A Conversation with Boris Faure, Builder of ‘Bridges’

Boris Faure

Boris Faure, Tech Lead at Scality

Boris Faure, Tech Lead of the connectors team in the Paris office, may be unassuming in his mannerisms but he is widely recognized for his unique and valuable contributions, whether it’s coming up with innovative features and solutions, his willingness to advocate for his fellow developers’ needs, or the outstanding quality of his work. No matter the circumstances, you can count on Boris to stay calm and focused on the issue at hand. His reassuring, positive presence is appreciated by all who work with him. “He always has a smiling face and he’s pretty calm. I’ve never seen him angry,” remarks Anh Nguyen-Phuoc, Director of Software Engineering. It is in this calm spirit that Boris deftly handles the many problems faced by him and his team. “He’s good at managing the gap between the current reality and the objective,” Anh says. “He takes a difficult problem into account and then comes up with different pathways to solving it in order to deliver the best quality.” Boris talked with me about the passion he has for his work, traveling and good wine.

JW:      How did you end up getting into programming?

BF:      I was always interested in math. I wanted to be a math teacher when I was younger, and then later  I wanted to construct bridges. Then I taught myself how to program. It started with a simple website, and then I learnt how to do animated graphics, and then I wanted to learn more about computers.

JW:      Do you have a favorite bridge?

BF:      Perhaps the Viaduc de Millau. My father went there for his work when it was being built. I think that’s why I’m especially impressed by this bridge in particular.

JW:      When it comes to your job, what do you most enjoy?

BF:      There are many aspects I enjoy. In terms of my solo work, I like tackling challenging issues.

I find it very fulfilling when the issue is not so easy to solve. Then there’s working for the team, with the team; for example, trying to make everyone’s work flow more efficient so they don’t feel overly stressed, or arguing for developers’ needs when necessary.

JW:      Despite your quiet personality, you’re known for not being afraid to suggest improvements and new features. Have you always been outspoken about your ideas?

BF:      Something I’ve heard people say is, ‘When Boris says something, it must be important. He doesn’t speak up for nothing.’ And that’s the truth.  When I speak to someone about something, it’s because I’ve thought about it a lot beforehand and I think it should be done.

JW:      Do you think it’s important that developers feel free to speak up and be listened to?

BF:      Oh sure, it’s very important. We all have different backgrounds and we have very different perspectives and visions. The issues and improvements that each of us sees are different.

JW:      Do you have a personal philosophy that you try to follow at work?

BF:      I try to approach my work as though I were the future developer who’ll face whatever bug I’m currently working on. I try to make it so that 3 years from now, if someone has to go back to an issue I worked on—and it might be myself!—they won’t have to complain about ‘that guy who wrote this thing.’ That means always documenting everything I do clearly. That way, bugs are easier to understand and fix and it probably leads to fewer bugs in the end. It’s a win-win!

Basically I try to work in a way where I can be proud of what I do. I know that doing mediocre work will lead me or someone else in a few months or in a year to go back to it and maybe even rewrite it from scratch. So it’s just a waste of time. I prefer to do it well from the start.

JW:      I guess what you ‘build’ with code is not unlike things that are physically built, except that with the latter you can visually see and understand how it was built. Hence the need for good documentation with coding, right?

BF:      Well actually, I’m glad we don’t build bridges the way we build software! With software we can go back and fix mistakes, while with infrastructure, you cannot do that. Structural engineering has a lot more rules (and also the laws of physics) that limit how things can be done, while we developers have more freedom and creativity. But it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this creativity allows us to solve issues however we want to, but on the other, there aren’t clear rules that would assure a certain level of quality.

JW:      What do you think is important when it comes to communicating with others in the workplace?

BF:      I try to put myself in their shoes. I try to understand what their needs are and their reasons for making a request. I think this adds a positive quality to the conversation and leads to a better outcome.

JW:      You’re also known as someone who’s really good at staying calm in tense situations. How do you keep your cool so well?

BF:      It’s a defensive move for me actually. When there’s a conflict, I tend to step back and let it calm down by itself. The main thing I think is to not escalate the problem and instead try to lower the temperature. Keep your emotions outside the conflict.

I was born at the end of the year, so I was always one of the youngest children in my classroom. Maybe that’s the reason I’m like this. I couldn’t compete with others based on size and strength.

The other thing that helps is doing yoga. I’ve been doing it at Scality for 3 years or so. It’s really brought a sense of calm to me. At the end of the session, the mind is quiet, so that’s really something I enjoy.

JW:      What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

BF:      I spend some time working on collaborative open source projects. I helped write an application called Terminology. It was started by someone in Korea and I was interested in it so I started hacking around and fixing things. I ended up becoming the lead developer.

JW:      What other interests do you have?

BF:      I enjoy taking care of my plants. My apartment is like a small jungle, and I have some cherry tomatoes, flowers, and other plants on my balcony. This morning I noticed that one of my clivia flowers has started blooming. That kind of thing makes me happy.

JW:      I know you do a trip abroad about once a year. What are a couple of places you’ve visited that made an impression on you?

BF:      My last big trip was to Iceland. The scenery there is so different from anywhere else on the planet. You could almost imagine you were on the moon. There were no houses for kilometers around and the nature was just incredible. There are volcanoes, which are black or red, and then mosses of different colors like yellow and green.

The other place I really enjoyed was the Lofoten Islands in Norway. There are mountains that rise up from the sea, so you start climbing up from sea level. The nature there is just wonderful. What was also amazing was since I was there in July, there was no night. If you woke up at 3am, you couldn’t tell whether it was day or night. It was very confusing, but that’s what makes holidays enjoyable for me, being in a totally different place.

JW:      You’re known around Scality for being a bit of a wine expert. How did you come to have this passion for wine, aside from being French?

BF:      I grew up in this village called Vougeot in Burgundy where there’s the Clos de Vougeot, which has a wine knighthood of sorts called Les Chevaliers du Tastevin. There’s an initiation ceremony where they knight you, not with a sword but with a grapevine. And they say something like, “From Bacchus, god of wine, you are now a knight of the ‘tâte-vin’.” So I grew up with this kind of folklore around me and with vineyards right outside my garden.

JW:      Do you have a favorite wine?

BF:      There’s a Burgundy wine that I really enjoy from a village called Chambolle-Musigny, just north of where I lived. It’s called Les Amoureuses because the dirt there tends to stick to your boots. So I really enjoy the name and the story, and of course the wine is really good.

JW:      Have you ever done any wine-making?

BF:      Well actually, my grandfather had a small vineyard, not in Burgundy but in central France. It was not a great wine—drinkable, but not more than that. But he really enjoyed doing it. And every year my family would help with the harvest. It was a fun family event.

JW:      Can you imagine yourself devoting your life to wine in a more serious manner?

BF:      Maybe someday, but first of all, it’s pretty expensive to buy a vineyard. I guess it’s something I could dream of—being in nature and having nature as a guide and teacher. But I’m not sure I would actually enjoy doing things like going out in the vineyard when it’s freezing or snowing in winter and so on. It’s not such easy work. It’s more comfortable to work with computers.

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