Skip to main content

10 posts tagged with "meet-the-team"

View All Tags

· 6 min read

We sat down for a chat with Peter Ashford, one of our Senior Software Engineers and remote team members, who has been with the company since July 2022. This piece has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did your passion for tech start?

When I was a kid, computers seemed like these really serious business things. It always tickled my imagination that people would subvert computers to make trivial things like games. That really appealed to me. One of my childhood goals was to create games, and I did eventually work in the gaming industry for a few years; I worked with some truly excellent people and I had a lot of fun but I also came to realise that it's a difficult industry to have a long career in.

What attracted you to work here at Comet?

I told the recruiter I was working with that I was looking to find my tribe – people who were interested in technology and motivated and excited about software engineering.

I have definitely found the right place. I couldn't be happier with the kind of people that I'm working with, not just the software developers, but the whole company exceeded my expectations for working together collaboratively.

What is your favorite thing about working at Comet?

The people are the greatest thing about working at Comet. I genuinely like everybody that I work with. And there's nobody here I don't feel comfortable talking to and asking a question.

That's a big deal because we’re working on a complex product. So having an environment where everybody feels comfortable and free to ask questions is a big deal. Comet is an extremely collegial kind of place to work. Everyone is genuinely interested in helping everybody else out.

You are one of the full time remote team members, how do you keep connected with the team?

I live in Dunedin, so I’m one of a handful of remote team members at Comet. I knew that being remote full time was going to be a different kind of challenge. But Comet has been really proactive with that right from the outset.

We have events like CometCon, our company-wide conference, where twice a year everyone is flown in for a week to ensure we get some face to face time as an entire team.

The other thing that Comet does, which is really cool, is that we have a virtual coffee break over Slack where we just get together and chat on a video call. All of our team meetings happen over Slack as well, so our normal way of working effectively works for people who work remotely.

Inevitably there's always going to be the occasional discussions you miss out on because you're not in the office, but there's lots of opportunities to catch up with people outside of physically having to be in the office. So it works out pretty well.

Tell us more about CometCon and what you enjoy about it.

CometCon is a fantastic initiative. They’re awesome and I hugely value them for two reasons:

One, sitting down and getting a chance to hash through issues or hear talks about how things work on the technical side is really valuable. Comet is a big and complex piece of software, so it's always great to learn more about how things work and have cross functional training in different areas of the product to disseminate knowledge throughout the team.

But also for me, because I'm working remotely, that chance to catch up with everybody and just have a bit of fun and focus on those sort of human relationships. I can't overstate how much I value that in terms of having time to catch up and chat to people in other departments.

What do you think of Christchurch?

I’m super enthusiastic about the Riverside Market, it’s a fantastic jewel in the crown for the city. There are a lot of eateries with different options, I’ve made a habit of eating there every time I travel to Christchurch for CometCon. I also love seeing the Southern Alps in the distance on a clear day, it gives you an emotional boost to see the mountains from the office windows.

What keeps you passionate about moving forward in the field and what keeps you inspired within the industry?

I really like the fact that I can learn new skills. I really value that. It's important for people who want to stay in the industry to keep learning. That's been great for me because I've picked up Golang programming, which I didn't know at all before working at Comet. I really like coding and making stuff and learning new ways to make stuff, that’s where it gets to be fun. That’s the joy of software engineering.

You’ve also had the opportunity to mentor one of the junior developers, what has that experience entailed?

During my interview process, we discussed various ways I could contribute to the team and the idea of mentorship came up. I absolutely love working with people and talking about code, so mentoring a junior dev is an awesome fit for me.

Each person approaches problem solving differently. It’s cool to see what someone else comes up with. I love the whole process of imparting knowledge and discussing various ways to solve a problem.

When Rhane (Junior Developer) came on board last year, I was paired up to mentor her. At Comet we have a pathway for junior developers to join our Support Team. They work on dev tickets between support tickets. With guidance from other team members, they graduate into a full developer after a year. It’s been a fantastic initiative.

What are some of your other hobbies?

I'm very much a family man. I've got a bunch of kids. We are currently doing tons of work in our garden. Because I'm working at home, I'm quite careful about making sure that I take breaks. So it's really nice to have a space in my backyard to wander around my garden and see what's growing and how it changes over the years. It has become quite a nice little zen environment to spend some time sitting in the sun, listening to birds.

· 5 min read

We sat down for a chat with Natalie, Comet’s Marketing Manager, who has been with the company since July 2020. This piece has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you first develop your love of tech?

I grew up in Silicon Valley, where having a passion for emerging technologies was instilled in me from a young age. I started my career at Apple and then worked for a few different companies, including a large MSP on California’s Central Coast.

I saved up and traveled the world for a year, then moved to New Zealand. I’ve lived in Christchurch for five years and absolutely love the culture here.

What attracted you to Comet?

What initially attracted me to working here was the team. Everyone gets to be themselves at Comet. I've worked in companies before where you show up and you're professional, but you don't necessarily get to bring your full self to work. At Comet, you get to show up and be your authentic self, which is much more fulfilling.

What do you love about the team and the culture?

We've had some really fun companywide homegrown initiatives. For instance, one of our developers, Ben Frengley, was really into growing spicy chili peppers. He gave seedlings to anyone who was interested. A number of us planted them in our gardens. We take pictures and share updates on them occasionally which has been fun.

Other team members have carpooled for ski trips or gone hiking together. We do company barbecues and potlucks from time to time. There’s a very natural cohesion in the way that the team comes together and rallies around things.

You’ve recently returned from parental leave. How was your transition back into the office?

When I was on maternity leave, I missed the team. The fact that we only hire really nice, good people makes the experience of coming to work so enjoyable. The team has been really supportive. There are a couple of us in the office who work part time: one of our team members is passionate about doing volunteer work, and I’ve transitioned back into work at a pace that makes sense for my family right now.

Tell me about Comet’s approach to work life balance.

