Three years at Qobo

Today is my third birthday as the Qobo CTO.  Here are the summary posts for the first and second years, if you are interested.

I haven’t had a boring year at Qobo yet.  And this last one was the most eventful and interesting, both business and technology wise.  Let’s have a quick look at the business side of things first.

Since last August, here are some of the things that happened:

  • In October 2016 we opened the Limassol office.  It’s mostly used by developers and for developers.  But we had a few client meetings in there too.  If things go as fast an good as they are going, we’ll need to either expand it soon, or move to the new premises.
  • In December 2016 we closed the deal with our first angel investors.  That was quite a lengthy and tedious process, during which we spoke to a lot of organizations and individuals, went through a variety of checks and audits, and figured out answers to many questions that we’ve never asked ourselves.  As a result, we found partners who not only brought the money in for the company growth, but a wide range of business expertise.  Personally, I’ve learned a lot during and after this process, and hopefully will boost my understanding of the business world.
  • In March 2017 we received the confirmation that our application for the Research and Development grant from the Cyprus government and European Union was approved.  This process also took quite a bit of effort and time and is far from over.  This money will help Qobo to grow even further and once the tender is complete we’ll have quit a thing to show for it.  That’s about as much as I can say now.
  • In May 2017 we opened the London office.  This one is mostly for our sales force and the expansion of business into the UK market.
  • Over the course of the whole year, we have grown our team quite a bit as well.  We are now about 15 people, but it’s not the quantity that matters, but eh quality.   We manage to bring in some people that I worked with in many previous jobs (Easy Forex, FXCC, Tototheo Group, FxPro, and even as far back as PrimeTel).  And by the looks of it, the team will continue to grow.
  • And much like in previous years, we have signed more clients, did more projects, and delivered more solutions, both locally, here in Cyprus and abroad (primarily United Kingdom).

Now let’s have a look at technology a bit more.  Last year I mentioned Qobrix, but I could give you any more details.  Today, Qobrix is a real thing.  It’s our own platform for building business applications rapidly.  We developed it to a very usable state, and built quite a few applications with it, anything from custom processes, Intranets, and all the way up to the CRMs.  The platform is being actively developed and is maturing every day.  We have also started building a new website that provides plenty of information for it.

Big chunks of our development effort are being released as Open Source software – have a look at our ever-growing GitHub profile.  We have also contributed to a number of Open Source projects in both CakePHP and WordPress ecosystems.

We are also getting much better at this whole cloud computing thing.  Our knowledge of Amazon Web Services (AWS) is growing and improving.  We have more servers now, use more services, and planning to expand even further.

Overall, as you can see, this was quite an intensive year, and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down.  Quite the opposite.  After three years at Qobo, I have to say that this is hands down the best job I ever had (and I had some pretty amazing jobs in the last couple of decades).  I’m learning a lot every single day.  I see the impact of my effort on the company as a whole, on the team, and on our clients.  And I am still humbled by the expertise and virtues of people around me.

I’d like to thank everybody around me for all the wisdom, tips, hard work, and joyful moments during the last year.  I’ll be raising my glass tonight for many more years like this one.  Cheers!

15 Year Blog Anniversary

blogging

Today is the 15th anniversary of this blog.  As most of you know, 15 years in technology is forever.  15 years on the web is even more so.  Here are a few highlights to give you a perspective:

