Archive for category Geek

How I Became a Geek

It may have started in utero. I can’t be sure. But here’s what I remember…

1962: Born. Okay, I don’t really remember that part, but the important part is that my dad had a degree in math and we moved six times before my 6th birthday. And that last move landed us smack in the middle of what would become Silicon Valley.

1962-1968: I remember the teachers at school whispering and giggling about this radical musical ‘Hair,’ and I remember a lot of low-waisted bell bottoms, blue eye shadow and headbands. That is all.

1969: My parents get divorced. You may not see this as an important milestone on my road to geekdom, but in fact it is, because after my parents get divorced my mom quits her job as a teacher and goes to work as a secretary for Fairchild Semiconductor. Boom.

1972: Pong. My first video game.

1973: Sometime around 1973 my dad moves to San Diego, but the rest of the family stays in Silicon  Valley.

1974: Mr. Demerelli gives me a C in math and I realize I did not inherit my dad’s math gene. Sigh. How will I ever become a geek if I can’t wax on about calculus and write my friend’s phone numbers down in binary notation?

1975: My dad quits working for large government contract companies and starts a company called Antares, and begins designing and building I/O circuit boards that allow commercial computers to interface with Naval Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) devices or systems.

1976: My mom needs to keep me busy for the summer so she brings me to work with her every day and pays me some exorbitant salary (probably 50 cents an hour) to type invoices and packaging labels for semiconductor parts.

1976: Bill Joy invents the “vi” editor for Unix (This will become important later. Trust me)

1977-1979: I discover that working summer jobs in startups is way more interesting than working in retail or fast food. I spend my summers editing code I don’t really understand, do secretarial work, and soak up the energy of the startup entrepreneurs.

1979: I ask my dad what I should major in in college and he says, “Major in art. It doesn’t matter. You’re just going to get married anyway.” Yeah, didn’t take that advice, but thanks anyway.

1980-1982: I share a 2-bedroom apartment near San Diego State with three strangers, one of whom is a Computer Science Major. I watch Shelly carry stacks of cards back and forth to the computer lab, and I finally get curious enough to come with her one day to see what she’s actually doing with all of those cards.

1982: Stanford classmates Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Andy Bechtolsheim, and UC Berkeley computer science graduate student Bill Joy co-found Sun Microsystems (SUN is the acronym for the Stanford University Network). I have no idea this is happening, but it will become very important later.

1983: I register for Computer Science 101, a class that just barely scratches the surface of what an operating system is, and how you can program it to display “Hello World.”

1984: I graduate with a Journalism degree, with an emphasis in Advertising, and minors in Spanish and Television & Film. I know, nothing to do with computer science, but just hang in there. I assure you this all comes together in the end.

1984-1985: Did I mention that I graduated during a recession? I couldn’t get a job in an advertising agency, so I became a cocktail waitress. Boom. I know what you’re thinking. Major life detour. What does this have to do with becoming a geek. Well, if I had actually gotten one of those advertising jobs my life would have taken a different path.

1985: I decide I’ve had enough of the cocktail waitress life, pack my bags, buy a one-way ticket around the world and leave.


My Employee Badge from Sun

1985: I make it all the way around the world, run out of money in Hong Kong, come back to Silicon Valley and head to the Volt temp agency. They place me at a little startup called Sun Microsystems as an administrative assistant. Geek heaven. I am amazed by Sun’s internal email system, Suntools, so I decide to write a User’s Guide for the employees. I am bored in my administrative assistant job so I read Henry McGilton’s book “Introducing the UNIX System” cover to cover like a recipe book, trying out every command as I go. I ask Henry to lunch so I can discuss further. I’m well on my way to becoming a geek.

1985: ARPANET becomes the Internet and I discover online forums that you can only find if you know the IP address.

1986: I become a certified Sun systems administrator, and discover how to hack through Sun’s screenlock and report this as a major security bug. I take a Pascal programming class and write my first computer program.