We have great work life balance, better than at any other company I’ve worked for. That’s something a lot of workplaces say they offer, but at Comet we really do have that flexibility. For example, if I miss an hour in the morning because I need to take my daughter to an appointment, it’s easy for me to make up the time later in the evening after she goes to sleep so I don’t miss those precious family dinnertime moments.

Some people prefer to start work early in the morning, and finish earlier in the day to go surfing or pick up their kids. We also have the option to work from home two days a week. It’s great to have everyone’s lifestyles and schedules supported.

What are your favorite things about working at Comet?

I've bounced back and forth between large corporates and small companies. Ultimately I prefer the outsized impact my contribution makes at a rapidly growing company. You get to have autonomy and take ownership of your work in a meaningful way. There’s no red tape or bureaucracy, if you have a great idea, you get to run with it.

Because we’re constantly experimenting at Comet, there isn’t a culture of blame. A couple years ago, I recommended we go all in on a big podcast sponsorship. Halfway through I realized the campaign was failing and I decided to pull it. When I told the leadership team what had happened, the response was, “What did you learn from that experience? Okay, what’s next? Let’s keep moving.”

What keeps you passionate and inspired working in this field?

Although on the surface, the idea of working in backup software might not be as sexy as working for a gaming company or in an industry that has a lot of cache, at the end of the day, what we do really matters. We’re helping people protect their businesses and their livelihoods. We’re not selling a consumer product that will end up in a landfill. We’re providing an essential service, which makes it a very rewarding industry to contribute to.

What have you learned while being at Comet?

Before working at Comet, I specialized in brand and event-based marketing. When I started here, I needed to level-up as a generalist. I had this amazing opportunity to rapidly grow and learn about all these other areas of marketing I had never touched before.

When you’re on a large corporate marketing team, there are entire teams dedicated to each area – campaigns, advertising, sponsorship, events. At Comet, there’s a huge variety to what you get to work on day to day, which keeps me interested and motivated.

How do you feel about working at Comet?

Working at Comet is my dream job. I spent the first decade of my career trying to find a company to work at where I would be this happy. Frankly, my early career was a rough and bumpy road at times. It took a while to get here but I’m deeply grateful to have finally arrived at a place where I’m so professionally fulfilled.

What do you like about living in Christchurch?

Christchurch is the perfect size city. You have all the big city amenities without any of the big city downsides, like traffic. There’s arts, events, festivals, hot pools, great places to eat and drink with friends. The outdoors is also very accessible – it’s only a 20 minute drive to beautiful beaches and you can escape to the mountains within 1-2 hours.

There are such good people here. We’ve made great friends and built a strong community, which has allowed us to settle and make Christchurch our home.

· 5 min read

Where are you originally from?

I'm from Stockholm, Sweden and I just celebrated 5 years in New Zealand! Times flies when you are having fun! Love, family and new adventures brought me to this lovely country.

What is the one thing about Sweden that you’d like non-Swedes to know about?

We have a useful word that I don’t think many other countries have – “lagom”. It means not too much, not too little, but just the right amount and it’s a very handy word to have in your vocabulary (I think).

Also, that there are no polar bears in Sweden. It’s funny how many times I get asked that question!

How long have you been working at Comet Backup?

This is my seventh week at Comet, but it feels longer than that (in a good way)!

Before Comet, after completing a master’s degree in IT engineering and a bachelor’s in business studies, I worked as a BI Consultant in Stockholm for 8 years. When I moved here, I started working as a Senior Product Owner and I did that for almost 5 years before joining Comet.

What attracted you to Comet?

The industry was completely new to me, and I wanted to try working in a younger business that was growing fast. Having the chance to be the first dedicated product person in the company was an exciting opportunity too!

How would you describe your role as Product Manager at Comet?

In short, my role is to work closely with all Comet teams to ensure we deliver a high-quality product with a great user experience, that meets the business goals and our customers’ needs!

But to expand a bit on that, I need to keep up with industry trends, understand the market needs, know the competitor landscape, and understand what our customer needs and their pain points.

Combining this information with the business strategy, product metrics, data analytics, and all the input from Comet’s teams, I can create a product roadmap that outlines how the product will be developed and what the teams will be focused on for the next while.

Basically, as a Product Manager, you are responsible for guiding the direction of the product and its development, making sure we’re working on the right things to ensure the continued success of our product and keep growing our market share.

What was your first day at Comet like?

It was great! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and I’ve always enjoyed working with smart, talented, and down-to-earth people, so that has been one of the highlights here at Comet so far.

What aspects of your role challenge and excite you?

It’s wonderful how much trust, support, and freedom Comet gives me – they trust me to do the job as I see fit. I just hope I can live up to their expectations and do my part to help continue making Comet the success story it already is!

Product Managers have to juggle a lot of activities and deadlines. What best practices would you recommend for organising one’s workload?

I think a simple to-do list does the trick, but you need to make sure to re-prioritize the items on the list regularly, based on their urgency and how important they are. When I get stuck, I refer back to the product vision or strategy to figure out what should be done first (or just take a break to clear my head).

You love being out and about. Would you recommend any running or biking trails in the Canterbury area?

I think it’s really nice running or biking up the Rapaki track and then going down Victoria Park and Bowenvale Valley – it’s such a peaceful area and the views up there are great too!

What’s the most memorable or most interesting thing that’s happened to you on a trip?

In 2019 I spent three months biking around South America - the whole trip was pretty memorable, but riding through coca plantations and getting stopped by a group of suspicious-looking characters to have a beer is probably up there.

Wait, what??

Yeah it was pretty scary - we were biking around South America and this truck comes with these five guys, and you can tell they’re working at the coca plantation. They were all drinking beer and seemed to be drunk, and they stopped where we were. They were speaking Spanish and we could only understand a couple of words. Then they offered us a drink and we couldn’t say no!

There is an ongoing debate at the Comet office on whether or not pineapple should be a pizza topping. Would you care to share your thoughts on this?