  • First post dates back to October 26th 2001.  It wasn’t my first blog post ever.  It’s just that the earlier history wasn’t migrated into the current archives.
  • Archives page provides access to posts of every month of every year, except April and May of 2009, which were lost during a major outage at a hosting company at the time.
  • The blog survived a multitude of migrations between blogging applications and their versions (static HTML diary, Nucleous CMS, Blog:CMS, WordPress), design changes (a dozen or so WordPress themes), and hosting companies (from a home server to the current Amazon AWS setup).
  • Way over 8,000 posts written.  Hundreds of comments, pingbacks and trackbacks received.  These varied across a large number of topics, anything from personal, work, technology, movies, photography, Cyprus, and more.
  • Millions of page views.  Hundreds of thousands of unique visitors.
  • Millions of blocked SPAM comments.  Millions of (mostly automated) attacks, varying from SQL injections and dictionary password attacks to a some more advanced techniques targeting particular pages or WordPress and its plugins vulnerabilities.
  • A variety of content reorganizations – posts, pages, categories, tags, short codes, templates, plugins, widgets, links, etc.
  • A variety of integrations – web services, social networks, automated postings, aggregations, etc.
  • A variety of monetization options – from “this is not for profit”, to ad spaces, to contextual ads, to sponsored content.

Have a look at some versions saved by the Internet Archive, dating back to 2004.

So, what have I learned about blogging in the last 15 years?  Quiet a bit, it turns out.  Here are a few things that I think are important enough to share:

  • If you don’t have your personal blog yet, go and start now.  It’s well worth it!
  • Make sure you own your content.  Social networks come and go, and when they go, chances are, all your content goes with them.
  • Don’t stress too much about the format, styling, and scheduling of your blogging.  If you do it long enough, everything will change – the topics you write about, how much and how often you write about them, how your site looks, etc.  Start somewhere and iterate.
  • Don’t go crazy with features of your blogging platform.  Sure, there are thousands of plugins and themes to choose from.  But all of these change with time.  When they go away, you will have to either support them yourself, move to newer alternatives, or loose them.  Neither one of those options is pleasant.
  • Things die.  They disappear and then they are no more.  That’s life. This happens.  Don’t worry about it.  Do your best and then move on.
  • Have fun!  It’s your personal place on the web after all.  Try scheduled posts to get into the habit.  Try planning to get a better idea of what you want to do.  But if it doesn’t work or becomes too difficult, move on.  As I said, it’s your personal place and you don’t owe anybody anything.  Do it for yourself.  Others will come and go.

Here is to the next 15 years! :)

beer

Two years at Qobo

Today marks the completion of my second year at Qobo Ltd.  The first year was quite a ride.  But the second one was even wilder.  As always, it’s difficult (and lengthy) to mention everything that happened.  A lot of that stuff is under the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) terms too.  But here are a few generic highlights:

  • Vision and strategy – most of my first year has been spent in putting out fires, fixing things big and small, left, right, and center.  The technology boost was necessary across the board, so it didn’t leave much time for the vision and strategy.  I feel that we’ve made a huge progress in this area in the last 12 month.  We have a clear vision.  We have all the stakeholders agreeing on all key elements.  We have worked out a strategy on how to move forward.  And we’ve started implementing this strategy (hey, Qobrix!).  In terms of achievements, I think this was the most important area and I am pretty happy with how things are shaping up.
  • Team changes – much like in the first year, we had quite a few changes in the team.  Some of them were unfortunate, others not so much.  The team is still smaller than what we want and need, but I think we are making progress here.  If our World Domination plans will work out to even some degree, we’ll be in a much better place very soon.
  • Technology focus – we’ve continued with our goal of doing fewer things but doing them better.  Our expertise in WordPress, CakePHP and SugarCRM grew a lot.  We’ve signed and deployed a variety of projects, which resulted in more in-depth knowledge, more networking with people around each technology, more tools and practices that we can reuse in our future work.
  • Open Source Softwareour GitHub profile is growing, with more repositories, pull requests, releases, features, and bug fixes.  We’ve also contributed to a variety of Open Source projects.  Our involvement with Open Source Software will continue to grow – that’s one of those things that I am absolutely sure about.
  • Hosting, continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD), and quality assurance – again, the trend continued this year.  We are using (and understanding) more of the cloud infrastructure in general and Amazon AWS in particular.  We have a much better Zabbix setup.  And our love and appreciation of Ansible grows steeply. Let’s Encrypt is in use, but we’ll grow it to cover all our projects soon.  We are also experimenting with a variety of quality assurance tools.  We are using TravisCI for most of our Open Source work.  And we are on the brink of using recently announced BitBucket Pipelines for our private repositories (sorry Jenkins, we’ve tried you, but … not yet).  We’ve also jumped into ChatOps world with HipChat and its integrations, to the point that it’s difficult to imagine how could we have worked without it just a few month ago.  Codecov.io has also proved to be useful.
  • Projects, projects, projects – much like the previous year, we’ve completed a whole lot of projects (see some of our clients).  Some were simple and straightforward.  Others were complicated and challenging. And we have more of these in the pipelines.  Overall, we’ve learned how to do more with less.  Our productivity, technical expertise, and confidence grows day-to-day.  I hope we keep it up for years to come.
  • Website – one thing that we wanted to do for ages is to update our website.  Which we did, despite all the crazy things going on.  It’s not a complete redesign, but it’s a nice refreshment.  And we’ve also got our blog section, which I promised you last year.  All we need to do now is to use it more. ;)

