Featured Engineer

Interview with Kowsik Guruswamy

Kowsik Guruswamy

Kowsik Guruswamy - Spirent Communications

How did you get into engineering and when did you start?
My first computer (a hand-me-down from my brother) was a Casio PB-110 with a whopping 544 bytes of memory and a 12-character display. I learned how to program in (cryptic) BASIC and had to retype programs each time since there was no external storage. From there, I taught myself other languages, tools and technologies along the way.

Tell us a bit about your educational and work background
My undergraduate degree from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappali, was in mechanical engineering, though I spent many late nights in the computer science labs. I got my master’s in computer science from University of Louisiana. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after I got my master’s, and since then, my career has taken me through a diverse set of industries, including computer graphics, information visualization, network and application security, SaaS, and cloud and application Performance. I love the cross pollination of ideas across industries and I’m fortunate to be an executive with a vantage point to connect completely unrelated ideas in unique and radical ways.

What was your favorite course in college?
Computer graphics, networking, and operating systems were top of mind for me, though I managed to convince the school to let me take piano 101 lessons (though they didn’t apply towards my credits).

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?
MacBook Pro :) Seriously though, despite having built hardware products in the past, my passion is in software.

What are your favorite software tools that you use?
My favorite editors are Vim and TextMate, GitHub for source code, Heroku for running quick experiments and Campfire for collaboration. I am a Rubyist at heart, but strongly believe in a polyglot app-development model for picking the right language for the right problem. In terms of IT infrastructure, I am a huge proponent of the cloud, SaaS, DevOps and programmable infrastructures. In general, I am a fan of any software/tool that is designed with the principle of “least surprise” in mind.

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?
As the saying goes, my bugs are usually user errors. :)

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?
While designing a product from end to end, I tend to (programmatically) sketch a lot, leaving intentional placeholders and reducing the product to its bare essence so I can get to see what the whole product looks and feels like. In other words, I build a complete, minimally viable product that can be used to gauge its potential. This allows for very rapid prototyping, pivoting and changing direction since not all the placeholders are filled out. My other favorite trick is to embrace the backspace key – assume that the prototype needs to be rewritten three times, which allows you to relax and find the logical right solution instead of being wedded to the initial idea or implementation.

What has been your favorite project?
Lately it’s http://blitz.io, a multi-tenant SaaS offering for enterprises looking to understand the performance of their apps on the cloud.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?
My note-worthy experience has been in architecting and building http://blitz.io. Blitz is a team of a few developers with no dedicated IT, Q/A or support. We’ve had to unlearn many things and learn new ones to build and operate a service completely in the cloud. I would highly recommend any developer take a stab at getting involved in or building a SaaS, since it brings about certain operational experiences that balance the ideologies that many developers carry in their mind, such as direct customer engagement, continuous integration, operations, marketing and a host of other qualities typically not found in traditional software development.

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