Monadic People: Rudolfs

Introduction

Monadling

  1. Technology•Decentralization
    “A person who works for the Monadic organisation and contributes to the Radicle
    project full-time.”
  2. Functional Programming
    “A small Monad.”

Welcome to Monadic People. Monadic is the core team of individuals that contribute to the Radicle project. In this series, we hope to peel back the curtain to reveal the personalities behind the tech. While it’s the technology that ultimately ends up in the hands of users, it’s also worth reflecting on the people behind the project. In this first post of the series, we’ll follow the interview between Fintan and Rudolfs.

The Interview

I work for Monadic on the Radicle Protocol. I do this remotely, working from Dublin, Ireland. I have been working remotely for a little over 2 years now. But this past month or so we have all been working remote. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of our lifestyles in an abrupt manner, forcing us to take action – or even inaction – collectively. We sit on our remote islands feeling isolated. I decided to send a message in a bottle to a fellow island and connect with a colleague on a more meaningful level that wasn’t all to do with work. I want to present to you a short glimpse into the life of my peer, Rudolfs.

I approach Rudolfs about interviewing him. He tells me he’s happy to take part and that he’s never been interviewed before. I also admit my lack of experience in interviewing, but a thought catches me. Surely he’s been interviewed for a job role, and I’ve been on both sides of a job interview. But I suppose this is different, isn’t it? This is for leisure and not business.

Rufolfs’s black cat jumps onto his lap. Cats always have that 6th sense of knowing when you’re involved in a task and they pounce on you to distract you. “Look at me”, they say with their nonchalant actions. The cat has a deep black coat, and I bet it gets into more Berlin night clubs than I do with that getup.

We get into the interview, and I ask Rudolfs, “So where do you come from?” Rudolfs – much like myself – “moved around growing up”. He hails from the country of Latvia and lived in a few towns and cities. The country was a part of the Soviet Union up until 1991 when it gained its independence. He listed off the places he lived in at one point or another: “Kegums, Staļģene, Jelgava, Riga”, we both struggled to get the spelling right. I couldn’t understand the phonetics, whereas he says, “I can’t spell in Latvian out loud, my brain gets confused.” Rudolfs lived in Kegums (pronounced Kay-Gums) until he was 6 years old. “My grandma lived there and we all lived there.”

He then moved to Staļģene, “A bumble-fuck nowhere, small town in Latvia”, I laughed thinking about the numerous places that hideaway in the world that have also earned this badge – my home included. I also attempted to search for it on Google Maps. Nothing came up for me, and my only conclusions are that I spelled it wrong or it doesn’t exist. It turned out that I was spelling it wrong. Rudolfs went to primary school here, attending Form 1 through to 8. It was during these formative years that Rudolfs was first exposed to programming. Rudolfs first picked at C, “My dad gave me the ANSI C book and I read through it.” He wrote one program for his father. “I remember it taking a whole week to understand loops”, he said. I responded half-jokingly that it took me a whole semester for me to understand them. Rudolfs didn’t touch programming again until years later.

After primary school, his family moved to Jelgava. They joined a population of about 55,000 people in this central city. Rudolfs attended secondary school here. His dad – having studied engineering – was working for the state to automate governmental processes such as accounting. He had convinced the state to get mini-computers for the Central Statistical Bureau. He would look on as his father soldered wires to chips. This ignited Rudolfs’s interest in computers again.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, his father was working as a taxi driver, so there wasn’t as much exposure to computers. A former colleague of his, however, was able to give them an old computer, “It had 20MB of disk and 460KB of RAM and it ran on MS-DOS, I think.” Rudolfs loved to play games on the machine, such as Tetris and Frogger. The 8-bit music of Tetris still echoes through the collective conscious of a generation today. Rudolfs said, “I couldn’t understand much English at the time, so I did my best to navigate the computer”, something I imagine us native English speakers take for granted.

“I got into programming way later”, he said. “My friend’s dad ran a computer shop. It was there I had my first LAN party.” For the uninitiated, a LAN party – or Local Area Network party – is a gathering of gamers playing against each other in multiplayer games. The room is usually dimly lit where the computer screens are the only source of luminescence. Rudolfs wanted to work at this computer shop and get closer to working with computers. “I was pissed because they wouldn’t hire me”, he, unfortunately, told me.

During the summer holidays one year, his friend helped him get a job at an internet service provider. Rudolfs’s first job was installing Ethernet cables at schools. Back then there were no cell nets, so computer setups could often be found as a bowl of spaghetti, wires twisting in and out. Signals would come in using radio antennas propped on top of buildings or large structures. “I climbed lots of water towers and drilled holes”, he said, definitely a more manual focused role to what Rudolfs does today. He eventually landed a part-time deal to host and install servers after school. “That’s where I learned more programming. I wrote Perl.”

At the same time, he started a Bulletin Board System (BBS) with his friend. This was the era of modems. Generally, you could only have the modem plugged in or the telephone, but not both. There were also day and evening rates, the latter being cheaper. Rudolfs would be allowed to keep the modem running to host the BBS. Many nights he would sleep lightly and as soon as he heard the modem awaken – the sign of someone being signed in – he would follow suit and chat with them through the night. The love for computer games was still strong. They used the BBS to share games, this also being the era of shareware.