Ha! No, I don’t think pineapple should be a pizza topping - but if I can stick with my pepperoni pizzas, I don´t mind if others have pineapple on their pizzas.

· 7 min read

Where are you originally from?

I am a Kiwi, but I was born in Cairns, Australia. I only spent six weeks there, don't judge me for that! Then growing up, I lived all over New Zealand. I have mostly lived in Christchurch, but I've also lived in Oamaru, Wanaka and spent my twenties in Wellington. On the brink of New Zealand's first Covid lockdown in 2020, I returned to Oamaru to look after my Mum during the lockdown. That brought me back to the South Island, and then I was naturally drawn into the nearest city, Christchurch, and also I have a lot of friends still here from when I lived here before.

How long have you been working at Comet Backup?

Nearly two years. I joined an excellent support team, now I lead a very different - still excellent - support team.

What attracted you to Comet and the Customer Support role?

I was shoulder tapped for the position by someone in the leadership team here at Comet Backup. I was looking for work after moving to Christchurch. I had the right IT experience and qualifications. And I'm also a "grammar pedant" and British comedy fan, so I fit within the culture!

What is the scope of the Customer Support role at Comet?

I'm the Customer Support Lead here at Comet Backup. The primary role is answering support tickets and taking support calls with customers.

I also provide technical support for onboarding customers. Sometimes onboarding is an extended enquiry, sometimes it is essentially a support call, i.e., "I'm trying to set up my server in a specific configuration". I also look after Tier One Support based in Europe. I'm essentially 2.5-level support; I end up with escalated tickets. I also report on support tickets in general, volume and any trends of note to management.

The role does have the freedom to expand into other areas; for example, sometimes, I also work on special projects like testing specific use cases with Comet, and recently did some work on the IAM side.

What was it that appealed to you about Comet's culture?

I figured that since I knew someone who worked here, and I knew that that person would not put up with a bad environment – then it must be a good place to work. So, I had that indirect recommendation/validation.

How have you found your manager's style of managing you?

I really like how my manager manages me. He is really hands-off, he doesn't micromanage me, but he does watch from afar. He's very proactive at flagging possible issues I might want to consider. He also listens to my views and opinion on important matters.

What advice would you have for someone following in your footsteps in the customer support area?

Do what interests you, but also try to do a bit of everything. It's great to specialize, but it's also helpful to have a wide array of systems you have experience with; you don't know what you're going to encounter. For example, I was the only person in my course, possibly even in the history of my network engineering course, that opted for the Linux server admin (RHCSA) course instead of the Windows server admin (MCSA) course. I did that because I already had a job where I was administering Windows servers, so I thought it was a good opportunity to learn more about Linux.

If you want to learn a new skill and you don't know how to use Linux, I would recommend installing command line only Debian Linux on your personal computer's primary operating system and seeing how far you can get. If you get stuck, just Google it… from the Lynx browser. That's how I learned!

What makes for a great day at Comet?

When there is an opportunity to work on interesting customer problems in the tickets. Friendly customers with stories, for example, when they were a video games developer in the 90s. Yeah, so interesting problems and interesting people make for a great day at Comet for me.

Do you have any advice for MSPs?

Don't be afraid of Linux. Certainly, if you don't know how to use Linux, don't put everything on it in production because it's cheap. That is how you lose everything. Definitely use the system you're most comfortable with diagnosing in an emergency. Linux can be a great option as it's much more cost-effective than some other options in the marketplace.

It seems that you perform a very important function at Comet Backup of feeding back to the Development team on the user experience. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Yes, that comes from my team always showing customers how to do something. Through the process of talking customers through the steps, we see how the interface performs first hand, which the Developers don't get as much exposure to. So, I am often giving feedback on UX/UI, how Comet could work best from the customer's point of view.

It also works with information going back the other way. I can translate how the feature works, and I think customers appreciate a more specific and candid response rather than a corporate, sanitized one.

If you could have any tech superpower, what would it be?

My superpower would be taking any feature or piece of software from a product and making it work seamlessly on another.

I'd replace the Windows 11 interface with KDE. I would take Nvidia features and put them on my AMD card. I would take nothing from macOS (laughs).

I'm a big fan of the Looking Glass project, which is kind of like a superpower. It takes a lot of configuring to work, but gaming in a Windows VM on Linux is very cool tech.

Comet is headquartered in Christchurch; what do you enjoy about living here?

Christchurch has great weather. Post-earthquake, there are fantastic restaurants in the city centre. If you're in the city, it is quite walkable and has a lot of cycleways, and I am avidly "anti-car” and I’m committed to never owning a car. I have driven a car twice in my life and I don't have a driver's license. I miss my friends in Wellington, but not the weather.

Why do you dislike cars? Is it just because you are an environmentalist?

I put off getting my driver's license for so long that I never acclimatized to the convenience of having one, which I think I a lot of people do. I think cars are inefficient as a transport method and they shouldn’t be required to get around. I have a reputation around the office for being the "anti-car" guy. I do wear it as a badge in a "Tyrion Lannister" sort of way; I laugh with the jokes and it can lead to great office debates.

Which restaurants in Christchurch would you recommend?

One of my favorites from pre-quake times is known as "AFG" or “the Afghan Restaurant" on Lincoln Road. There is a sign with the hours of opening that hasn't been put out in years because the owner just opens when he wants to. The only way to really know when they are open is to join the unofficial Facebook group called “Is AFG Open?” It's not vegetarian-friendly, there is one item on the menu, and when you walk in, he asks you, "How many?" As in how many servings are you ordering? (Laughs) It's spiced butter rice with two generous sized lamb and chicken kababs, a pot of tandoori chicken curry, and a salad. All for the grand sum of $20NZD. I make more than one meal out of it.

Like many foodies, you are also an avid home cook. What is your favorite dish at the moment?

That’s an exaggeration! I’m quite lazy with food but I can also get carried away when I find an elaborate recipe. I bought a pressure cooker a while ago. One of my favorites to cook at home at the moment is Dakbokkeumtang, which is a spicy chicken stew.