1989: I am working for another startup called Frame Technology when I discover a proposal written by someone at CERN about something called the World Wide Web. I decide this is going to be something amazing and I write a white paper about it that no one outside my company ever sees.

1989: Frame Technology founder Steve Kirsch comes into my cubicle and tells me he has this brilliant idea to create a way to let us find things on this Worldwide Web thing without having to know the IP address of what we’re looking for. That idea becomes Infoseek, one of the first Internet search engines. At this point I consider myself a full-fledged card-carrying member of the geek club.

The years from 1989 up until now have been a blur of information and cutting edge technology. I have spent the past 20+ years working with a multitude of different companies (mostly startups) in a consulting capacity or as a full-time employee.

2012-????: This chapter is being written every minute of every day as I continue to chase the top of the wave—which for right now is social media marketing—and look for the next one to ride.

I am the daughter of an entrepreneur, and I thank my dad every day for telling me to major in art, because I’ve never really been good at doing what I’m told.

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You Think You've Fielded Odd Interview Questions?

I just read an article in the Silicon Valley Business Journal entitled “Top 25 oddball job interview questions of 2010.”

Ever had a tough interview? How would you like to get one of these questions in an interview?!

Questions were shared by job candidates during the past year:

1) “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” — Asked for an analyst position at Goldman Sachs.

2) “How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?” — Asked for a project analyst position at Deloitte.

3) “What is the philosophy of martial arts?” — Asked for a sales associate position at Aflac.

4) “Explain [to] me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years.” — Asked for a consultant position at Boston Consulting.

5) “Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are.” — Asked for an operations analyst position at Capital One.

6) “How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room?” — Asked for a people analyst position at Google.

7) “Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?” — Asked for a software developer position at Bloomberg LP Financial.

8) “If you could be any superhero, who would it be?” — Asked for a customer sales position at AT&T.

9) “You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?” — Asked for a fixed income analyst position at Blackrock Portfolio Management Group.

10) “Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum numbers guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” — Asked for a software engineer position at Facebook.

11) “If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” — Asked for a manager position at Amazon.

12) “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?”– Asked for a project manager position at Epic Systems.

13) “There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?” — Asked for a software QA engineer position at Apple.

14) “How many traffic lights in Manhattan?” — Asked for an analyst position at Argus Information & Advisory Services.

15) “You are in a dark room with no light. You need matching socks for your interview and you have 19 gray socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?” — Asked for a quality assurance position at Eze Castle.

16) “What do wood and alcohol have in common?” — Asked for a staff writer position at Guardsmark.

17) “How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?” — Asked for a software engineer at IBM.

18) “You have 8 pennies, 7 weigh the same, one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the one that weighs less in less than 3 steps.” — Asked for a systems validation engineer position at Intel.

19) “Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?”– Asked for a sales agent position at New York Life.

20) “You are in charge of 20 people. Organize them to figure out how many bicycles were sold in your area last year.” — Asked for a field engineer position at Schlumberger.

21) “How many bottles of beer are consumed in the city over the week?” — Asked for a research analyst position at The Nielsen Company.

22) “What’s the square root of 2000?” — Asked for a sales and trading position at UBS.

23) “A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Houston for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100 mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Houston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?”– Asked for a software engineer position at USAA.

24) “How are M&M’s made?” — Asked for a program development position at US Bank.

25) “What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle?” — Asked for a business analyst position at Volkswagen.

You can see some of the answers that interviewees gave here:

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So, I Met the Chief Data Architect at MySpace…

Originally published on MySpace on June 17, 2009

I’m currently in California (Bay Area) attending what I like to refer to as SQL Server bootcamp, because it’s actually two week-long classes crammed into a single week. The thought of learning that much in a week was enough to kick my geek gene into high gear.

