Why we go on a road trip to Italy to rebuild Esplorio

Original posted date: 23 May 2015

Because we can.

As a kid, I have always wanted to become a "computer engineer", but "What the hell does such an engineer do?" - I wondered.

Now, I have the answer for that little guy.

"Kid, in the future, you will sit outside of a retreat home under the Sun, holding a beer in your hand, looking out to one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy with faraway snow-covered mountains on the other side, while building an application powered by a dozen virtual machines elsewhere in the world.

Why, you ask? Because you can."

Building a start-up company has always been about exploring the possibilities - this first Esplorio road trip is the very embodiment of that. We have the freedom to choose a life outside of the restriction of the cubicles, and we did it. Almost everybody we have met on the trip is very surprised when we tell them we are here to work. That is understandable because people come here to enjoy the beautiful scenery, relax, eat, drink and to take a break from their busy life. However, we came here to not only enjoy life or celebrate our recent successes, but also to get some inspiration and remind ourselves that anything is possible. This much fun while effectively rebuilding Esplorio codebase inside-out from the core, and all of it costs less than having an office in London? Yes, please!

Besides, travelling while using Esplorio makes us understand our own product even more, think about how to improve it, discover more use cases and get insights on different problems. What's most satisfactory to me is that this kind of trips validate our ideas and the whole reasoning behind what we are building.

Amongst the Esplorio board of directors, so far we have had:

~220 commits made to codebase
~10 pull requests merged (with a few more pending)
~1500 lines of new code
USD???000 worth of stuff into our warchest while still on the move
82 new designs reviewed
~2100km travelled so far
5 countries
140mph top speed on road
189mph top speed on rail
1 Trademark & Copyright violation handled
1 wrongly booked train
1kg of Bistecca
12 kebabs with multiple types of pork
3 Pizzas/person
4 Gelatos/person
2 bottles of Prosecco
5 litres of beer
1 litre of dangerously cheap Limoncello
1 Call of Duty game played
1 surprise ice-cream van
1 very fun dog
1 very fun cat

(inspired by @timfernando and @essasaulat's Slack message today, bar the trade secrets)

Yep, the future is good, kiddo.

dalla Bellano con amore

All good things come to an end

Original posted date: 7 May 2015

A New World

BuzzFeed and the like have a lot of these articles where they tell you this many things that you should do before you are 20, or 25, or 30. Well, too bad I've done none of those... except for one single thing that has been on my bucket list to do before reaching the 25 mark:

Have my own tech start-up company

I am glad to announce that I am now switching to write some kick-ass code full-time at Esplorio, the beloved start-up company where I began my career, with a slightly different title: CTO & Co-founder (aka Chief Keyboard Warrior).

The past 2 years and 10 months with Ocado has been a great great time. I've built a tonne of things, learnt a lot and made many good friends. But working on 2 things at the same time was draining, and as soon as I managed to match the number of working hours at Esplorio with my full-time job at Ocado, I knew that I needed to end it otherwise I'd just crash and burn.

To put it in a geeky way, it has been a great honour to serve on the Battlestar Galactica, but my heart and mind now belongs to the Serenity. Good bye, Ocado. I wish you all the best in your world grocery domination quest.

Yep, so basically, I am ditching a well-paid, stable job for a fancy title and get poorer. What not to love?

Welcome to a new world, I guess?

Note to self - Always bring a business card

Original posted date: 30 March 2015

Side story on a football trip

A shot of Bath that I took a long time ago

So every year there is this Vietnamese thing in the UK where people in each city form a team, wear shorts and kick some inflated balls at each other out in the cold. We went for the qualification round down in Bath, Somerset on Sunday and stopped at a Thai restaurant for a quick lunch before the matches.

Here's where we ran into a lovely elder couple by the window, and had a long conversation with them over the meal. Vietnam, crazy motorcycle trips, how crappy the traffic is these days in Oxford and Bath, technology, Silicon Valley, entrepreneurship and start-ups etc were all in the mix of topics. I talked about my little project with a red compass icon, at which point he asked me for my card.

I was in a hurry, and I thought I'd never need my cards anyway because we'd only play football then come straight back, so I left all of them home. I ended up writing my contact details down on a Sainsbury's receipt and handed it to him, and now I really really hope it was not a receipt for something too embarassing. It could be worse...

Moral of the story: always bring your business cards, people, even to football matches - you never know where and when you might need it.

PS: I got praised by the old lady for speaking the Queen's tongue very well, so I got that going for me.

"You sound like you were not born in Vietnam, are you?", she said. Me: crying a bit inside

San Francisco stories #3

Original posted date: 1 March 2015

Land of the Lost

Random photo just for the sake of it, woohoo

San Francisco has all sorts of people. There was this one night when we decided to stay up really late and have a slice of pizza in the city centre.

A homeless guy, with an almost deformed face (as far as I remember) and could not speak properly, walked into the pizza place asking people for money. Of course, he was not welcomed there and one thing led to another, he spat on to a customer. Then as he walked out, BAAAMM! there was a really loud noise behind us. It was a water bottle thrown from behind the counter straight to the homeless guy's face.

Then as we walked back we saw 2 people chasing each other from inside a Starbuck's. Apparently one was trying to steal the other's phone, and the latter was chasing the former with a bike chain in his hand all the way down the street.

It was a fun night.

San Francisco stories #2

Original posted date: 19 Feb 2015

Land of Code

I believe that in order to find out about what's hot around town, the quickest way is to hear what the people sing say.

Workshop Cafe

I personally prefer quiet places to work, and would try to endure the background noise as much as I can before resort to the big bad headphones (although I don't mind if the Rebel Army Theme is playing - best music to work along).

If there are two young girls gossiping next to me in a cafe (to be clear on this, I hate it) then typically it would be:

  • In Hanoi: who's gonna get married and expecting babies next month.

  • In London: what gig is on this weekend or that new clothes shop.

  • In San Francisco: a local build cannot get its dependencies because it cannot reach the Maven Nexus repo from outside the firewall.

That last one seriously messed with my mind because it is the kind of distraction I hate with a passion, but I actually can still understand.