I also make a lot of chili con carne. One of the developers grows chili plants at home and gave some of us some seedlings.

· 7 min read

Where are you originally from?

I am originally from the Philippines. I came to New Zealand in 2016. I decided to move to New Zealand because it has a high standard of living. And also, the Lord of the Rings was shot here, and I thought it was a beautiful country.

How long have you been working at Comet Backup?

Since April – so just coming up to ten months now.

What attracted you to Comet and the Customer Success role?

Before joining Comet Backup, I was an Onboarding Executive at an online eCommerce retailer. I moved to the Technical Support team with that company just before I spotted the role at Comet backup. The job description looked really interesting, and I was attracted to the variety within the role. It sounded like no two days were going to be the same.

What is the scope of the Customer Success role at Comet?

To summarise the role in one sentence, I'm responsible for all non-technical customer communications and new customer enquires pricing inquiries. Facilitate the "next steps," getting them in touch with the Technical team, understanding their requirements for backup software and ensuring that's communicated to the wider team so that the rest of the team understands the potential customer's requirements.

What was it that appealed to you about Comet's culture?

When I interviewed with my now manager, one of the statements he made up front was that Comet doesn't hire jerks! They only employ nice people – I felt that was a big claim; it's hard to gauge a person's character before hiring. Comet isn't just interested in 'talent.' There is a focus on building a culture of cooperation and team building. I thought that sounded like a really promising company culture, and I wanted to be part of that. Also, it was made clear to me that I would be able to learn, explore and possibly make mistakes – that was all allowed at Comet Backup.

How have you found your manager's style of managing you?

I like that I'm given a lot of freedom to make decisions. It's a very challenging environment, and I like that. I feel like I'm trusted to make a call on some bigger issues, for example whether we should partner with a particular company for an integration to Comet Backup. I have the freedom to say, "this is what I think we should do," and my rationale behind my thinking. I think that's the best way to learn and see how it goes, within reason—being able to take calculated risks.

Do you feel it's contributing to your career growth in the direction you want to be going?

I'm definitely learning from getting to make my own decisions. I'm also learning a lot about the cybersecurity industry as I'm new to it. I am learning about the technology that is relevant our product. It's not a topic you can read up on; you have to absorb it through experience and application of that knowledge.

What advice would you have for someone following in your footsteps in the Customer Success area?

Understand your role and what you need to accomplish your goal. Next, identify what you need to know to do that role. And then seek help to learn. Don't be discouraged if you don't get it right away; it will stick eventually if you keep at it. There is a lot of jargon, but don't expect yourself to understand everything all at once. It will make sense eventually if you keep on asking questions. Make an effort to use the terms. Even if you misuse the term, people will correct you, and you'll learn! I was raised to believe that everything is learnable; you just have to put in the effort.

What makes for a great day at Comet?

What makes a great day is when most of the team comes into the office. Ah, and if the taco truck turns up, a free coffee and a funny slack thread going about the memes or the latest Elon Musk shenanigans. [Laughs]

If you could have any tech superpower, what would it be?

I would like to have the superpower to make old technologies like Betamax, VHS, and the old family Nintendo work again. I'd bring them all back, make them work all the time, and never die!

Comet is headquartered in Christchurch; what do you enjoy about living here?

It's very flat, so it's very easy to walk around. Easy access to South Island and there are a lot of places in the South Island to explore, like Twizel for skiing, and if you want to go to the seaside you can go to Akaroa.

I know that you are a foodie. To the non-initiated, what is the must-try South East Asian or Filipino dish?

Oh, that's a good question. I would say because it's summertime, you have to try Filipino mangoes. They are soft and juicy and supper sweet. You get more flesh as the seed is relatively small.

What are your thoughts on the controversial South East Asian fruit, Durian?

I'm not a fan! Warning; only eat outdoors or with all the windows open! The taste of the flesh isn't too bad, but the skin is very smelly, it smells like garbage. It must be a protection mechanism for the fruit.

You are about to go back to the Philippines. How long are you going back for, where are you going, and who are you seeing?

The last time I was home was in 2019, so it's been about three years. I'm just visiting family, but that's a lot of people because I have a very big family and I want to spend some time with all of them. I'm going to Manilla, where they live. The highlight of my trip will be visiting Boracay, which is a really nice beach. I am going to relax, have a coffee or Mai Tai or Pina Colada… at 11 am… guilt free… [Laughs]

What are your thoughts about the new employee benefit that Comet have launched for staff – free health cover for the employee – including pre-existing conditions?

That was so generous of them, as health insurance is so expensive these days. It's a really good perk that not a lot of companies offer their employees. It was really thoughtful and caring of them. I'm a huge fan of having dental care cover included.

What do you enjoy about Comet's company culture?

Professionally, I enjoy that the Management really wants to give you every opportunity to improve your skills. You're encouraged to make your own decisions; what I was saying before about I have their support to make my own informed decisions and learn from the experience, it's okay to make mistakes. I’ve found that's not as accepted in bigger companies, and they tend to be more adverse to risk. Also I’ve been encouraged to seek development and growth. They have invested in my development; for example, I'm currently completing the Certified Customer Success Manager programme, which is the most recognised Customer Success qualification.

Personally, I've enjoyed the fact that I've found that my manager was true to his word, and I have found that he's made every effort to hire people that can have different points of points view or opinions but not take that to a personal level and get the best outcome for the customer. We're not pitted against each other to compete.

· 8 min read

Where are you originally from?

I grew up on a dairy farm in rural New Zealand. I went to a country school with 30 kids and only two classrooms. One of the teachers at that primary school used to go to the computer graveyard and pick up old Macs. He'd have us cobble together working computers from the parts. If you got enough gold stars at the end of the two weeks, the person with the most gold stars got to keep the computer. That's where I got into technology.

What attracted you to Comet? You impressed during the hiring process because you applied for more than one role and took a lot of initiative during the hiring process.

