Humans of Computer Systems: Rafael

 Continuing with the Humans of Computer Systems series.

If you enjoy reading this series and like to read more, consider taking 10 minutes and submitting a response. All questions are optional. You can skip most, and tell a lot more on some questions you choose.


How did you learn to program?

When I was 7 my teacher gave me a "My First Computer Book" to read, it was for kids, in the 80s. It taught kids how to program in BASIC and I was hooked.

Tell us about the most interesting/significant piece of code you wrote.

I once implemented the original UNIX filesystem for Linux.

Who did you learn most from about computer systems?

Helpful people on IRC.

Who is the greatest programmer you met, and what is impressive about them?

I don't really know what a great programmer is supposed to be, but I feel like everyone else is better than me at something so I guess... every programmer?

What do you believe are the most important skills to be successful in your field?


What quality or ability do you value most in a computer systems person?

Patience and willingness to explain things.


Which of your work/code/accomplishments are you most proud of?

I think the distributed systems I built when I was studying were pretty darn impressive when I look back and think about it. At least, relatively so, knowing that I did it alone and had very little experience.

What comes to you easy that others find hard? What are your superpowers?

Ooh this is a tough one. Is there anything at all? I mean, I found The Silmarillion riveting but that's neither relevant nor a superpower.

What was a blessing in disguise for you? What seemed like a failure at the time but led to something better later for you?

I don't always see it this way but the environment I live in has very little regard for systems work. Perhaps that drove me to study it even harder.

What do you feel most grateful for?

That I'm still alive.

What does your perfect day look like?

Spending the day adventuring alone, having good food, listening to good music.

What made you most happy in the last year?

Maybe knowing that the COVID vaccines are effective, and give us hope for ending the pandemic.


What was your most interesting/surprising or disappointing interaction at work?

How little co-workers actually _care_ about learning.

What would be the single change that would improve your work environment most?

Moving out of this country. There is little creativity or freedom, I need intellectual growth.


What do you think are the hardest questions in your field?

Can you truly ever make a guarantee of systems reliability? I feel like the answer is "no, but we can make some good ones."

What is your favorite computer systems paper? Why?

Ken Thompson's classic one on Reflections on Trusting Trust. Again, it made me think about reliability guarantees. Another isn't a systems paper per se but Dijkstra wrote a letter called "The Cruelty of Really Teaching Computer Science" and I thought about it a lot while I was in school; just how much of my curriculum was based on "industry needs", and how much did that actually help my learning?

What are the most interesting blogs/twitter accounts you follow?

Adrian Colyer's Morning Paper is fantastic.


Rant your heart out.

I live in a country where systems research is under-valued. Things I've been told by people higher up than me : "Operating systems research is a useless topic." from academia, and "there is no business need for what you're interested in" in industry. Since the pandemic began I've not been working, and instead been reading papers and writing toy operating systems. It's the happiest I've ever been.


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