All this culminated in Rudolfs thinking, “I’d never be a software developer”. He had the notion that he would end up working as an administrator. After high school, however, he went on to study computer science at Riga University. He still remembered how to do loops so he was able to get by just fine. His thirst for computers throughout his younger years stayed throughout. But how did this bring him to Berlin? That was my next question.

“Why did you want to move to Berlin?”, I asked. “I always knew I wanted to live abroad”, he said, “I found it hard to fit in at home.” I felt some empathy rise within me at this. We often hear or feel like that we never truly belonged where we grew up and we need to explore somewhere else, somewhere bigger. “I went travelling for a month”, he went on, “Hitchhiking around Europe. Our journey started and ended in Berlin.” He had taken some time off with a partner to go explore. “Something spoke to us while we were there. The lefty, queer culture resonated with me.” After having visited Berlin a few times at this stage, I can see exactly what Rudolfs is saying. There is a strong element of Berlin that welcomes all kinds of people of different walks of life but united by this different thinking. “I knew German, as well”, he continued, “It was effortless for me.” Having a natural language would make it easier when getting used to a new city and making your way around." “My family has a satellite dish, and the German channels have better shows.”, he explained to me. “What TV shows did you watch?”, I asked curiously. “Colt Seavers and A-Team”, he began as I laughed at the familiarity of afternoon A-Team coming on the TV. “Hart to Hart, as well” – an American mystery television series – he continued the list. “I also watched animes like ‘Ganbare, Kickers!’ and cartoons such as Tom & Jerry.”, and I mean who didn’t watch that loveable predator-prey duo as a kid.

So Rudolfs ended up in Berlin chasing the affinity for the city. He’s now a (primarily) front-end developer at Monadic. I move the conversation into this world. Technology is a fast-moving target, and no target is moving faster today than front-end languages and tools. I asked Rudolfs what was next on his list for learning. “I like JavaScript”, he started off, “and I know people will look strangely at me for saying that.” JavaScript holds a special place in tech circles today. It was created by Brendan Eich to allow for websites to act dynamically – as opposed to statically. The legend goes that Eich created, what was then called LiveScript, in a week. Today, JavaScript can be the butt of many jokes. One of them being that the book, “JavaScript: The Good Parts”, is laughably smaller than the other O’Reilly published book, “JavaScript”. “But it’s versatile and it’s everywhere”, Rudolfs explains to me. “Everything runs it and there’s a lot of demand for JavaScript developers”, he goes on and I have to agree with him there.

Rudolfs gets back to the question at hand, “I really liked working with ReasonML”, he told me. At one point we, at Monadic, were toying with the idea of using ReasonML for the front-end code. But he decided had to play to his strengths and so the team decided that they would program in JavaScript, “but not TypeScript”, he added. Rudolfs looked to the future, discussing “What’s next?” with his friend, Tyler Neely (you may know him from projects such as sled). “Hopefully, we’re still working on Radicle for the next 300 years”, Rudolfs says to me, “But what do I want to do in the future?” He says it doesn’t have to be tech-oriented, a sentiment that resonates with me. Some of us wonder if it’s the path that we want to follow to the end. He enjoys working with the front-end of the system because he has that quick feedback loop, “I can see and interact with the components.” We finally arrive at the answer, “I think I’ll learn a bit more of TypeScript.” Rudolfs sees the popularity of the language and has seen the usefulness of type systems after a foray into Haskell and Rust. He would like to start contributing to the back-end of Radicle, and I – for one – wholeheartedly invite him to (and others).

We took a break from tech-talk – or so I thought – and moved onto Rudolfs’s hobbies. “I focused on hobbies more at my last job. I felt behind professionally, so I consciously switched to full-time, when moving to Monadic.” I knew better than this though, I talked to Rudolfs about more than just our work. He’s a menace at table tennis, sucking you in and slamming points home. Rudolfs also shares a past self with me: The Skater Boy. I asked him what kind of board did he have back then, “Oh, I had a freestyle board. We couldn’t get the street boards.” We both liked to do pop-shove-its, couldn’t kick-flip, but Rudolfs outshines me by being able to ascend over five boards with an ollie. Finding out we both liked skateboarding in the past has reignited the passion within me again. Using the pandemic as a perfect opportunity to pick up the loner sport again. We also share photography as a past/current hobby. Both of us slip in and out of it, but Rudolfs has 6 years of experience compared to my 1 year. He brings out a retro-esque beauty in his photos. The colours are washed. He closes in on a single object or creature. It grabs you and demands that you inspect what the camera (and Rudolfs) is inspecting. “But I need an escape from work through hobbies”, he admits. He used to go to the gym before the pandemic. Hopefully, he can keep himself busy with a creative distraction as the virus prolongs itself upon human society.

I close out with something that is close to Rudolfs’s heart, “So what’s your favourite kind of tea?” He pauses for a moment… then answers “Anything herbal, but Gute Laune by Sonnen Tor is my favourite. You can pick it up in Bio-Laden in Berlin.” We end the call soon after that. We both leave the call having learned a little bit about each other. Our islands drift a little bit closer. And we probably both went to stick on the kettle.


Photograph Taken by Rudolfs

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