I liked working at my student job, 24 hours a week, being the IT guy for a local high school. It was client-facing work which was great experience for working on Comet's Support Team. Mainly, I helped teachers get their laptops and projectors working. But it was part-time, so I needed to move on.

I was scrolling through job applications when a development role at Comet popped up that didn't specify the experience level needed. I thought, "Oh, maybe I'll get lucky". I applied and interviewed for that role. I really liked the team members I interviewed with. The main thing that attracted me to the job was the modern tech stack, which includes Golang and TypeScript. If a company is advertising for that, it means they have a modern product; you're not going to be working on something from 2005. I was really excited about that aspect.

Unfortunately, I wasn't experienced enough to get that role. The same week I didn't get it, I saw another job at Comet pop up, the Support role. I emailed and asked, "Is there a way that I could do support for a year, learn about the product, and upskill to the point where you'd be happy to bring me on as a Junior Dev?" I thought I would be a good fit for the Support role since I was already in support, but I didn't want to do Support in the long run; I wanted to use my degree and go into programming.

The team hired me! A few weeks later, I was working at Comet.

Support to Junior Dev wasn't a role that existed before at the company. You are pioneering this. How have you found the process of being the first to follow this pathway?

At first, I thought, What have I gotten myself into? I'm just going to be doing Support for another year, having already done Support for a year and a half. And then I'll be dumped into a junior developer position. I was worried I wouldn't have the training or the skills to go into that position.

But basically, from Day 1 at Comet, I've been doing development work on the side, along with the support work. It's been really good to be able to take on small things that need doing. So when I did move into a full-time developer position, I would be confident that it would go well.

How does development work end up on your plate?

I get small tasks assigned to me during the monthly dev meeting. The leadership team gets together and figures out the priorities, then the work gets divvied out. I will pick up smaller tasks. There are a lot of opportunities at Comet. You could be working on the Comet client one day, or the account dashboard, or the billing system. You go where you're needed.

Do you like that about working at Comet? At larger companies, people will often be quite specialized in one area of the code.

It keeps me from getting bored and isn't repetitive because you're not getting stuck in one area of the code base. I really like that.

The other way that development work lands on your plate is through working on the Support tickets, correct? For someone who moves into this role after you do they need to be able to take the initiative?

Being in Support, small problems come to you. I either raise them to the Development Team, or sometimes I just go into the code myself and have a look around and see if I can figure out why it's not working properly.

Have you had times when you've been able to do bug fixes by yourself?

Probably not by myself, but I have had quite a few investigations with the support developer of the day. We'll have a look at it together and figure out why it wasn't working, and that's always quite fun.

Why choose Comet over working at a large corporate?

When I was choosing where to work, I looked at some post-graduation programs, like at the big banks. I read one of their 'Day in the Life of a Developer' articles, and it seemed overly structured. Having a schedule is good, but having to be so strict, it seemed like extra, unnecessary stress.

Have you been mentored at Comet?

Yes, I meet with Ersin, the Technical Lead here at Comet, once a week. Any development I'm working on, I can take to him and ask for ideas or help or review, which is really nice.

Have you learned a lot through that process that you don't think you would have learned otherwise?

Yes, definitely. Going from being a student, where most of the projects are individual, to working in a team, where everything is reviewed, was a learning experience. I've learned to work within a team in a way that I haven't needed to before, which is good.

Does Ersin often lead you in a direction that's a new way for you to think about the problem?

It's always different! I'm constantly learning new approaches and gathering new ideas. I will go to Ersin, "I want to implement this. This is how I'm planning to do it, but how would you go about it?" Then after a while, I see why his solution was different than mine, and I see why I'm a junior developer and he's a senior developer. [Laughs]

Do you feel it's contributing to your career growth in the direction you want to be going?

Definitely, the more interactions you have with people who have more knowledge, the more knowledge rubs off on you, the better you become as a developer.

What advice would you have for someone following in your footsteps in this Support to Junior Developer role?

Learn Git!

Have you been given opportunities to grow at Comet?

Shortly after starting, I was asked, "We're looking for team members who want to continue to upskill. Would you like to get certified in AWS?" I had only been doing Support for a month and did not expect to get an opportunity like that so early on in a new role. I worked on it for a few months, did the test, and got the certification along with another developer.

It was great! I really appreciate these sorts of opportunities. I had used AWS before but wondered, Do I really know what I'm doing? It's nice to have that knowledge validated. It's already been useful.

What makes for a great day at Comet?

The hackathon was really cool! Just having a few days to work on whatever you wanted to work on. Having time dedicated to that was really nice. Completing some small features, it was really, really gratifying to look at that and say, "I did those! These little bits of Comet were done by me and they're in the product!" After those few days, having accomplished that felt great.

If you could have any tech superpower, what would it be?

Solve the customer's issue the first time!

What's your best tech tip?

Test your backups! Don't just expect everything to be configured correctly or assume that your end-user hasn't changed any settings.

On support calls, I always try to ensure that the customer is backing up their server. It's a common oversight. People remember to backup devices but forget to back up their backups!

Comet is headquartered in Christchurch; what do you enjoy about living here?

Christchurch is very well placed to get to anywhere else on the South Island. I like the proximity to so many things. There is lots of stuff to do. Over the weekend, I went out to the Akaroa Peninsula and the Lyttelton Farmers Market.

What do you enjoy about Comet's company culture?

The BBQ's are always great. Coming into the office, there's always people to talk to. You can always ping someone on Slack and reach out to them, have a chat -- work related or not. Everyone is friendly and approachable.

This year, one of the developers cultivated a bunch of chili plants and gave seedlings out to some of the team members. I enjoyed it when people posted their chili garden updates on Slack. Even though I didn't get in on growing chili's, I enjoyed everyone sharing their updates.

We'll get you into the chili club next year! Maybe we'll pick something to grow that isn't spicy next time.

Maybe by then, I'll have built up my tolerance. We'll see! [Laughs]

· 8 min read

Grow together. Win together.

