On the second floor of Box, not too far from my desk, there is a conference room named Le Serpent. Like all the other conference rooms titles at Box, the name has some significance. In the early days of Box, the employees used to live and work in the same building. One day a engineer walked into the room where everyone slept and cried out "Le serpent! Le serpent!" because he found a snake there. This young engineer was Frenchman Florian Jourda, who is now a Principal Architect at Box, and he sat down with me to speak about his experiences at Box.
What brought you to Box?
After working in consulting in Paris for a while, I got a bit bored with what I was doing, so I decided to seek out a new opportunity. This was during the Web 2.0 boom, and I was interested in returning to California, where I had studied before at UC Berkeley. A friend of mine had just joined Box as employee #5 invited me to try it out, so I interviewed with Aaron and Sam and liked them a lot. None of us had any real startup experience, but it seemed like a very fun, weird, and cool place to work.
What are the biggest challenges Box is facing as an engineering organization and what strategies are we using to combat these challenges?
The issues we face are much like those faced by any other start-up going through hyper-growth -- for example, scaling backend components. For us in particular, since we work on a lot of enterprise features, we need to balance pretty high code complexity while maintaining simplicity for the end user. For instance, multi-user collaboration on a folder tree can be intricate, as data is not siloed as in older enterprise models, and this can make things like sharding difficult.
What project are you most proud of working on at Box so far?
I've built a lot of things at Box, but I really like our database model level/ORM layer, which has a pretty complex caching strategy. One project that was very crucial was sharding our database. We had put this off for a pretty long time because we had a strong caching layer. We'd done a lot of query optimizations, but we were reaching the limits of our hardware, so we had no choice but to go forward with this project. We decided to go with the standard method of sharding by users on an enterprise basis, and the project went very smoothly because we had an excellent team of engineers and DBAs behind it.
How do you keep in touch with the latest and greatest tools, technologies and ideas in the industry?
There is a difference in what the best practices are and what's new and cool, but it takes a lot of energy to be up to date with either. I generally go in phases -- I might spend one month not reading any technology blogs or articles because I'm focused on a project and don't want to be distracted, but once that's over, I'll go and study everything. One thing I follow pretty regularly are the Box engineering mailing lists because the internal discussion can be very interesting and useful.
What directions do you see Box engineering taking in the future? What are the cool, new things you envision us working on?
We have a lot of extremely cool things planned for next quarter. For example, our MVC framework in JS -- we're already investigating best practices from other modern frameworks. We also have a pretty complex UI, which will be interesting and challenging to work on. I'm pretty excited about all of this.
What advice would you give to up and coming engineers?
I think it's really important to find a mentor in your organization -- someone who can give you feedback, explain details, and help you learn faster. There are a lot of brilliant junior engineers, but there are also a lot of very smart senior people, so it's great when you can be around them and learn from them.
What do you like best about working at Box?
I just really like the way the company is run -- with a long term vision, and very clear yearly and quarterly goals at the top. But also with a very efficient agile process at the bottom. The coordination and collaboration between departments is pretty impressive, especially coupled with the freedom of execution at every layer. With respect to our product, I really like the balance we've maintained with delighting customers yet catering specifically to enterprise companies.
Want to work with Florian? Box is hiring! Apply today!