Hi, I'm Ben & I'm a Systems Engineer (help!)

Note: We’ve got a busy week planned on the Wildbit blog. Over the last month we’ve added three extraordinary members to the Wildbit team. Each one of them wrote an incredible post to introduce themselves on Basecamp, and we thought you’d like to get to know a little about each of them too.

Yesterday you met Slava, today please welcome Ben to the Wildbit team. Ben’s a systems engineer who joins the Wildbit team from the suburbs of Philadelphia.

I’m Benjamin Krein and I’m a systems engineer (acknowledgment is the first step to recovery, right?). Last week was my first week at Wildbit and I’m excited to be joining the systems team here at Wildbit. I’m married, have two kids, and live in the suburbs north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When I was five I got my first computer — a Commodore VIC-20 complete with the 8-pin dot-matrix printer, cassette storage and a whopping 16KB of RAM! It was hardly a speed demon but I’d spend hours typing in incredibly long code listings from Byte Magazine to display some silly sprite floating across the screen. The magic happened when I could write the program to cassette and the next day wait 10 minutes while the same silly program loaded back in from cassette to display the floating sprite again. Fascinating times! Soon after followed a Commodore 64 which was amazing. Games, graphics, sound, dual 5.25″ floppy drives and even a little joystick that attached to the keyboard that operated like a pointer device in something truly incredible called GEOS. Those were the days!

I fought with myself over whether to continue with Commodore and upgrade to the Amiga 500 or succumb to the common trends and switch to an IBM compatible PC. Sadly I chose the latter and have regretted it ever since. However, this led me down the path of ridiculously early MS-DOS (pre-3.3), Windows 2.0, batch scripting and even becoming a SysOp of the first ever BBS at my high school. The BBS was a precursor to the World Wide Web and a boon for sharing information electronically. Every night batch jobs would spin up sharing emails, forum posts and small files with other BBSes all associated with a broad network called FidoNet. The whole thing happened over a single 2400bps modem! Our BBS was associated with a subset of FidoNet designed for linking school systems that was called K12Net (you can find my name in this list: http://bbslist.textfiles.com/716/).

After high school I tried hard to shed my computer roots and went off to art school to become a graphic designer. After struggling through the first year, I decided it was futile for me to try and escape computers and left school. The World Wide Web was just starting at the time and I didn’t see the potential in being a designer on the web then. Perhaps if I foresaw where the Internet would go back then I would be a web designer today rather than a systems engineer. I dabbled in a few other career ideas including landscape architecture, building architecture, mechanical engineering, etc. but none of them really took. Instead, I went to work for an environmental testing laboratory doing their IT support and computer reporting work. I supported a small but overwhelmed LANTastic network battling the joys of extremely sensitive coaxial 10Base2 noise and connection ghosts along with Windows 3.1 and 95-era systems.

Fast-forward through a few more years of similar work and I finally ended up as a web developer for a mixed museum/zoo in the southwest. The job didn’t pay much, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was simply fantastic being able to build things that were educating people whenever they looked at them! We built a lot with very little resources which made it an exciting challenge. I came in as a web developer, but I quickly took on the role of Linux systems administrator in a primarily Windows-based environment switching much of their more expensive and bloated architecture over to more powerful and flexible Linux systems. Soon the majority of the backend infrastructure was Linux based and far more to my liking! At the time the whole museum was operating on a shared Microsoft Access database (!!!) which I converted over to a replicated MySQL backend (Access was still used as the GUI frontend). You can imagine the improvement in stability that single migration produced! LDAP authentication for Samba file sharing was also introduced as well. The interesting projects went on and on.

Following the museum I spent a long stint working for a start-up email marketing company. Coming in again as a web developer and employee number 10 (or so) I grew with the company over the years and established a proper operations team to handle the infrastructure side of the business while developers focused on the application. The projects I was part of there are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that I grew a lot there technically and developed a strong desire to automate infrastructures that I carry with me today. The company followed the evolution of automated provisioning and configuration from simple Bash/Perl scripts through CFEngine to Puppet and finally Chef. We innovated on service-oriented architectures that were fault-tolerant and self-provisioning.

After a brief stint in a completely different kind of company (big corporation) I’m excited to be coming back to a small, nimble team that embraces the freedom to innovate. While the team I worked with was tremendous, I found it very difficult to be part of an organization that big with so much structure. I’ve been fascinated by Wildbit for over a year since I met with the team the first time and am beyond excited to finally be part of the team! I look forward to many new ideas, adventures, innovations and achievements in the years to come.

When not working, I dabble in a number of hobbies (far too many) including boating, cars, mountain bikes (not nearly enough), camping and general home handyman stuff. I grew up in the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York where boating and the water became a passion of mine that has stuck with me ever since. Occasionally you can find me floating down the Delaware river or threading my way around the country roads of Upper Bucks County in a classic roadster project I started.

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