Software systems to innovate and grow

Episode 25

Relocating for work with Alex Castillo

Show Details

Today we have Alex Castillo on the show, and we’re going to be chatting about his transition coming from New York City all the way to California in chase of a dream job.

He’s now working at NetFlix, and we’re going to be chatting about some of the day-to-day things that he’s doing at NetFlix, but also some of the aspects of his transition and I think a few key areas that had made it better for him, or easier, that Netflix has been a part of, which I think is really important for everybody who’s interested in basically moving to another part of the country or employers who are interested in hiring people from other parts of the country.

So without further ado, let’s welcome Alex.

Show Transcript

Carlos: Welcome to Tech People, where real life tech partitioners share their work experiences.

Hello and welcome to another episode. Today we have Alex Castillo on the show, and we’re going to be chatting about his transition coming from New York City all the way to California in chase of a dream job. He’s now working at NetFlix, and we’re going to be chatting about some of the day-to-day things that he’s doing at NetFlix, but also some of the aspects of his transition and I think a few key areas that had made it better for him, or easier, that Netflix has been a part of, which I think is really important for everybody who’s interested in basically moving to another part of the country or employers who are interested in hiring people from other parts of the country. So without further ado, let’s welcome Alex!

Carlos: Alex, thank you so much for coming on the show. How are you doing today?

Alex: I’m doing great. Thank you! How are you?

Carlos: Doing good, doing good, so you know, I’ll be looking forward for having you on the show for a while.

Alex: Thank you! I’m very honored to be here.

Carlos: Alright, so Alex, you’ve been travelling a lot for conferences and stuff. Tell me a little bit about that. Where have you been and what conferences?

Alex: Yeah. So, I’ve been going to conferences mostly to talk about a project that I called Neuro JavaScript that I can tell you about. But I’ve been so far this year to Utah, I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Spain. I did talk about it in New York in a couple of places including the United Nations, and the Microsoft Office. I think I have one more talk and this one is going to be in Singapore later this year.

Carlos: That’s very very cool. Alright, so, for those who don’t know you. Tell me a little bit about your background, and how did you end up in tech?

Alex: My background. Yes, I’ve been doing software for a long time but it really started when I was 15 years old, and I was just creating websites just for fun. I had a band back then and I wanted to, you know, kind of like have a press and so. It was more like a hobby fun kind of thing, and then it kind of evolved when I started getting people to ask for like favors, “Can you build a website for me??, until it kind of became a business. My background, I guess I did go to college for design so most of my engineering skills I got through time by just building projects, and just self taught, and you know, by just working on things. But pretty much, I’ve been working for, I did work for an agency for a few years, two or three in New York. And after that, I switched to a more product like environment where I worked for Grubhub and now, Netflix.

Carlos: So at some point, and I know that this is, you told me this in the pre-interview was that you, at some point you had kind of a fork in the way where you could choose design versus engineering. What make you picked the engineering part? Or the, it’s like some, it reminded me by the way of The Matrix, the blue or the red pill.

Alex: Yeah, so I was first out of college and I was looking for a job in New York and I wasn’t really thinking what I wanted to do. You know, I was just putting my skills and just applying for some jobs I looked interested in. At the end, when I had to make a decision, I could choose between being a designer for an agency or a software engineer. To be honest, I really like solving problems, but one of the big things that I took into consideration was the environment and the type of people. And I don’t say it because of the interim, just saying because of these companies, you know, and what I was exposed to. So, I had really great interview process at DOOR3, and it felt like the right thing, and I still don’t regret it.

Carlos: That’s awesome. So, you work for Netflix which really needs no introduction. But where in Netflix do you work, and what does the group do, and what are you directly responsible for?

Alex: Yeah, sure. So, I work for the devices org. In my team in particular is the partner platform. And what we do is that we create and work on the infrastructure to allow Netflix to be run on any device on the market. And we’re talking about smart TVs, phones, tablets, game consoles, setup boxes. So my team works on applications and services that support all of these ongoing processes for partners to be able to put Netflix on all of their devices.

Carlos: So explain a little bit up on that so, you guys are working on the software itself of the devices or you guys are working with the hardware, or the SDK. I’m just curious. That sounds super interesting.

Alex: Yeah, so at Netflix we touch everything and there are teams that definitely, mostly the one that work on the, let’s say the SDK. The ones doing testing they have to touch both hardware and software. My team in particular works on the software so we take the Netflix SDK and we allow for partners to, and we also help partners to install that SDK, and our platform basically enables big part of that process. So a lot of things that happen before Netflix gets to the actual end user.

Carlos: Got you. One of the things that I wanted to touch on today is, so, there might be a lot of people that are in the similar situation as yours where they might be considering moving from one side of the country to the other, like you move literally from one end to the other. And I think it would be interesting to talk a little bit more about that. What’s been the hardest thing about that? Has it, have you found that. I’ll let you answer that. What’s been the hardest thing and what’s been kind of the best thing about it?

