Brainiac Corner with Tim Chadwick, Dyn Data Operations and Capacity Guru

Posted by VividCortex on Oct 21, 2013 7:31:00 AM

At the Brainiac Corner, we meet with some of the sharpest minds in the system, database, devops, and IT world. If you’d like to share your thoughts on pirates, ninjas, the future of system administration, or any other relevant topic, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


We got to ask Tim Chadwick, Engineering and Ops Capacity Guru at Dyn a few questions. Here’s what we asked, and here’s what he answered:

How did you get from stork to brainiac (i.e. what do you do today, and how did you get there)?

Today I am a principal engineer at Dyn focused on turning design into operational scale, especially at the data layer.

I got here from being fortunate to have opportunities in very challenging and dynamic data oriented application environments with awesome mentors. By nature, I pick up the hardest problems no one else wants to take on and the combination has kept me chasing interesting problems at the core of businesses with data as their life blood.

Lastly, I consider myself a stork always because I think it helps me listen, and learn from as many brainiacs as possible.

What’s in your group’s technology stack?

We’re a dedicated Open Source shoppe. Our primary tools are FreeBSD, C, Perl, PHP, Python, MySQL and some incantations of BIND.

Lately we’ve been expanding our stack to include Ubuntu Linux, more C++, some Java, Chef / Ruby, and Cassandra. I expect we’ll add Go into the mix as well soon.

Who would win in a fight between ninjas and pirates, and why?

I was ripped through responses to this great interview quickly, except for this question. I debated it for like 2 weeks, taking a few minutes here and there to write up some scenarios where I could see each combatant having a distinct advantage. Finally, some debate with my 12 year old cousin drew a conclusion.

The answer is ninjas, hands down. There are a variety of stipulations regarding skills and weaponry, but given an open ended theatre for the battle itself, I’d expect someone who was physically fit and expertly trained with discipline over someone who fought and plundered from need and greed to have a distinct edge.

What’s a more accurate state of the world: #monitoringsucks or #monitoringlove?

Definitely monitoringlove.

In six words or fewer, what’s the biggest challenge your organization faces?

Structured transition, consistent communication, clear priority.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Pay attention.

What principles guide your expertise in your given domain?

Define the problem first.
Look at problems holistically.
Data are sacrosanct.
Never sacrifice telemetry.
Be clear and honest about what you know, and what you don’t know.
Learn from everyone.

What is your vision for system administration in 5 years?

Fundamentally I want to see application components continue towards the trend of usability similar to that of electricity, where the functionality can be plugged in and it just works.

More specifically I’m excited to see and contribute to the maturity of interfaces especially with data, and with more education for folks entering industry.  Many data problems come from utilization of tools without sufficient appreciation for the benefits and draw backs of different approaches and life cycles.  We can improve this.  Shift in ”database” focus to “concurrency and consistency,” for example could help folks appreciate challenges and opportunities with most core data problems.

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