Chartteam Spotlight: Wes Chow, Backend Engineer

March 13th, 2013 by Cat

In my line of work, I could talk about culture and hiring until I’m blue in the face, but that’s pretty much only entertaining for me, less you. I mean, yes, we have an amazing culture and the smartest people I’ve ever worked with but that doesn’t give you an idea of what it’s really like to eat (snacks!), live (beanbag nap chairs!), and breathe (fresh Union Square air!) Chartbeat. So we’re taking it back to Kindergarten with some show and tell right from the source, our favorite Chartteam members. wes portraitFirst up, is the inside scoop from Wes, one of our crazy-experienced Backend Engineers who joined Chartbeat last year to help us tackle the sheer scale of data challenges we face every day. What he brings to the table: Wes spent eight years building technical infrastructure for high frequency trading, before falling in love with us. And before that, he spent five as a founder and Director of Technology of Athena Capital Research. As is often the case, he grew weary of the finance world over time and decided to join the startup community by forming S7 Labs, which specialized in developing tech for startups. At S7, they built Songza Radio and Storybox, a notable Seedcamp NY 2012 finalist. So what cool things are you working on now? We’re obviously working most often in the real-time space and on an average day, we’re dealing with an incredible amount of data -- peaking at around 130,000 requests per SECOND (which is crazy!) The challenge that comes up is storing and processing it over long historical periods at a very granular scale. I’m working on projects that will help that. Soon we’ll be rolling out features that provide Chartbeat-style action-centric context to those real-time decisions with additional weeks or months of data. So, we now need to have systems for efficiently writing and reading a decent chunk of traffic for offline analysis, and I’ll be making that happen. What challenges are you facing as we continue to grow? My job will only become harder in a good way as we take on more and more international clients (hello, China!), and as our clients grow their audiences with more and more visitors to their sites and apps. We'd like to push the limits of what's technically possible. Chartbeat did groundbreaking work to provide real-time analytics at scale; now we’re lucky enough to see that it's virtually a given that publishers have to have Chartbeat. We’re applying that kind of boldness to all of our systems, and aim to build the most insightful, intuitive product out there. What have you learned working here? It's rare that a job demands such a breadth of knowledge. I like to say that funny things happen at scale; you need to be aware of everything that's happening from the context switches your OS is doing to big abstractions like work queues and databases. Chartbeat also has a very open culture and a rigorous peer review system, which results in high standards and low defect rates. Sure we break things -- everybody does -- but we don't take that as a tradeoff for moving fast. DSC01028What’s the weirdest Chartbeat moment you’ve had so far? Getting introduced to the Chartbeat Ornithology chatroom is by far one of the oddest/most interesting things I’ve experienced so far. It sounds weird but, really, it’s a place where we talk about... well, we talk about birds. Naturally the conversations flow around everything from the Black Oystercatcher to the African Crowned Eagle - both notable winners of the famed “Bird of the Day” contest. Naturally. If you could stump a new hire with an out-of-this world question at our weekly Pulse Check company meeting, what would you ask? So I’ll literally take this question “out-of-this-world”. Tony butchered this question at our last meeting, but I would ask: Suppose you were selected for the first mission to Mars ever. There’s a catch (of course) which is that you can't have any contact with civilization for N number of years. What is the largest N you'd tolerate to be the first person to Mars? -- Clearly, we have some awesome real-world problems that come up every day that only the brightest (although slightly quirky) minds out there can solve. If you’re a data-loving nerd at heart and curious about why backend development at Chartbeat is interesting and challenging, get in touch with Wes directly or apply to one of our openings. We’d love to meet you.