Alex: Yeah, so I recently relocated from New York City to San Jose, California. And definitely, you know, there’s a lot of things involved in a relocation process including wrapping things on. Let’s say where you’re moving from, the apartment, if you have a lease, things like that, and of course finishing off what you have with your other job. One of the things that I really like is that Netflix has made it very easy for me. They pretty much took care of everything, from New York to the West Coast. Well, I guess the biggest thing is kind of like I didn’t have to drive. More like the 8 years that I lived in New York, only if I had to, you know, like go upstairs or something. But day to day I didn’t have to drive. So now, I’m like driving everyday but the weather here is amazing so, that’s definitely one of the things that I really like. The people are nice. It has been a great experience so far.

Carlos: So what sort of, if any employer out there is. I think it would be valuable to share with them some of the pluses that you’ve, or some of the good things. And we don’t have to go into details but at a high level, what, if you could itemize. What are some of the positive things that you’ve experienced let’s say with Netflix that other employers might take into consideration when hiring somebody from another part of the country and having to relocate them? What do you think has played into your, into having a good experience.

Alex: I think it’s the fact that Netflix was very aware of anything I would go through during this process. They are very experienced. They move people from all over the world so, small things like temporary housing and temporary car rental they help a lot because they take away one more problem. Also small things like they gave me a two day tour of the like Silicon Valley area, and show some apartments just to help me find a place. So in general, it’s really putting yourself in the shoes of the person that’s going to be relocated, and thinking how can we make this transition as smooth as possible. For temporary housing, temporary car rental, apartment tour and one of the things that I really enjoyed was just that my team took me out for lunch so I could like meet everyone in an environment outside of the office, and that was great.

Carlos: In terms of ramping up and I think this is something that you and I talk a little bit on. What has that been like? So I think one of the biggest fear of somebody in your position of going into a large company might be, “Well, I know what I know how to do but I don’t want to disappoint anybody?, right? Like you’ve now got somewhat of a price tag. You’ve got to prove your worth, right? How’s your experience being in terms of ramping up? What sort of, and you don’t have to tell those in details, but give us an idea of the assets or the process that you’ve had to ramp up, and maybe that something that we can learn from.

Alex: Yeah, so part of ramping up involves really being exposed to the technologies that Netflix uses that talking about like this Tag and let’s say Node. I was very comfortable with Node and there are a lot of Node services going on in Netflix. So just being exposed to the technologies that you’re going to be working with, and also let’s say Angular. I already have, you know, significant amount of experience with Angular so I felt like we’re at home. Like all the tools, let’s say Jenkins and just like everything felt very familiar to my previous job. And one of the things that I really appreciate is that at Netflix there is an engineering boot camp where they actually walk you through how to spin your, let’s say your service with continuous integration and with multi data centers and like the whole shabag. And they just walk you through that and make sure that you kind of know the paved road. That’s what Netflix call it. It’s like the way that they’ve proven things and that they know they have the most amount of information about. So lots of resources, lots of documents to read to ramped up but I would say mostly is that the technologies and the tools I felt is right at home.

Carlos: So you mentioned Angular and I know that you’re pretty big on Angular. How have you been involved with the community and I know that you’ve known the community and also you’ve contributed to Angular. Tell me a little bit about how did you get started with that? What were your first steps to get into that world?

Alex: I think it was back in 2012. I was working for DOOR3 and we were kind of like doing research. I was task with like picking the right tool for the job. And I checked a lot of frameworks. Angular was one of them and back then Angular was not as big as it was today. It was actually, it wasn’t a big deal, right, but it was out there. So I gave it a try and I really liked it. My first impression was that this thing is great. So I’ve tried to build a lot of projects with Angular, let’s say probably over ten or more. I kind of like had this realization that I was borrowing a lot of peoples work. We are talking about thousands and thousands of like main hours of. Not only the Angular team but also people that were working on this third party modules that I was using. And I kind of have felt that I wanted to be part of something like that. I also wanted to give back so I started just giving talks. And about Angular, I was invited to the Angular meet up in New York but then things got a little bit more, let’s say, real when it comes to contributing when I was accepted to speak at NG Conf earlier this year. So to be honest one of, I started contributing to Angular 2.0 when I fixed some bugs. I remember one of them was related to the Shadow DOM. But I think my biggest contribution is probably that I wanted all the people to contribute as well so I created a program called “ng-contrib?. And I gave a workshop at NG Conf. I gave a small talk just to show people that it is not as intimidating as it seems. I tried to like break down the process of contributing from like walking you through how to setup your environment to made request and follow-up from there on. So those are the things that I’ve been getting involved with Angular. And after that we now been given talks about let’s say data visualizations in Angular 2.0 and have contributed one third party module for Angular 2.0 for a native push notifications.

Carlos: So you’re very big in Angular 2.0. What do you know about like the Angular implementation at Netflix? Is Angular 2.0 implementation to be specific, is Netflix, do you see it going there? Do you see Angular 2.0 in the future?

