Friday, 5 June 2015

Podcast Interview with Tobias Lindaaker, Neo Technology

Next month, I will be celebrating my 3-year anniversary working for one of the best companies I have ever worked for: Neo Technology. It seems like I have been here a lot longer - so much has happened in those three years! I guess time truly flies when you are having fun :) ... but it makes me wonder sometimes - what was it like in the early early beginnings. What is it like for people that have been here a LOT longer to look back on the Neo4j journey?

So I decided to ask. Here's a lovely conversation with Tobias Lindaaker, employee number 1 of Neo Technology. Overall nice guy and top engineer - he's got a lot of ideas and perspectives on that journey:

Here's the transcript of our conversation:
RVB: Hello everyone, this is Rik - Rik van Bruggen - from Neo Technology, and here we are again, recording an episode for our Neo4j Graph Database podcast. It's a wonderful Wednesday afternoon, and together with me on the call here - Skype call - is Tobias from Neo in Malmo. Hi Tobias.
TL: Hi Rik?
RVB: Hi, welcome on the podcast.
TL: Thank you, thank you.
RVB: Tobias, I invited you to the podcast for a couple of reasons, but maybe you could start by introducing yourself, so people know who you are.
TL: Yeah, so I am Tobias Lindaaker. I work as a senior developer at Neo technology, working on pretty much all things in the development of Neo4j. I've had my hand in almost all feature stuff we've released.
RVB: That's pretty amazing, and that's probably a good lead into  why I sort of wanted to talk to you, because you're probably one of the first engineers that Neo hired, isn't it?
TL: I was the first engineer that the company actually hired.
RVB: When was that?
TL: That was in 2007. So September 2007, I got on the company to help our very first customers with using Neo4j.
RVB: Wow, and how did you get into it? Did you know some of the founders then?
TL: Yeah, me and Emil went to college together. I taught him calculus, and he thought that I was good enough with that, that he might as well give me a shot at doing this job for him.
RVB: [chuckles] Any gory details that you can share with us [chuckle]? I'll always appreciate it.
TL: On Emil--
RVB: Yeah, of course.
TL: —from the early days?
RVB: No, don't go there. Don't go there.
TL: So, I did not only  teach him calculus, he taught me a great deal about programming, because he actually wrote code back in the days, in particular about testing, because he was really big on testing. He spent more of his time writing tests for his code than writing the actual code. He was always last handing in his lab assignments, because he spent so much time developing his tests, and his testing framework, and all of that stuff. He didn't actually get the job done, he just played around it.
RVB: Do you still still remember what was the first feature or project that you were working on at the time?
TL: With Neo4j?
RVB: Yeah.
TL: The first project was a customer project. I was working on a geospatial system. We were doing road user charging, so essentially road tolls based on GSM-based positioning. We had a algorithm or an idea for an algorithm for how to use GSM triangulation, by knowing the position of the cell towers. We had two modes for this system. One where we would collect data and store it out in Neo4j, to match what the signal profile from different cell towers looked like when driving on particular roads. We would find the profiles for roads, and then we'd use that when a user was driving in the same area, to match the signal profile from the cell towers, with the road that he was driving on. So, that was the first part of what I did for Neo4j.
RVB: Super cool. So, how's it been? What's it like to work for a start-up that's been going through all this evolution in the past eight, nine years?
TL: The main thing for me, is the fact that it's the start-up or it has been a start-up. Finally this year, I'm starting to see signs that we're growing up and become a mature company, but there's been lots of ups and downs getting there. There was a failure to get investments of 2008, where the company nearly went bankrupt, and we were almost out of jobs - all of us. Then of course, there's been frustrations with things that happen when you on board more people, and you get less and less influence over the company because the company grows and becomes bigger. Pretty much when we started, everyone was on the same level, because it was just a bunch of guys working on the same thing together.  Then, as we've grown, I've stayed on the “working on things” level, and the people who were with me at the time have gone on to be CEO and CTO and such things, so there has been a transition, the relative influence at least in formal terms has diverged overtime. It's interesting that I get less and less time with my old friends at the company.
RVB: Yeah, but I suppose there's new friends coming on board right? There's new things happening--
TL: Absolutely.
RVB: —and there's new exciting stuff happening with the products as well.
TL: Absolutely, and in terms of the product, it's the main driving feature why I love this company. I think the product really has a lot going for it.
RVB: I couldn't agree more. What do you think the future holds Tobias, both for you from personal perspective, and for the company and your job there?  What do you think is in store?
TL: As I said, the company is growing up now, and I think we will start seeing effects of that in the product pretty soon. In that, since the team is growing, we've got more developers now than we've ever had before. Last year we started hiring developers for real, started actually growing a development team, and this year those developers are up to speed with what we're doing, so we can start continue hiring even more. What we're starting to see now, is the ability to work on a lot more features at the same time, and even start taking risks in what features we're developing, and invest in sort of high risk-high reward type of projects, where we aren't really sure if they will pay off, but we've got enough people that we can spend a small team  actually trying it out. That's really exciting both in terms of getting to work on those things, but also in terms of the potential that those features can deliver.
RVB: Maybe I can finish off with one question. What is your favorite feature of Neo4j?
TL: My favorite feature?
RVB: Surprised you there, sorry [chuckles].
TL: The … so there’s… I can either go very general and say that I really like the model of the Graph Database, because that's always been the main driving thing behind why I wanted to work on Neo4j, because I really like that model, but I'm not sure that really qualifies as a feature.
RVB: No, it isn't, right.
TL: So, in terms of something smaller, I'd say the Query language. Is that good enough to qualify as a feature? It's a recent thing in terms of if you compare to how long I've been with the company. The Query language hasn't been with product for as long as I have, but it's really nice to see the expressivity and usefulness of it.
RVB: Yeah, I know. I couldn't agree more. Cool. Tobias, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. You know that we want to keep these things nice and short, so I appreciate it. It's been really cool  having you here, and I'm going to be talking to a lot of other colleagues, and people that are working on Neo a lot less long than you have. So, it'll be interesting to compare notes in the next couple of episodes.
TL: Yeah, I'm looking forward to hearing that.
RVB: Absolutely. Thank you so much Tobias , and I"ll talk to you soon.
TL: Thank you.
RVB: Bye.
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