There are a couple of major updates coming soon, but I am not at liberty to share them right now.  But they are very, very exciting – that’s all I can say today.  Keep an eye our blog – we’ll be definitely sharing.

As I said, it was quite an intense year, with lots of things going on everywhere.  There were tough times, and there were easy times.  There were challenges and there were accomplishments.  There were successes, and there were mistakes and failures.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

After two years, I am still excited about this company and about my job here.  (Which, looking at my career so far, is not something that happens often.)  I hope the next year will continue the adventure and by the end of it I’ll be able to proudly show you a few more things.

 

Linux and open source have won

I knew this would happen for a long time.  I knew it happened.  But even if that’s nothing new, it’s still nice to hear – “Linux and open source have won, get over it“:

In 2015, Microsoft embraced Linux, Apple open-sourced its newest, hottest programming language, and the cloud couldn’t run without Linux and open-source software. So, why can’t people accept that Linux and open source have won the software wars?

This is a huge and import change in technology, which has major affect on the rest of the world.  It’s nice to know that I’ve played a small part in that.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Today Russia and a few other countries celebrate Christmas, so I’d like to take this chance to wish Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone still in the holiday mood.

I usually take the time around these days to review the year gone and to make a wishlist for the upcoming one.  But the year gone was mostly spent at work, which I summed up in the post “One year at Qobo” back in August.  Since then nothing much changed – it’s just been work, work, work.  And most of the out-of-work stuff was personal enough for me not to share it online.

So that’s about it.  My three wishes for the 2016 are:

  • I wish for everyone I know (and don’t know) to stay healthy.  Being sick, getting injured and being kicked out of life aren’t fun things to experience or watch.
  • I wish the momentum that we were building up at work starts picking up.  We’ve done plenty to get this thing rolling, and it feels like it’s about to. It would be awesome if it does this year!
  • I wish to travel a bit more.  I’ve done plenty of travels in 2014, visiting 4 countries in summer, but I haven’t been off the island since.  It’d be nice to go to a conference or something.

That’s about it.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2016! Cheers!

Happy birthday, IMDb!

imdb

According to Wikipedia, Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, as we know it, has turned 25 years old (launched on October 17, 1990).  What an achievement!  There aren’t that many websites around that are that old and still that useful.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish a very Happy Birthday to everyone who was involved with the site during all this years.  Thank you!

I hope one day we’ll overcome all those copyright restrictions and it’ll be possible to watch movies and TV series directly on the site, much like the trailers are now.

One billion people …

.. visited Facebook in a single day! I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.  I remember the Web before Facebook existed.  I remember when Facebook reached a total of billion accounts.  And now, we have a billion active daily users. Wow!

Apart from everything else, the amount of engineering that went into creating the platform, growing the features, and keeping it up and running is beyond comprehension.

0 to about 11,000 employees in 11 years.  Wow!

