Interviews: Rob N

Company

This is the eleventh post in the 2016 FastMail Advent Calendar. Stay tuned for another post tomorrow.


Today, we're talking to Rob N, the heart of the FastMail infrastructure team.

Name: Rob N
Time working for FM: 5 years

What I work on

What don't I work on?! I keep everything running smoothly and try to remove obstacles for everyone else, whether staff or customers.

How did you get involved with FastMail?

I was working on email at my last employer for 13 years, and I decided I was ready for a change. I learned that an old colleague was now working at FastMail, so I asked him about it and it turned out they were looking for someone to take on some of their operations work. A few weeks later they offered me a job and here I am.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve worked on this year?

U2F was really fun to learn about. I gave a lightning talk on it at YAPC::NA and I'll be doing a longer talk about it at linux.conf.au next year! I generally am into passwords and security, so I really enjoyed working on our security changes this year.

What’s your favorite FastMail feature?

Push notifications. I still get a little thrill when I see a device come to life when something happens on the server.

We added push for iOS calendars earlier this year, which very few non-Apple providers support, so that was pretty exciting. The notify interface on Android is something I built a couple of years ago and I use it every morning to deal with my overnight mail without even opening the app. I don't even know if people use it, but I really love it.

What’s your favorite or most used piece of technology?

Apart from my laptop and phone, I love my Kindle and my Chromecast. I just bought some homebrew U2F devices that I want to try to fit into novelty USB storage devices (matchbox cars), because security should be fun!

What’s your preferred mobile platform?

Android all the way... for now. :)

What other companies, people or projects inspire you in your work?

I really love finding communities or projects that focus on people first. The Rust Language Community is famous for how hard they work to make people feel welcome and valued. Closer to home, Fusion Australia work hard to house, educate and support kids and teenagers that are struggling. We don't always do a good job as a society of listening and helping people. I get excited when I see a person doing something to make their part of the world a little bit better, and am reminded that I'm a person and can do that too.

What are you listening to / watching/reading these days?

I'm reading the Confederation series by Peter F. Hamilton. It's not as polished as his most recent work – his old stuff is still as intricate, but now he knows what needs the readers' attention more.

I'm watching Westworld and Humans. It's interesting to watch them at the same time, since they're both a different spin on robots that gain sentience.

For listening, a few months ago I started looking around for more Australia woman singer-songwriters, since I realised I didn't know of many and I should know more. So far I'm really enjoying Kate Miller-Heidke, Emma Dean and Elizabeth Rose.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I watch, read about and argue a lot about cricket. My dad was always into the game so I grew up watching it with him, but I remember the moment that fell in love with it myself: Australia vs West Indies, 1995/1996 season, game 5. Australia aren't doing so great at the moment but I still can't look away.

I also play goalkeeper in a 5-a-side tournament ever week, and have for three years now. I'm not very good at it, and my body hurts most days from throwing myself around, but I love it and have a great time with my team.

Any FM staffers you want to brag on?

We have a lot of geeky white-guy voices, so it's been really refreshing to have Helen around. She brings in new perspectives that I always appreciate hearing.

Bron is someone who can get hold of a bone and not let go until he's done. He's hard to keep up with so I'm always challenged to work faster and smarter when I'm doing stuff with him. I've noticed that I move much more slowly when he's not around.

David handles our marketing, and wrangles those of us for whom marketing does not come naturally. He's a super-positive person, and has done an amazing job of bringing me and lots of other people along, even when we don't really get it at first.

What are you proudest of in your work?

Giving my first keynote this year at CompCon. I was terrified and so really happy with how it came out. It was great talking to the next generation of people in my community, giving them my perspective and seeing who would be coming up next to join us.


Thanks, Rob! Not only do you keep the systems running, you help keep us mindful of the people we serve. You inspire me every day.