Conversation with Benjamin Allot
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Benjamin Allot, Senior Linux Sysadmin/DevOps and Tech Lead is known for his superb dedication to his work and to his colleagues. “He never gives up,” says Thomas Danan, Software Development Director. “When there’s an issue, he works all day long to find a solution. And not just any solution, but the best one.” Benjamin also uses his valuable insights to guide the design and development of the setup framework such that the customers’ experience and ease of use with Scality’s products are enhanced. “He contributes a lot of effort on both the engineering and technical services side to make sure the customer is happy at the end,” Thomas reveals. Although the transversal nature of Benjamin’s work often means extra hours dedicated to complex problem-solving, you won’t hear any complaints from him. “Sometimes I tell Benjamin that he works too much,” Thomas confides. “But he always says that he can’t do it any other way because he loves it.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Benjamin about the unique role he plays at Scality and how he wishes to expand on it in future.
JW: You’re an alumni of Epitech, so it seems you knew from early on that you wanted to work in IT. What prompted you to go in this direction?
BA: Actually before entering Epitech, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I’d wanted to be a chemist, but I completely disliked the chemistry program in my 2nd year of high school. In my last year of high school, a classmate told me about Epitech. When he explained Epitech’s principle and the possibilities in IT, I decided to go and visit. That’s when I felt like, ‘OK, this is what I want to do.’ At the time, it was a gamble because you wouldn’t get an official diploma. But I liked the idea of a practical, hands-on education where you’re graded on the result of your projects.
JW: Had you had experience with programming before Epitech?
BA: Not programming per se. I’d spent time on logic games and checked out Linux, but I was really far behind compared to other students at Epitech. But I was also really excited because it opened many things to me and I realized how vast IT was and how much you could do with a computer.
My first year was really hard because I had to do a lot of catching up. For every single assignment, I had to do twice the amount of work as others. I barely slept. I barely took any vacations. As a result, going to work still feels like a vacation to me, even after 10 years!
JW: Starting at Scality represented a change in direction for you, career-wise. Can you tell me about that?
BA: I was a UNIX sysadmin in the banking and insurance industries, and after ten years I looked back and thought, ‘OK I miss the creation aspect of developing stuff. I want to make a change.’ I’d only worked in big companies so I chose Scality. I had three job offers to choose from and I picked the start-up because I wanted to be able to work on something that was close to my area of knowledge but also allow me to put a foot in developing.
JW: Do you feel your past career experience gives you unique insight in your work now?
BA: I think it’s my biggest contribution to Scality. I can foresee what the customer will need without being told, just because I lived it for ten years. My forte is not my developing skills, but rather more my ideas regarding what we should do and how we should do it. I’m a thinker about the solutions but I’m not yet skilled enough to implement them myself, which is what I currently find most frustrating!
This kind of ability is needed to bring solutions from the development stage to the production stage. With a broad picture, you can assess more clearly the customer’s needs and then some of the development can be influenced by that. However, the people in my team are the real heroes at the end of the day because they make it happen.
JW: Other than this insight and experience from your past jobs, are there any other elements required to do your job well?
BA: Never give up. Be stubborn when you think you’re right. When you’re not able to find the source of a problem, it can be easy to say, “OK, I give up.” I never do that…which can be a problem because it means my work tends to stack up!
JW: Now that you’re in a different part of the IT field, would you say you’ve gained a different perspective?
BA: Yes indeed. Even if I’m not developing much, I’m still surrounded by developers. So now I better understand the constraints developers have. When I was a sysadmin, I did my fair share of ranting about bad development and design! But at the same time, I realize that developers don’t usually use what they develop. I think it’s my job to make the link between the two sides.
JW: What would you describe as a great day for you?
BA: I’m really enthusiastic about learning new things. I’m never afraid to learn new things. So a typical good day for me would be to be able to work peacefully on new technologies that I’m not familiar with—discovering new things and experimenting with them. That would be a perfect day for me.
JW: Do you have a guiding philosophy at work?
BA: To be honest I feel pretty ashamed when someone whom I’m supporting is stuck because I neglected to think of something. So I try to imagine all the possible scenarios that can result from any given situation, and I won’t be satisfied if I don’t have at least one way to mitigate each of these. I want to at least try and think up a solution for every hypothetical situation.
JW: You just had a second baby in February. I imagine you must be very busy with family stuff. Do you still have time to pursue any hobbies or interests?
BA: At the cost of my sleep, yes.
I participate in a weekly interclub badminton competition. I used to play video games a lot, but I don’t really play anymore because I don’t have the time. But I still follow e-sports on Twitch or YouTube.
If I’m not doing that then I’m reading. For the past month, I’ve been picking up manga again. I’m reading a very interesting one called Kingdom, which is a historical fiction that takes place in ancient China. I’m also reading a tech book about Kubernetes.
I used to do rock and roll dancing, but I don’t have the time anymore.
JW: That’s a pretty unique hobby! How did you get into that?
BA: My parents used to dance and I liked watching them. I started going to free lessons and then summer dance events on the quay of the Seine every week. Some of us at Epitech created an association called EpiRock and every weekend we had lessons with a guy who had participated in the French championship.
JW: If you could have a second profession, what would you be?
BA: A chef. I like to cook, and I like to eat and drink. My mother and father are both really good cooks and they transmitted that to me.
JW: Is there any particular dish that’s been passed down in your family?
BA: Yes, chocolate cake. It’s a special recipe. Not light at all! There’s a fair amount of sugar, eggs, chocolate, butter…everything. I used to make it a lot when I was younger and bring it to parties.
JW: What new challenges are you looking forward to taking on, both at work and in your personal life?
BA: At work, I want to develop more and be more proficient in that. I want to be able to be an example for my team in this aspect. My other goal is to learn the technologies that I’ve been interested in for a few years now that I haven’t had the time to learn. So I’m actually starting with Kubernetes. Another one is Ansible, which is one of the skills needed for our new product. And more open source-oriented stuff.
In my personal life, I want to be at home more and try to have more time to create memories with my kids.
I once tried an obstacle course called ‘The Mud Day’ with Maxim, Jean Baptiste, and a friend of mine. It was a really great experience, but I totally overestimated myself! I finished it but in my opinion it was a failure. So I would like to train for it and take it on again.
I’m bad at running so I would like to try to overcome this by taking part in running events.
JW: Do you mean some kind of competition that involves running?
BA: Yes. I cannot hide the fact that I’m a competitive guy! If I do it, I do it to win! Even if it’s just winning against myself. No half-measures for me.