in downtown Baltimore. If you happen to see a guy in Federal Hill sporting a black T-shirt that says “Riak”, don’t be scared to say hello.
March 24, 2011
Adam Hunter is the newest Basho Developer Advocate!
Adam first got involved with Riak when he used it in conjunction with Ripple, Riak’s Ruby library, to build several applications at his previous position. (In addition to being a deeply-skilled Ruby developer, Adam has also spent some happy years writing PHP for fun and profit.) In the process, he started contributing patches and features to Ripple, and we liked his code and enthusiasm for the project so much that we extended him committer rights. Since then he has become an active and visible member of the Riak community, so we were quite pleased when he accepted the offer to come aboard.
Home base for Adam is Charlotte, North Carolina, so be sure to look him up if you’re in the area and are interested in getting an earful about Riak and distributed systems. You can also find him on Twitter and on GitHub as adamhunter.
March 5, 2011
In February we kicked off the KillDashNine drinkup. It was a huge success (turns out we aren’t the only ones who care about durability) and, as promised, we’ll be having another drinkup this month. On Wednesday, 3/9, we will be clinking glasses and sharing data loss horror stories at Bloodhound, located at 1145 Folsom Street here in San Francisco.
This month’s chosen cocktail is the *Data Eraser*, and it’s simple to make: 2 oz Vodka, 2 Oz Coffee Liqueur, 2 oz Tonic, and a dash of bitter frustration, anguish, and confusion (which is more or less how one feels when their data just disappears). And if you can’t make it, be sure to pour yourself a Data Eraser on 3/9 to take part in the festivities from wherever you happen to find yourself (or you can run your own local KillDashNine like Marten Gustafson did in Stockholm last month.
Registration details for the event are here, so be sure to RSVP if you’re planning to join us. In the mean time, spin up a few nodes of your favorite database and try your hand at terminating some processes with the help of our favorite command: _kill-9_.
Long Live Durability!
March 4, 2011
Anyone can contribute to the Riak Wiki: it’s maintained and deployed from a public GitHub repository, so everyone is free to fork and send us a pull request to make changes. There is, however, a group of community members who are given commit access to this repo, and I’m pleased to announce that Ryan Zezeski is now part of this group.
Ryan first became involved with Riak several months ago when he selected it as the production data store for a component of the ad-serving platform he works on during the daytime hours. Since then he has become an active and visible member of our community, contributing numerous patches to Luwak and providing guidance to new and existing users on the Riak Mailing list and in the Riak IRC Channel. In short, he knows his Riak and we are thrilled to have him on board as a Community Committer.
Welcome, Ryan! We are looking forward to your contributions.
March 2, 2011
We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Mathias Meyer, known to some of you as Roidrage, has joined the team here at Basho as a Developer Advocate.
Mathias has dabbled with databases of many sorts over the years, and spent the last two years automating the heck out of cloud infrastructure at Scalarium, a company he co-founded where he will continue to play an advisory role. Along the way he developed a certain fascination towards distributed databases and a secret crush on Riak.
His spare time is currently devoted to writing the NoSQL Handbook:, a project into which he is pouring his brains, soul, and an abundance of coffee. (On a related note, he has also agreed to take on the role of Coffee Advocate at Basho. Expect a webcast real soon.)
Mathias is based in Berlin and, as such, you can expect to see a lot of him at various events and conferences across Europe flying the Basho flag. His first stateside appearance as a member of the Basho team will be at JSConf, where he will be serving as the official conference photographer. (Basho also happens to be sponsoring both JSConf and NodeConf, by the way.)
February 28, 2011
Kevin has been hard at work over the past few weeks adding some great functionality to the PHP client and has even kicked off porting Ripple, Basho’s Ruby Client ODM, to PHP. Suffice it to say that we at Basho are excited about Kevin’s participation and involvement with Riak and our PHP code.
Some relevant code:
Thank, Kev! We are looking forward to your contributions.