Written by Stephen Walkauskas, Vertica Systems software developer
For years, I’ve enjoyed working at Vertica, and being part of a culture where developers aren’t encumbered by bureaucracy. There is a true meritocracy, and we focus on efficiently delivering meaningful features to customers. I’ve been impressed through the years by the commitment, hard work and truly impressive accomplishments of my colleagues. It takes an incredible team to build a product, like the original Vertica Analytics Database (now known as the HP Vertica Analytics Platform), from scratch, and tackle complex distributed systems and scalability challenges — it is also a lot of fun, especially with this group.
After HP acquired Vertica over a year and a half ago, I was glad to see the startup culture continue to thrive. The acquisition did bring about some change, which has overall been very positive. The engineering group has benefited from a wealth of resources at HP, including new toys, mostly in the form of hardware and newfound relationships with the talented folks at HP Labs and in other business units.
It is my great fortune to work with truly talented developers, who have greatly impacted my personal and career growth. The challenges we’ve faced have worked to strengthen their influence. During a recent project I completed over my holiday break, I leaned on lessons learned from my colleagues. Interestingly, the project had nothing to do with my profession.
Bring on the zamboni
What does building a backyard, or, in my case front yard, skating rink have to do with a startup experience?
For starters, you hear lots of reasons why you shouldn’t do it. Building a rink is an impractical project, especially in my geographical location (Pittsburgh area). It is relatively expensive compared to skating at a public rink — the cost is roughly what many pay for a few months of cable. The cost is worth it for something that you don’t mind your kids doing for hours each day. It is a lot of work-- I call it exercise, something I need more of this time of year. At best, temperatures will remain cold enough to sustain five or six weeks of skating. As I got started, I heard all about how the ground didn’t freeze at all last winter.
To complete a project like this one must filter criticism appropriately. The folks at my local box store were very helpful in improving my rink design while others contributed only negative comments. I’m certain a good many of my neighbors think I am crazy. I was a little concerned when two fire engines came down my street while I was flooding the rink. It turns out that they were carrying Santa Claus on display for kids; his sleigh must have been getting tuned for his big day.
Perhaps most importantly, you have to be able to rebound when things don’t go as planned. I broke my back — or at least it felt that way — framing the rink. What I didn’t count on was a lot of rain, followed by a fair amount of snow. These conditions added additional weight to the rink and made the ground extremely soggy (it was mush to a depth of more than one foot in some areas). Consequently, the deep end of the rink — the ground isn’t perfectly level — burst at one corner.
I’m certain that I looked crazed as I rushed to mend the damage before the rink fell apart completely. Once things stabilized, I could see that the ground wasn’t holding. The stakes were leaning and the rink was in great jeopardy. I felt defeated. I thought about giving up. I’d invested a lot of time and energy and wasted some money on this foolish project. Comments from the naysayers filled my head.
But, as I said earlier, I’ve had the good fortune of working on challenging projects with colleagues who know how to make things work in the face of adversity. I didn’t need to consult them. I knew how they’d react. I’ve seen the same scenario play out dozens of times at work. After I cleared my head and got a pep talk from my wife, I doubled-down my efforts and made a serious attempt to salvage the rink. There was no guarantee of success—things looked bleak.
Out of the ashes
Thankfully, all the hard work paid off. It usually does. But there are times when, despite good intentions and best efforts, things don’t work out as intended. When that happens you’re left with valuable lessons learned. And, in that case, next year’s rink will be a success.
A few days after the rink was repaired Mother Nature did her part and it froze. The rink has been in operation for a couple of days now. Already, the work has been worthwhile. My family has had some very memorable times out there. Like, the time my three-year-old daughter amazed us with her on-ice impression of Prof. Hinkle chasing Frosty down a hill as she laughed hysterically. Or watching my five-year-old son give my wife a celebratory hug after imagining winning the Stanley Cup for the 1,000th time with another amazing goal.