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4 posts tagged with "meet-the-team"

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· 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