“Most mornings when I come in, I sit down and check Comet’s reporting dashboard. You can see the numbers of devices growing each day. I think, ‘Wow, this is so cool!’ Comet is a small giant! We are on a massive growth trajectory. I get to contribute to the growth. That’s a remarkable feeling,” confides Oscar Zhou, one of Comet’s Software Developers.

“I think for the whole development team, we have the same feeling, ‘Wow! Wow, wow.’ It’s quite lucky to be with the company at this foundational stage. For example, at Microsoft, their software is very successful. But as a developer, you can’t catch up because there are decades of code there, you’re just a small part. At Comet, I still have the chance to get an overall understanding of Comet’s code, the logic, and the code flow. I have the chance to work with multiple operating systems, front end and back end technology, web application and desktop application – all in a single job! It’s hard to find a project that covers so many things. This is a chance to improve my skills and open my eyes. I want to grow with Comet.”

Making your own luck.

It wasn’t always a given that technology would be such a large part of Oscar’s life. He grew up in FengCheng, a remote town in north-eastern China. The country was just opening to the world economy. Home computers were not yet commonplace. Instead, his first exposure to technology was through a hobby group in elementary school. He learned simple commands in Logo, an educational programming language, on a DOS operating system.

“You have to understand I didn’t know any English. In China, we use a character-based writing system. At that age, I had only learned the English alphabet. I would type R-I-G-H-T. But I didn’t know that meant ‘right’. Instead, I memorized commands.”

Oscar was the first person among his extended family to attend to university. His mom asked him, ‘What do you want to major in? Do you want to be a doctor? A teacher? Do you want to join the military?’

“I was focused on providing a better life for my family. We had never owned a computer. At that time, I didn’t know what computer science was. But since I was a little more familiar with computers compared to my classmates, I chose computer science as my major.” Software and tech were booming in China. It seemed like a sure route to a lucrative career.

It was. After graduating university, Oscar moved to a city near Beijing for a software job and lived in the dormitory on the company’s campus. “I worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week. In China, you can’t leave before your manager finishes work. I was a junior, a newbie, so I needed to follow the norms. I learned a lot, but I wasn’t happy.”

After 12 months, Oscar took a job offer closer to home, hoping to find more fulfillment. But little changed. “I thought life is just like that. Just keep working and improving. Get a better salary, marry, have a baby…” Until a chance encounter changed the trajectory of his life.

A seed grew in my heart.

One day, the company owner, a Taiwanese businessman living in America, took his employees out for dinner. Oscar happened to sit next to him. They struck up a conversation and Oscar learned the businessman first went overseas in his late twenties. “At that moment I thought, ‘Ahh! Okay, I still have a chance!’ A seed grew in my heart.”

“At first, I wasn’t sure because it was such a big decision to upend my life. Before this, I had never met anyone who lived overseas. This was a completely unknown realm for everyone in my life – my parents, my friends. I mulled the idea over for a couple of months. But once the idea took root, I kept thinking about it. I decided it was a challenge I wanted to face.”

When Oscar told his parents, they were taken aback. They asked him, what do you need to do to achieve this dream? “English was the first difficulty I needed to face.” His dad told him, ‘Okay, if you can pass the English exam, we will support your decision.’

“I was so moved. They supported me unconditionally. The love, the family love, nothing can compare with that.” Normally people will keep working and study English on the side. “But for me, I wanted to have total focus on my goal. I didn’t want to have an excuse when it got hard. So, I resigned my job. I cut off my way back. I thought, ‘Okay, now I only have one way, I must go forward.’”

Oscar spent the next 13 months living alone, teaching himself English online. “That was the most difficult time of my life. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. My friends knew my decision, so when they went out, they didn’t call me. I wanted zero distractions. I just wanted to make it. It was torture.” After several attempts, Oscar passed the English exam with a score that would ensure his acceptance into an international master’s program. His motto: never give up.

Oscar boarded a plane to New Zealand to commence a one-year master’s program in Computer Science. “I clearly remember when I got off the plane, the first thing I did was take a deep breath. In 2016, when I left China, the air pollution had become quite bad. In New Zealand, I felt like I was breathing pure oxygen. It was amazing.”

Fall in love with the thing you are doing.

At the beginning of 2020, Oscar joined the Comet team. His energy is infectious; consistently positive and upbeat. “This is the happiest I have been in a job. This is a really great environment.”

His secret? “If you want to be good, you have to fall in love with the thing you are doing. I feel a sense of achievement when I solve bugs and develop new features. It’s about the recognition from our customers, their satisfaction with our product.”

“One of the reasons I’m really happy here is because I have role models within the development team. It’s a stroke of luck to meet a mentor who is not just knowledge, but generous with their time and learnings. Mason, our CTO, is sooo knowledgeable. It’s amazing. It’s not easy to find that. In most companies, a CTO isn’t necessarily available to the developers. One of Comet’s advantages is I can talk directly to the leadership team because we are a smaller company with a flat hierarchy structure.”

“As a team, we are a close circle. There is a matching feeling, a synergy between us. I have experienced lots of teams, but our team is quite different to be honest. Everyone has a personality and a unique contribution. We all give the most energy we can to push Comet forward together.”

Advice to developers beginning their careers.

  1. Get your hands dirty programming. There are lots of practice websites where you can practice your code. If you don’t understand something, don’t give up! Read it a second time, read it a third time. Never give up.
  2. Be patient when you are trying to solve bugs. If you begin feeling frustrated because you can’t solve the problem, go outside, have a walk. Take a break. When you relax, the solution will pop up. ‘Wow, so easy!’ When you are anxious and rushed, you won’t be able to solve the problem. Be patient with yourself.
  3. Writing summaries is a good way to improve. When you solve a problem, write it down. Keep it somewhere. Then later you can go back over it several times. There is an information ocean, we can’t learn everything at once. Learn and improve through repetition.

