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Meet the Speakers: Brian Wolfe and Jens Vanderhaeghe from Airbnb

Posted by Jenny Medeiros on Nov 6, 2019 12:45:00 PM
Jenny Medeiros
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It's not every day you get to hear how Airbnb uses Spinnaker from the Airbnb engineers themselves, but that's exactly what's happening at this year's Spinnaker Summit. As the long-awaited event inches closer and the open-source community gets ready to meet in San Diego, we poked Airbnb software engineers, Brian Wolfe and Jens Vanderhaeghe, to tell us a bit more about themselves and give newcomers a better sense of who they'll be meeting this year.

We chatted with the pair over email and got a fascinating glimpse into their backgrounds, interests, their upcoming talk, and who they're most excited to meet at Spinnaker Summit. Read on.


1. Let's start with your backgrounds. What led you to Software Engineering?

Brian: I took an introductory class in college with an incredibly engaging instructor. During office hours, he talked about puzzles and counting the number of states in a Rubik's cube (and writing programs to figure out how many there were). After that, I studied "control theory", wrote software for lab robots, got my PhD in DNA design, wrote software for cleaning robots, and then finally ended up at Airbnb where I've been trying to automate myself out of watching graphs.


Jens: I was born and raised in the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium, then moved to San Francisco in 2013. I've been interested and fascinated by computers since I was a five year old so it was a natural transition. It always felt like the closest thing to magic to me. By age 12, I was running my school's web server and repairing people's desktops. After high-school I decided to pursue a CS degree in college, and the rest is history.

2. What's your favorite thing about your role at Airbnb?


Brian: My coworkers are intelligent, curious, and compassionate. Plus, my CEO genuinely cares about social responsibility and takes action on it.


Jens: I get to make people like me (software engineers) more productive! The code I write is very impactful. Deployment is a critical part to engineering and most engineers at Airbnb will interface with the tools I build on a day-to-day basis. It's very rewarding to walk around the office and see people use the tools I built. It's fun to be balancing the fine line between User Experience, Product Engineering and the more technical Infrastructure Engineering and SRE-type of work.

3. What's your biggest accomplishment so far?

Brian: Found a life partner!

Jens: Took a big gamble when I turned 21 and decided to take the leap across the ocean. Moving to the U.S. with just a small suit-case and the address to my hotel-room, and slowly working my way up over the last six years—then meeting (and now living together) with my girlfriend. Not to mention navigating a foreign language, immigration system, tax system, school & employment system along the way.


4. Important question: what was the last series you binge-watched?


Brian: Hm. I tend to limit my TV watching, but I watched the first 4.5 seasons of Game of Thrones in two days a few years ago.


Jens: I re-watched all of Game Of Thrones after watching the season finale earlier this year. Stopped at the end of season six because I'm still not over the dip in quality in the last two seasons. Currently binging Silicon Valley, which is a very interesting experience, being part of The Valley. Also, Chernobyl.

5. We're excited that you're joining us at this year's Spinnaker Summit! What are you looking forward to the most?

Brian: Meeting the Kubernetes SIG members in person!


Jens: Meeting all of the folks in person! The Spinnaker community mostly communicates through a Slack channel and it'll be nice to be able to meet everyone face-to-face.

6. Why do you think events like Spinnaker Summit are important for the open-source community?


Brian: Discussing projects over a meal (or drink) helps build trust and camaraderie. That is hard to build remotely and asynchronously.


Jens: It makes the community feel more "real". There's something different about seeing all the people in the same room together. It's also a great venue for companies adopting Spinnaker to exchange ideas.


7. In your upcoming session, you'll both be on-stage talking about "scaling a migration to continuous delivery" at Airbnb. What will be the most important takeaway for attendees?

Brian: You can customize Spinnaker to be exactly the tool you want it to be, but it can take a while.


Jens: I think there are a ton of companies out there like Airbnb. They've already adopted existing deployment systems and patterns, and have a hard time figuring out how to transition their process to the next level with Spinnaker. We want to prove that Spinnaker is very flexible and can be adapted to make the transition from your old system into Spinnaker much less jarring.


8. Help a shy attendee out. If someone wants to approach you at the Summit, what's a good ice-breaker they can use?

Brian: Give me some great parenting advice, I'll be a father very soon!


Jens: I like to think that I'm fairly approachable, so anything goes! I'd go with: "What brings you to this conference?" or
"Hey, aren't you Jens from Airbnb?" (for those that might have seen my face plastered over Slack).

Bonus: what's the best way for fellow event-goers to reach you?


Brian: LinkedIn is probably best.


Jens: Email: jens.vanderhaeghe@airbnb.com and Twitter (@jvanderhaeghe).



We're looking forward to meeting both Brian and Jens at this year's Spinnaker Summit, and they hope to see you at their talk (and then probably later over food and a few drinks). To hear a preview of Brian and Jen's talk, check out their DevOps.com podcast episode. To save your spot at the Summit and meet the rest of the community, click below to register now.




Topics: Spinnaker, Interview