One year at Qobo

Today marks a year since I joined Qobo as a CTO.  And what a year it has been!  On one hand, it flew by like a week.  On the other hand, looking at how much has been done, it feels like a decade.  Here are just a few highlights, in no particular order:

  • Team changes – a few people left, a few people joined.  A gadzillion people were interviewed, met, and even worked with on a project basis.  Those who are in the office now have also grown and got better both individually and as a team.  I’m always excited to see change in people.
  • Technology focus – a variety of technologies from earlier company history were consolidated into fewer, but better solutions.  We are a PHP shop now, with solid expertise in WordPress, CakePHP, and SugarCRM.  Focusing on fewer technologies allowed us to gain deeper knowledge and to perfect our tools.  Which leads me to the next point …
  • Open Source Software.  I’ve been a fan and an advocate for Open Source Software for years.  But it was always difficult to push it in the corporate world.  I got better with it at each previous work place, and Open Source grew up with years too.  But it wasn’t until Qobo that I got to the level that I wanted.  Have a look at our GitHub profile – there are forks of projects that we contribute to (mostly third-party WordPress plugins), our project templates, experiments, and tools.  And we are far from done yet.
  • Hosting consolidation and the cloud.  When I joined a year ago, the company was using a variety of hosting companies around the world.  While that provided an immediate base for some of the platforms in use, it was somewhat difficult to manage.  Since then, we’ve moved everything to Amazon Virtual Private Cloud.  We use quite a bit of the AWS stack, mainly – VPC, EC2, Route53, and S3.  And it works great for us!
  • Deployment automation, quality assurance, monitoring, etc.  We’ve built (yet again) and (finally) Open Sourced our deployment automation tools.   I’ve built this kind of tools before, but I was never quite happy with them, and I had to reiterate again and again.  Finally, we have something that works quite well.  There’s always room for improvement, of course, but it served us well for a few month now.
  • Projects, projects, projects.  We’ve worked on client projects big and small all year round.  And there are quite a few that we are proud of.  The Portfolio page for our website is coming soon too, so we can properly showcase those.
  • Office move.  We’ve moved offices in the shortest possible time,  optimizing and completely restructuring our internal infrastructure.  We are now in better premises with a better setup.  We need less hardware and things are much easier to handle.
  • Podcasts and audio books.  In the last year, I’ve driven over 40,000 kilometers, mostly going back and forth between Limassol and Nicosia.  Most of this time was spent listening to podcasts and audio books, from which I’ve learned a lot and got a billion ideas.

There’s plenty more, of course.  But the most important out of this all, I think, is that I’ve learned a whole lot about a whole lot, I’ve tried plenty of things I wanted to try for a while, and I’ve had a tonne of fun, even though sometimes that meant long nights and no weekends.

It’s been a great year and I hope I’ll have many more like this one.  To all, who were around – a big thank you and please don’t go away.  To those who parted ways – thanks anyway and good luck.  I hope more people get to experience what I’ve experienced this year.

P.S.: And the blog section of our website is coming soon too.  Once it’s up, we’ll keep you all updated on our endeavors through there.

WhatsApp passes 800,000,000 active users

whatsapp-numbers

TechCrunch is reporting on WhatsApp passing the 800,000,000 active users mark.  Almost exactly a year ago, it was at 500 million active users.  I don’t care much about WhatsApp’s business or service, but from the technical point of view this is quite significant.  That’s almost a million active users acquired every day for the last year.  That’d be a challenge for anyone to handle.  Thinking that this growth might have been not too linear gives me digital goose bumps.

I haven’t seen anything recent describing their infrastructure, but this article from last year provides a starting point for the imagination:  Erland + FreeBSD + 550 servers, with preference for larger box with loads of RAM and cores.  I’m sure that have grown quite a bit in a year too.

WordPress 4.1 “Dinah”

WordPress 4.1 “Dinah” is out and available for download (this blog has just been updated).  This release features a new default theme – twentyfifteen,  Vine embeds, plugin recommendations, and complex queries for metadata, date, and terms – this one is for developers mostly.

2015-laptop-1024x533 Huge thanks to everyone involved!