Oscar muses, “Life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. It’s about how long can you be consistent. It’s not about how fast can you do something for a short time. When I was little, I didn’t know that someday I would become a software developer. I didn’t even know what a software developer was. And after I become a software developer, I didn’t know I could work overseas. I didn’t know that I could sit beside you, speaking English. Life is filled with lots of unknowns. We keep exploring. The journey has just started.”

· 5 min read

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kolkata, in eastern India. However, I spent much of my career working in storage development in Bangalore, which is further south.

Where did your passion for tech start?

When I started my engineering undergrad, I used a computer for the first time. I had many interests, I would have liked to study pure science (physics) or electronics engineering, but the job market in those fields is tough and you often would need a PhD. Computer science helped me get a good job straight out of university with Symantec.

Can you tell me about the patent you developed while working there?

Symantec has an invention disclosure program. Anyone can invent and disclose. You don’t need to ask anybody, “Is this patentable? Is this a good idea or not?”

I submitted an idea related to storage optimization. There were at least three rejections on similar topics prior to my application. So it was really unlikely that my idea would be accepted. But nevertheless, I gave it a shot.

The filtering committee reviews everyone’s ideas based on business merit. There are three possible outcomes: they might reject it, they might ask for additional information, or they might go for a patent.

Thankfully, they accepted my idea after a bit of modification. They took someone else’s work and merged my idea into it to make a single patent. I got a bonus and they gave me a gift – a big picnic bag with plates, a full cutlery set and a bottle opener. It was pretty nice!

What did you know about New Zealand before you moved here?

I moved here without visiting first. I did my research and watched a lot of YouTube videos: 14 Things to See in New Zealand, What type of backpackers accommodation to stay in, Where to hire a car or bicycle, Top restaurants in Auckland. I was an expert tourist before moving here. [laughs]

Moving halfway around the world is a big change. What was your experience like transitioning from India to Christchurch?

The cities I lived in in India were crowded. 10 million people live in Bangalore alone – twice the size of New Zealand’s entire population. More people live in a single city than in the whole country here. I like living somewhere less crowded. It’s quite nice.

What attracted you to work at Comet?

It’s rare to come across a data company in New Zealand, particularly in the product development space. When I saw the Comet advertisement asking for someone with a storage development background, I was really excited and immediately felt that this could be my next company.

When I joined Comet, it was on the smaller side, but they were growing at a really nice rate. Because I spent my career in different aspects of the storage industry, it was a good fit for me. The fact is everybody needs backup. No matter where you store the data.

Have you had new experiences in this role?

In previous roles, the scope of the features I worked on only required about two months of work. The feature that I am leading development on right now is much longer, it has many pieces. I’ve had to do quite a bit of research to form the development pathway. The fundamentals are the same, but different problems give you an opportunity to learn new things. And that keeps the work interesting.

What is collaboration like amongst the development team?

Because of the size of our team, everyone knows what everyone else is working on. We aren’t stuck in endless meetings for hours. It maximizes the amount of time we spend focused on the product.

For example, I sit next to Oscar who is working on the GUI side of the large feature I am working on. We can discuss things and make decisions efficiently. At larger companies that would go to an entirely different team, you wouldn’t know who is doing that job. Here we don’t have that hierarchy. I like smaller teams because they are often more productive.

What keeps you inspired and passionate about the work?

I really see Comet as a promising company. It has a big future. For each configuration, it needs to be scalable to work at that level and that brings new complexities with it. As the company grows, I am looking forward to growing with our clients because that brings new and interesting challenges.

How have you found the work culture at Comet?

The good thing about Comet is I feel comfortable. It’s easy to come and go and do the work on your own schedule. I like that flexibility.

What do you enjoy doing in your off time?

I watch a lot of animation and Disney movies with my young son. He’s almost three and he’s at the age where he’s asking lots of questions which is fun.

What’s the most remarkable place you’ve traveled?

After my wife and I got married, we visited Lakshadweep – a small archipelago of islands about 400 kilometers off the western coast of India. The environment is pristine. Limited tourists are allowed at once to preserve the natural environment. There is a coral reef and sandy beaches with beautiful views. The water is full of colorful fish and underwater plants. The nature there is unspoiled.

Do you have a favorite food?

I don’t have a favorite, I like to try all kind of things – as long as they’re cooked! I was watching a YouTube video where a Japanese cook was preparing shrimp. I would be perfectly happy if they fried that! I have no reservations about food. I’ll try all sorts of things.

· 7 min read

"Software is a fascinating industry because you can create something out of nothing. It’s like nothing else in the world. It’s purely creative work. What we’re doing here is craftsmanship. At the same time, it’s like construction work, it’s a laboring job. We’re here to do an honest day’s work and to produce great software."

- Mason Giles, CTO at Comet Backup

When did you first realize your passion for tech?

I have been a programmer ever since I can remember. Even when I was a kid. I probably had ten years of experience before I started working professionally.

My parents are in the medical sector. Back when their practice was all paper-based, Dad put together the office’s first database all by himself rather than using off the shelf software. He wasn’t a programmer by trade, but he nudged me in the right direction. Showing me how to write an IF statement, that sort of thing.

What are your interests or hobbies?

My hobby is software. Ever since I was a kid if there’s been something I wanted, I understood I didn’t have to wait for someone else to build it, I can build it myself. And if I can share that with other people online it’s great. I’ve probably released over 150 open source projects in my spare time over the last decade.

You were Comet’s first employee. Tell me about that journey.

I started working for Peter, Comet’s founder, ten years ago as a summer intern. My first job was with MyClient – Comet’s sister business. It was interesting work. I got 90% of the way through the development project before I had to go back to university. After that, I had a standing offer to come back.

What sparked the inception of Comet?

As a predecessor to Comet, Peter had an MSP business specializing in providing backup services. The backup products that were on the market had many problems. We had to do insane, invasive, and unusual things just to get them to work.

I researched emerging algorithms and chunking technologies online. What I found had great potential and I thought, ‘How can we build on these new ideas?’ At the same time, we saw more and more bugs and we thought, ‘Ah this is just ridiculous. What if we made our own backup software?’

