Interview: Robert Love, Software Engineer
Robert Love is a Boston-based software engineer at Google, speaker, and author of several books on Linux, an operating system. In this interview, he shares his everyday carry, brief philosophy on engineering (software in particular), and some advice on how to gain knowledge and enrich your life.
What's in your everyday carry?
My everyday carry is geared toward urban life. I live in Boston and work in Cambridge. Not this awful winter, but when the weather is agreeable I walk to work. What I carry is mostly about what I can stuff in my pockets.
Friends find the newspaper surprising. Who reads physical newspapers anymore? I do. I love 'em—the smell, the touch, how you digest the news differently in broadsheet form than online. I read both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
For technology, I have an Apple 13" Retina MacBook Pro as my laptop, a Google Nexus 5 for my smartphone, and an Amazon Kindle Voyager for e-books. I'm not particularly allegiant to any platform.
For our readers who are not familiar with your profession, could you explain what you do and what your day-to-day is like on the job?
I am a software engineer at Google. I lead search infrastructure teams in our Boston office. "Search infrastructure" is the systems that power Google search: the servers, algorithms, and software that make it all work.
The most exciting part is the scale. I find engineering — building stuff — a wonderful pursuit in and of itself. But there's this visceral quality when you know that even the smallest endeavor is going to be seen by thousands of people a second.
I'm also an author. I've written three books: Linux Kernel Development, Linux System Programming, and Linux in a Nutshell. The first is for developers of Linux, the second for developers on Linux, the third for users of Linux.
What about software engineering inspires you to do it?
People and how technology can improve our lives.
Software is just the most malleable of media. Software engineering is the least constrained of engineering disciplines — programmers are building cars and watches and ride sharing services, for goodness' sakes. It truly is a fascinating time to be in this field.
What do people do? What do people want? How can technology help? Asking and trying to answer those questions is my inspiration.
What are your passions outside of building things as an engineer? Do you have any major hobbies?
Wine. Drinking it, tasting it, collecting it, the geeky aspects—everything but making it. I appreciate how wine is such an integral part of so many places, cuisines, and peoples.
As a personal challenge, I recently studied for and earned my Certified Sommelier designation from the Court of Master Sommeliers. As a gift for passing, I received this Chateau Laguiole Grand Cru wine key in olive wood. It isn't in my everyday carry, but it is a big part of my better days.
Why do you EDC?
I appreciate good design, particular the balance between daily practicality and beauty.
I don't like words on anything I carry or wear. Take the Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm, for example. I carry that everywhere I go, left pocket. But I peel the label off. Words and logos drive me crazy.
What’s your favorite thing to carry?
I wear that red cashmere skull cap everywhere I go approximately six months out of the year. I love it. It gets me out of combing my hair for half the year.
Could you tell us about what projects you’re working on right now?
We are beginning work on the seventh edition of Linux in a Nutshell. This book is the least personal, since I write it with several great coauthors, but in many ways it is the most important. Linux in a Nutshell is, for many Linux users, their introduction to the platform. It is the user reference book—indeed, Linux Journal's Readers' Choice Awards awarded it "Best Linux Book of All Time".
We're still in the planning phase, but I'm curious to see where this edition takes us. The book's evolution mirrors Linux's evolution. As technologies change, as people's use of Linux evolves, so does the text. I'm looking forward to it.
What one piece of advice would you leave for our readers?
Find a mentor and cultivate that relationship for everything it is worth. Not some dude on the Internet, but a man or woman in your life who can gift you their experience and knowledge. There's this assumption in many fast-moving industries that the old can't teach the new any tricks. How can an old mainframe programmer help a kid writing an Android app? That isn't the point. The point is to have someone to discuss the big picture, to offer career advice, to bounce ideas off.
And once a couple mentors have enriched your life, become one yourself.
Photos courtesy of Robert Love