Alex: So Netflix has, part of the culture is freedom and responsibility which means that you can choose the tools that you want and you are accountable for it, you know, and responsibility to basically deliver using what you think is the right decision. Angular 2.0 is an amazing platform and I’ve been using this since like the beta versions, and now recently the actual version 2.0 final. And I can see tons of value in Angular 2.0 and I can see tons of value using Angular 2.0 at Netflix. And again, you know, having people that also are able to see that and by using, you know, the freedom and responsibility culture at Netflix I can definitely see that potentially happening in some of the projects. There is definitely some Angular 1.0 today.

Carlos: That’s very cool. And I know that you’re very big on, and we talked about this at the beginning of the podcast this Neuro JavaScript. Is it a framework? How do you describe it and tell me a little bit more about it. What is it about?

Alex: Yeah, so, Neuro JavaScript. Neuro JavaScript is a project that I started working on that is basically using JavaScript to support Neurotechnologists to basically try to understand the human brain a little better, right. So, I’ve been working with OpenBCI which is a company that has created an open source EEG headset that allows you to basically capture brain waves. And I’m using Node, the OpenBCI SDK and Angular 2.0 to right now visualize brain waves in real time in the browser. And you know, people of course ask, “What can you do with it? I mean can you start like controlling things?. And the sure answer is like in the future. Yeah. We will be able to interpret some of these electrical signals and make sense out of it.

Carlos: Wow!

Alex: Applies to machine learning probably. Right now, I’m in the first phase which is visualization. I want to be able to see what I’m dealing with before I started experimenting and trying to interpret. So I’ve been kind of like evangelizing and going to multiple places and expose people to this idea which I think is great to be able to take JavaScript, the skill that so many people have, and use it for something that could potentially impact so many industries including, you know, the medical industry.

Carlos: That’s very very interesting which actually leads to my next question. So right now you just started at Netflix of course so you’re relatively new. You’ve been there for what now? Two months?

Alex: Yeah, two months now.

Carlos: About two months. What is in store for your future? And I ask this, you know, other engineers that are, that could reflect themselves kind of, in your kind of level experience and years in working. You’re a senior engineer now at Netflix but where do you see your career going? What are you envisioning and how do you intend to get there?

Alex: Oh, wow, very difficult question. So let me give it a try. Where do I see myself in the future? I want to say that when I see myself in the future I want to see me still solving difficult problems that are going to add value to the organization that I’m in, Netflix. And I want to be able to take things to the next level and make sure that that experience of making Netflix ready, or making devices Netflix ready it’s definitely the best experience any partner could ever have.

Carlos: That’s so great.

Alex: And, you know, when it comes to Neuro JavaScript I want to be moving things with my mind.

Carlos: That’s awesome. Alright, we’ll have three last questions for you. Oh, actually I think we’ve got two left. What’s the book you would recommend and you could recommend more than one. What’s, maybe a couple of books you would recommend to our listeners?

Alex: I would say that my favorite book so far has been One Simple Idea by Stephen Key. And that is because I have a very big passion for product development. And Stephen Key basically works you through how to get a simple idea, doesn’t matter how simple, to basically the market, and how to work with licensing, and how to those patent the process work and all that. And since I’ve been to that process myself I really appreciate it all the insights I could get from this book. So I have read it a couple of times and probably would read it again. Another book I started reading as I started speaking more in public is Talk Like Ted. It helps a lot to know from people with a lot of experience to tell you a lot of the things that you should consider in order to give a successful talk. And I’ve been using those techniques in my talks to try to do the best work that I can.

Carlos: If you can send me those, the link to the last one so that we can share that on the show notes. So if you ran into yourself right back when you’re in the decision making moment between design and engineering. What would you advice yourself to, you know, I was, you’ve seen where you’ve been. You learned what you learned. What would you tell yourself?

Alex: I would say, keep doing what you’re doing which is basically doing both even though more engineer on the professional side. I kept doing design for site projects for friends, and even just for like my dad for example. I used we have back in New York. So those skills, they complement each other in an incredible way. And I think part of my success is because I understand user experience. And I try to apply those principles in software engineering. So I guess big picture advice is that, of course, the more knowledge you have the better. But those two in particular they complement each other in an industry that is, you know, where amazing things are happening.

Carlos: Alright Alex, this has been an amazing interview. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. But I still have one, the last and the most important question for you. How can people find you, find your work, find Neuro JavaScript and if you’re the one to get in touch? How do they do it?

Alex: You can go to my website which is www.castillo.io. In there you can find my work and also I have blog post about Neuro JavaScript and some of the things I’ve been working on.

Carlos: Alright, well this has been another episode. Alex, I want to thank you so much for your time today.

Alex: Thank you so much Carlos!

Carlos: I really look forward to seeing you soon.

Alex: Likewise, thank you so much.

Carlos: Thank you! Bye bye.