We kicked around the idea within the office. It started to look more and more plausible based on our extensive years of experience in the backup space using other vendors' technologies. A few weeks later I sent the initial email out to Peter and Josh outlining how we’d do it.

What was in that initial plan?

I proposed a roadmap where we would build File & Folder backups first and then Disk Image later. We knew from running a commercial backup company that multiple products were needed to support different parts of the market. Based on that experience, it was very important to us that Comet have a unified management system so that MSPs could use a single product. It’s important to us to be comprehensive about what we support.

You’ve been at this for a long time. Were there any formative moments for you?

Before Comet, when I was working at the MSP, I took a phone call. The customer had lost their data and needed it back. I went through the settings, got a remote support session set up, went in to do a restore and… there was nothing there. My heart plummeted. I had to explain to the customer that their data was gone, and we couldn’t help them get it back. That was the worst phone call I’ve ever had with a client.

That was a formative experience in terms of how seriously I take this job. What we’re doing is incredibly important. We are dealing with people’s livelihoods. Data is extremely precious. We are the last line of defense when things go wrong.

Are there other areas from the early days that influenced the way Comet is today?

At MyClient, MSPs came to us with niche requests. We pushed down the route of making the software adjustable and adaptable. That sort of flexibility proved very popular.

With Comet, we decided to make the API flexible from the outset. We had experience working with other backup vendors' unaccommodating APIs and the many inconsistencies and bugs that resulted from that.

Clients use Comet in surprising ways. The only reason they can use the technology in ways we never anticipated is because our API is extremely introspectable and expandable. We’ve designed it so that people can stretch it to fit their needs.

As CTO you’ve made some foundational decisions that have proved to upend industry norms.

It’s important to make bold technical decisions that make things work better. That’s one of the main reasons we’ve been successful. Much of Comet’s software is programmed in Go. When we started, it was a very new language and that was a brave choice.

We had internalized trauma from our MSP days dealing with our competitors’ C# and Java-based backup products and knew the awful problems those languages inherently caused – such as terrible memory usage. One of Comet’s points of differentiation is that we don’t use Java.

A number of our clients have lived that same experience. When you hand them the keys to Comet, which doesn’t have any of those issues, it’s like you’ve taken them out of a broken house and moved them into a beautiful new home.

Software can be better. It’s just computers. We can make them do whatever we want. We don’t have to put up with bad software.

Why is it hard to give exact ETAs on new feature releases?

We can plan out how long we expect development projects to take. But all the unknown unknowns are what end up taking time. There are a lot of hard-won lessons.

It’s not like churning out your hundredth website or app. After the hundredth one you’ve got a pretty good idea of how long it takes. What we’re doing here is craftsmanship. No one has built this exact software before, we’re doing this for the first time. You learn quite a lot as you go along.

I’ve worked for enough tech companies to know that’s a pretty remarkable approach – building software with deep care and craftsmanship. You’re touching on why the work culture at Comet is so special. What else is in that recipe?

Part of it is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You’ve got to make sure the team’s basic needs are taken care of first – competitive salaries, good working environment, etc. Once you’ve got the basics down, then you need to ask yourself:

  • Are we working with cool, cutting edge technologies that we enjoy?
  • Is each team member learning new things?
  • Do we feel we’re having an impact?
  • Are we continuing to make brave decisions?

We encompass all those things in our work culture at Comet, which means we’re far enough up Maslow’s Hierarchy that we offer a pretty competitive experience to our team.

Do you have a dream job?

I love what I do. I get to write code every day, I have a lot of autonomy and I get to make a difference. It’s really hard to beat that. I think there are three things you need in a job:

  • Something you’re good at.
  • Something you enjoy.
  • Something that pays well.

A lot of people don’t ever get all three at once. I’m very lucky to have hit that trifecta. Software is a fascinating industry to be in because you can create something out of nothing. It’s purely creative work. It’s like nothing else in the world. At the same time, it’s like construction work, it’s a laboring job. We’re here to do an honest day’s work and to produce great software. The fact that it pays well and the fact that I’m good at it and I enjoy it. It’s not a bad gig.

· 2 min read

Who are you talking to when you’re on a support call with Comet? Nicholas (Sales Engineer) is our support guru. A large, professional microphone sits on his desk to ensure a clear line of communication with our clients. “It’s great to connect with people remotely. I love that we work with businesses located all over the globe.”

Nick’s passion for technology started at a young age with gaming. Fun fact, as a teenager, Nicholas won the first-ever Australian Mario Kart Tournament event held by Nintendo. The final match was a showdown between top competitors on the newest game. “I caused a pileup on Rainbow Road trying to avoid the deadly Blue Shell that goes after the player in first place. I slowed down to let the others pass me. Instead, my competitors slowed down too. It ended up hitting all of us! That made the crowd laugh.”

The Blue Shell has a reputation for smashing dreams since the mid-90s. And let’s face it, nothing smashes dreams like IT problems. Before joining the Comet team, Nick previously worked for an MSP. “I wish I’d had Comet Backup to manage customer’s data back then.”

Nick loves researching technologies that are pushing the envelope, whether that’s AI, neuroscience, autonomous vehicles, or the burgeoning possibilities for VR. “My hobby is learning. I focus on one thing until I get good at it. If you keep learning, you’re going to get results. It’s awesome to see once you’ve internalized what you’ve learned, your progress jumps really fast.” Nick’s always looking for opportunities to improve and develop – be that in the realm of tech or studying business management with an entrepreneurial lens.

What keeps him excited and passionate in his role here at Comet is the growing team size. “The technology behind our software is cutting edge. It’s exciting when we have new features. With more developers on the team, we’re pushing out new features at a greater rate. We’re able to work on the small changes alongside the larger features. That’s really exciting.”

“The technology behind our software is cutting edge. That’s really exciting.”

- Nicholas, Sales Engineer