February 7, 2014
Meet Alvin Richards, MongoDB’s Technical Director for Performance and Quality.
What is your role at MongoDB?
I’m MongoDB’s Technical Director for Performance and Quality. I work in the engineering department, but my job is cross-functional across all our products. I make sure everything we produce is high quality, acceptable, correct, and performant.
Where were you before MongoDB? Why did you choose to come to MongoDB?
I’ve worked at a variety of small companies and startups. Right out of college I started at Oracle, a little company building this new thing called a relational database. Soon Oracle became the market leader in that space; we’d completely changed how people thought about data. After sixteen years I left to work at a variety of startups and pursue a second degree. When I joined MongoDB, I felt like it was the way Oracle had been in the eighties; we were disrupting the ways people thought about their data. We were fixing areas where relational theory had broken down and now we’re reinventing the industry. I’ve been here for four years and we’ve just only started.
What’s your hometown?
That’s a good question. My heart says San Francisco, but my birth certificate says London. Right now I live in Belmont, California.
Did you have previous experience using MongoDB before you arrived? If so, how are things different now that you work at MongoDB?
My education was Dwight asking me to build a 100-node cluster for a conference in 6 weeks. So it was a baptism of fire in learning the technology, how to deploy something that size on EC2, figuring out LVM versus MD and many other issues. I love we now have a formal education program… but sometimes I think the new employees are missing out on an experience.
Have you had any personal projects where you’ve used MongoDB?
I’m hacking my Linn Magik DS at home. I think I can do better than the Frankenstein set of technologies the vendor thinks I have to use to simply play music over a network.
Bike or public transportation to work?
Electric car. I get to hack the system by being in a car alone and using the carpool lane. That’s California!
What’s a typical day (or week) for you?
We work in a form of organized chaos because we’re developing a new product and disrupting an existing space. You need to be able to think on your feet but keep the mission in mind.
Each day starts with a triage of what happened overnight, covering everything from customer cases, performance runs in the lab, requests from the field or partners. It’s then trying to find the balance of keeping the short term moving but make progress on your strategic goals (i.e. keep your eyes on the prize).
What do you love most about MongoDB?
The people. There were only twelve of us when I joined and now we’re 340. Part of the joy of being here is watching the growth of not only the organization but also the people. New hires mature and take on new roles and opportunities. It’s very exciting to watch.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Solving the next problem. I could say starting as the initial employee in California and building that team from scratch. Then going to Europe for two years and doing the same thing for a whole continent. We had to go to community events, contact existing customers and find new ones, join meetups, and try to figure out what was happening when and where and why. You have to do literally everything. I’m doing the same with my new team, starting from scratch and building in three locations (New York, Palo Alto and Austin) at the same time.
What’s one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had working here so far?
Random people coming up to me after to talk or meetup to tell me that I’ve helped them think through the problems they have been having.
What’s your favorite Seamless lunch order?
BLT from ‘wichcraft
Name one secret skill you have, unrelated to work.
Debugging a 1965 Datsun Fairlady. A rare but critical skill to ownership.
Kindle or book? What’s your favorite book?
Always a book, preferably on a beach. I’m not sure if this is my favorite but I enjoy “Season of Blood” by Fergal Keene immensely.
Describe your perfect weekend.
The kids don’t wake me up too early (they’re 11 and 8). Southampton wins a soccer game. I get to spend time with the family and dog (a 2 year old Hungarian Vizsla). Maybe playing some Apex Twin or Underworld a little too loudly on the turntables.
So what did you get that second degree in?
I graduated with a degree in computer science when I was 19. I worked at Oracle for about 7 or 8 years, and then I realized that tech was here to stay, and I could really do this job for the rest of my life. So I decided to go out and do what I wanted before things got too complicated (worrying about a family, marriage, etc.) I got a degree in photography, then went off to travel the world and take photos. I did a lot of work for the IRCR (International Committee of the Red Cross). They were fun times and a great way to collect stories to tell the grandchildren, but the bug of technology was never far away for me.
If you're interested in joining the MongoDB Team there many open positions available in Engineering, Sales, Marketing, and Business Development. To learn more about open roles at MongoDB, please visit the MongoDB Careers Page.