Then I got the email from my instructor…
He asked if I’d be interested in attending a SQL Users Group meeting while I was in town, and oh by the way, the guest speaker would be Christa Stelzmuller, Chief Data Architect at MySpace.
Now the average woman swoons at the thought of meeting Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt. Me? Meeting Christa Stelzmuller would be like my daughter meeting Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers at the same time. Yes, I was flying my geek flag high.
So, after class was over yesterday, myself, one other student from the class, and the instructor headed over to Microsoft in Mountain View to hear Christa speak.
We arrived at Building 1, signed in and headed to the Neptune conference room, where pizza and soft drinks awaited us. We picked seats right in the middle, and watched the room fill up…with men. Out of about 50 people there were probably four women, including the speaker. If I had been looking for a date, the odds were good, but the goods were odd.
I must say I had a million questions in my head before I got there, but as soon as Christa started her presentation I was just in awe of what I was seeing.
Many of us have been on MySpace for years. I have been blogging on MySpace for almost four years. We all felt the growth pains when the user base went from 12 million, to 20 million, to 80 million and beyond.
MySpace is a behemoth problem child when it comes to the instant gratification of it’s 100+ million users. It is a mind boggling challenge to manage the constantly changing data.
Christa joined MySpace two and a half years ago when the site was growing so fast that the two (yes TWO) DBA’s couldn’t keep up and weren’t getting any sleep, and the rate of user errors was two million a day.
What it takes to keep MySpace online:
669 Servers
1512 Databases
15120 Disks
6 DBA’s
Each database holds one million users, grouped by user id. So, if you and your friends all signed up around the same time you’re probably on the same database.
MySpace features are split up all over the place. Video, Photos, photo comments, profile comments, blogs, etc. are all kept on separate drives in separate databases. Your profile is managed this way so that if one server is offline your profile stays up, minus whatever feature is sitting on that server.
After the presentation was over, and the Q&A was done, there was a raffle for five prizes: books, software and t-shirts. After all of the software was gone, and the books had been scooped up, Christa drew one more ticket, and it was mine. So, this Oracle geek is now the proud owner of a SQL Server t-shirt.
The meeting host thanked Christa, people applauded, and then most started heading for the door. But I didn’t leave. DId you think I would walk away without asking the question that’s on all of your minds? Hell no!
I went up and joined the throng of database geeks waiting to ask Christa just one more question. I had to meet this woman who took this disaster of an architecture and somehow made sense of it. And I had a question for her, “Christa, what happened to blog indexing!? I have 800 blogs and I can’t find anything.”
Her answer was this: the blogging feature has been ignored for a very long time. But, it’s an issue she has been championing, and she promised some changes were in the works, and things would be fixed soon. I said, “Define ‘soon,’ because every time Tom says ‘sit tight’ it means nothing gets fixed for a year.” She said there was a meeting happening in two weeks and things were going to change very soon. Sigh. Let’s hope so.
If you are at all interested in the database architecture behind MySpace, I highly recommend you take a look at the presentation at the link below. If you have any questions feel free to post a comment and I will try to answer to the best of my recollection.
The link to the presentation –> MySpace Data Architecture
And for the real database geeks, I present the following:
* MySpace runs on Microsoft SQL Server for the most part, and SQL Server Standard Edition at that. There are a few databases that are the Enterprise version. Why? The cost of licensing for the Enterprise version was prohibitive.
* They don’t use foreign keys at all. Why? Imagine that you want to delete a picture from your profile, and that picture has 100 comments, and those comments are from 100 different users scattered across 1000 databases. If the database had to stop and check for dependencies on delete, it would come to a crawl, and you’d be waiting a very long time to get your cursor back. So, you delete a picture, and some crawlers go through and cleanup the orphan data later.
* They don’t use SQL Server replication, because of data integrity issues. It can’t keep up with the traffic. They use their own homegrown solution of replication.
* They use a mix of SQL Server, open source products and homegrown solutions.

Caveat: I did not take notes during this presentation, so I am
writing from memory. The numbers listed, however, are straight
off the presentation.

Two Database goddesses who seem to have the same taste in clothing. That’s Christa on the right.

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