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Bratislava

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I spent some time last week in Bratislava to sort out some issues with the consolidated backup environment for our Slovakian colleagues. We had some successful meetings and I could finally place a face behind some names. Meeting people face-to-face is so much better than electronic conversations.

Bratislava is a nice little city, with some Austrian accents. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time to do much sightseeing, but I did find an Irish bar in the old town center. As it was St-Patrick day, the place was however too crowded to even consider staying there for a long time. Luckily for me, the other pub had a fine array of single malts too :)

Prague, part 2

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Last month, I visited Prague, Czechia, to see if we could assist our colleagues from CSOB in moving their myriad of backup solutions towards one global environment. As many questions remained unanswered (and a bunch more popped up) after the first visit, we realized we needed much more information. So last Tuesday and Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful city again. The two days were mostly filled up with an exhausting meeting marathon, but I think it was worth the trouble.

This also meant we could spent some time on sightseeing the city. It seems that Prague is one of Europe's best-preserved cities. It's filled with sumptuous Art Nouveau facades, offers tons of cheap Mozart and Vivaldi, and is home of the well-known lager beer in Europe. Prague's focal point is the Old Town Square, a market square since the 11th century. Today the old-time market stalls have been replaced by cafés, touristy horse buggies, and souvenir hawkers, but the square — ringed by pastel buildings — is still beautiful. Facing the square is the towering 14th-century Tyn Church, with its fanciful spires almost a fairy-tale castle. The pointed 250-foot spire rising from the square marks the 14th-century Old Town Hall, famous for its astronomical clock. Join the gang for the striking of the hour on the 15th-century clock featuring revolving disks, celestial symbols, and sweeping hands.

Charles Bridge is a famous historical bridge that crosses the Vltava river, which used to be the most important connection between the Old Town and Prague Castle. The bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge but has been the "Charles Bridge" since 1870. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, erected around 1700.

Looming atop the hill is Prague Castle, the roost of Czech rulers for over a thousand years. It's huge (by some measures, the biggest castle on earth) and exhausting in its own way, as the many stairs to the top are a hard nut to crack. The persisting tourist is rewarded with a splendid view over the old city (and a cool lager in the pub at the end of the stairs).

Prague

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I've spent last Wednesday in Prague, Czechia, to see if we could assist our colleagues from CSOB in moving their myriad of backup solutions towards one global environment. I really liked the technical discussions, and it's always fun to discuss different solutions with enthusiast people.
We didn't had the chance to stay longer in Prague, but it sure looks interesting enough for a longer visit.

Seat information

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If you're a frequent flyer, this might be handy : Luchtzak.be has a nice information page of SN Brussels Airlines & Thomas Cook Airlines, offering seat maps of their different airplane models. That way, you know immediately what seat you got, and if there's need to log in to the website to change seats.
The site also offers other pages, like Airline Meals alike, with some food information & pictures.

My Google job interview

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2008 hasn't been kind to us, to put it mildly. But dark pages in the book of life come and go; I prefer any day a noisy line on the happiness scale above a flatline, it makes the ride so much more interesting. But I have experienced that in every dark period, there's a turnkey event, which clears up the dark skies, or at least restores my hope in the future. Knowing that these events *will* happen, no matter how grim the present is, makes life much more bearable. I guess this is what the elder people call 'life experience'.

This is the tale of such an event.

About two months ago, I got contacted by Google, if I wasn't interested in working for their Unix team. Working at Google. Wow. I'm quite happy with my current job, and I don't feel the need of working elsewhere, but this is G-O-O-G-L-E. You don't say no against Google.
Apparently, they had hit my resume online, and were impressed by my profile. But I wrote them an email back, saying that I had another type of work currently. Basically, I was telling them I didn't feel qualified. And I got a friendly email back, basically saying : 'Let us be the judge of that.'.

So I agreed in setting up an interview by telephone with someone from the San Francisco Bay area. This interview was a conventional job interview, in which I was asked to tell about my current job (I deliberately didn't emphasize on my Unix skills), and what my field interest in working at Google might be. We both agreed that a function as Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) fitted me the best, as this matched my current job and interests the most. The interview ended with 4 technical questions, from which any well-seasoned Unix veteran should be able to get at least 3 questions good.

I was approved, it seemed, and I would be going through the standard job application routine, which consists of 2 in-depth technical phone interviews and -if all went well- a half day visit to the European Googleplex in Dublin. I was also advised in brushing up on my computer science skills, which made me kinda panicking. Surely, I was trained in computer science, but my university days are almost 15 years ago.

So I decided to start studying. Hard. On a university level. I rebrushed TCP/IP, cause that was the area which I was most rusty in. I studied about the OSI model, TCP, SYN/ACK handshakes and made myself comfortable with tcp dumps. I rebrushed on Linux programming, syscalls and signals, filesystem layouts, and basic operation system concepts like CPU scheduling, threads and memory management. I revised basic algorithms and ways how to predict the throughput time. Data structures like B-trees, hashes and graph theory are indispensable for any decent programmer, so I studied them as well. I decided to skip Perl, object-oriented programming and advanced statistics and probability, as time was rather limited. For those who are interested, these are the study books I used :

- Beginning Linux programming, 4th edition, Wrox
- Handbook of data structures and applications, Chapman & Hall
- Beginning Algorithms, Wrox
- Operating System concepts, 6th edition, Wiley & sons
- Internetworking with TCP/IP, Prentice Hall

The first technical interview was with a programmer from the bay area. I got very in-depth questions about Linux and system programming problems. Any solution I proposed, got thoroughly revised, and I was asked to increase the performance of every solution I presented. It was a very difficult interview, but entertaining and stimulating in some weird way. I didn't felt good by the overall outcome of the interview, but the next day, I got an email that they got positive feedback, and a second phone interview was scheduled two weeks later.

The second phone interview was with a sysadmin from Dublin, and asked me more conceptual questions about networking and Perl, up to the point were I had to create a monster of a 3-line regexp in order to solve a problem. Overall, I had the impression that I performed this very well. However, I was very nervous during the second interview. It is not easy to think aloud about a difficult problem, while some little voice inside your head is screaming "OMFG, I'm being interviewed by Google !".

It took three agonizing weeks to receive feedback from this latest interview.

Anyhow...

I didn't get the job.

I still don't understand what went wrong. Maybe my nerves killed me, maybe I encountered the job interview anti-loop (read Steve Yegge's "Get that job at Google"), maybe I wasn't qualified after all. Oh well. Still shame, I really would have liked an interview at the Googleplex, or even better, working at Google in Dublin.

What did I learn from all this ? Possibilities are endless : one day you're down and out in Belgium, the next day you're applying at a brilliant company in Dublin. The sky is the limit. I'm an excellent Unix admin. And I'm determined to get even better. Smarter. Faster.

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