Our people: Alan Garfield

Read Time 3 Mins
People
Engineering

“The year-on-year increase in our client load means I have to plan ahead to deal with the astronomical amounts of client data and the speed at which that data is growing.”

Alan Garfield is the Principal Engineer at Learnosity, where he takes care of our production systems around the world. So no big deal then. Though he has background in e-commerce and infrastructure, Alan once worked as a part of the road crew for the likes of Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Janet Jackson 🎸🤟

What do you do at Learnosity?

As Principal Engineer at Learnosity I work with the Infrastructure and Platform teams to keep the engine room of Learnosity running. I helped design many of the systems that make our applications work at scale in the cloud. The Infrastructure team keeps the furnace stoked, the machines greased and oiled, and the clients’ requests serviced as quickly and securely as possible. And the Platform team comes up with new and innovative ways to solve the challenges of running our platform at scale.

How did you get into that area?

I grew up around theater and live performance. My first job was touring Australia working on large concerts and theater productions. One rule that came from that experience is a core driver for me – “The show must go on”. I started working the web in the pre-dotcom era, which means I went through the heady days of gambling with technology and customers. Then the very ephemeral life cycle of businesses without plans became a reality and the dotcom boom happened. I learnt very quickly how to plan for the future and deal with tricky situations by building skills relating to scale and reliability. The show must always go on.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge at Learnosity to date?

The year-on-year increase in our client load means I have to plan ahead to deal with the astronomical amounts of client data and the speed at which that data is growing. Without proper management it can very quickly get out of hand and even simple tasks like adding an index or altering a schema can become a month-long process. We try our best to avoid affecting clients with downtime, so some of these operations are a bit like trying to change the tires on a speeding car.

Our Question Responses storage engine handles millions of student responses sent to our systems at scale every hour of every day.

What work project are you most proud of and why?

Our Question Responses storage engine. It handles the millions of student responses sent to our systems at scale every hour of every day. All hosts combined, it’s the largest dataset in the Learnosity data lake. Its day-to-day management is extremely low, and in many cases it’s where the rubber meets the road for our clients.

In your opinion, what makes working at Learnosity different?

The “it’s ok to fail” culture we have. It gives us the freedom to explore – all with the safety net of knowing it’s ok to have problems and that not all exploration will end in success. Being “ok to fail” does not mean it’s “ok to ignore risk” though – there’s a major distinction between the two.

"I learnt very quickly how to plan for the future and deal with tricky situations by building skills relating to scale and reliability. The show must always go on." Click To Tweet

What do you do to relax in your spare time?

I dabble in electronics, amateur radio, mechanical engineering, and woodworking. I also enjoy looking after my chickens, who are an amazing source of joy and laughter. Plus, who doesn’t like fresh eggs?

I live close to the Sugar Pine forest in New South Wales, which was planted in 1928. Unfortunately, it was completely burnt down during the bushfires of 2020.

Micheál Heffernan

Senior Editor

More articles from Micheál

Let’s make it official

Get behind the scenes at Learnosity with monthly insights, inspiration, and updates.