How Did You Get Here? Vol.1~ From San Francisco to Fukuoka

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews where we will showcase the experiences of some of our non-Japanese staff. This time we interviewed Paul Traylor who is part of the Server Monitoring Team and has been with LINE Fukuoka since 2016.

It was now or never!

Tell me about your background

I’m from the USA and I grew up in a pretty rural area of North Carolina near a town called Fuquay-Varina. After graduating from university studying computer science I joined a start-up in San Francisco.

The business I first joined was a social platform for gamers, I was a web developer with a focus on the back-end. Whilst building functionality for the users I was also developing internal tools to support the business. From there I joined another start-up this time as an operations engineer with a specific focus on automation and tools.

For example I combined multiple existing parts of the infrastructure into a single virtual machine for development. I also spent time making and improving tools which supported error handling and monitoring. I was mainly using technologies like Python, SaltStack and JIRA amongst others.

How did you end up in Fukuoka?

Whilst in San Francisco I started to learn Japanese as a hobby and after a couple of years I thought I would like to try living in Japan. After a couple of years of working I felt that it was a case of ‘now or never’. I found a school in Fukuoka and signed up for a year-long course.

How did you come to join LINE Fukuoka?

LINE is a large scale communication tool with a huge userbase and multiple services which obviously drew me in to the business. However, LINE Fukuoka in particular stood out to me as an interesting opportunity for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the role itself really appealed to my skillset, the position was with the Developer Support Team and I would be working on the development environment and the surrounding infrastructure. It was the perfect opportunity to ustilise my existing skill set in a new, forward-thinking environment.

Another reason I was drawn to LINE Fukuoka was the diversity of the business, although the traditional image of Japanese businesses is that of uniformity LINE Fukuoka’s development team is a roughly 50/50 split between Japanese and non-Japanese workers. It is really refreshing to be in such an international environment and be able to share knowledge with others from around the world.

16 million metrics across 17,000 targets

You started with the Developer Support Team, what exactly were you doing?

As developer support I was responsible for maintaining and improving the development environment. Provisioning and preparing servers, troubleshooting issues and the creation of support tools, all things that developers needed to do their jobs without difficulty.

For a role like that you need to understand the developer side but also need to know the infrastructure behind the scenes so you can diagnose and solve a whole host of issues. Also you had to be acutely aware of how all the different services worked on a general scale. If a developer comes to you saying they want to run a specific service you need to be able to visualise exactly what they will need in terms of databanks, server provisioning etc.

It was a really interesting position.

Now you are with the Server Monitoring Team?

Yes around the same time I started on developer support we noticed that our previous monitoring system had several insufficiencies and there were many areas we wanted to improve. I was assigned to improve our monitoring system to make it even more useful for our developers.

The monitoring system is one of the most important parts of the development environment. Without it you are not really sure if your services are actually running and available. Also as LINE introduces more and more services (currently 100 or so) the need for constant and accurate monitoring across the whole business increases. We wanted to make a system that was easy to use and universal, so developers could simply select their own metrics and thresholds.

The system is based on Prometheus (an open source monitoring tool written in Go) and it scales very well for the current trend of having many micro services and wanting to monitor several data points for each (memory, network, CPU etc.). For visualisation we use Grafana to make an easy to understand and visually appealing dashboard.

Currently the system is monitoring around 16 million metrics across 17,000 targets generating terabytes of data.

What is most rewarding about the work you do?

Currently one of the biggest issues is how do we store past data for future use? Currently I have about 50TB of data that I am storing and that is only a couple of months’ worth! This is an issue that affects every business and there is no easy solution, I make sure to keep up to date on the latest research and technologies to ensure that we are at the leading edge when it comes to tackling these issues.

I also love taking complex technologies and creating simple tools to benefit the end-user.

As mentioned we based our monitoring system off Prometheus which can be a little tricky to use by itself so I also used Django (Python) to build an easy to use dashboard so developers can configure things themselves. The system enables developers to designate what data points they want to measure, establish threshold values and then decide how they would like to be notified if the threshold values are crossed (a message via Slack for example).

Finally, one of the aspects I love most about my job is the aspect of ‘kaizen’ or continuous improvement. The needs of the developers are constantly changing and evolving and so are the technologies that are available. I constantly assess and evaluate current practices with the mindset of “how can we make this better?” although it is a never-ending task it is one of the elements of the job I enjoy the most.

How have you developed in the role?

Through having a large degree in freedom when it comes to making decisions I really feel I have improved my ownership and decision making skills. I had the freedom to select which tools would get the best results for the project based on the research I had done.

I have also really developed my communication ability. Working directly with developers can be rewarding yet tricky, they may be able to identify the issues they are having but what they see as the solution might not actually be the best way to tackle the issue. Being able to communicate clearly and get down to the heart of the issue is an important skill I have improved.

The support of a large company, the mindset of a start-up

What is it like to work at LINE Fukuoka as an engineer?

One of the aspects I love the most about LINE Fukuoka is that every week during our regular meeting there is the opportunity for developers to give a presentation on any topic they are interested in. This is not only a great opportunity to improve one’s public speaking skills but it offers an insight into areas of tech I might not otherwise have known much about. I enjoy hearing about the latest Android or iOS trends and catching up about the latest JavaScript frameworks.

Finally, one of the nice aspects of the office here is how international it is. We have Japanese speakers learning English and English speakers learning Japanese so there is a shared understanding of how difficult it can be to communicate in a language that is not your mother tongue. This means we communicate together from a position of mutual respect and cooperation.

What kind of support did you have as a non-Japanese speaker?

LINE Fukuoka is really supportive to non-native Japanese speakers, we all have the option of taking Japanese classes and it is really nice to not just have a textbook and study by myself but to have a one-on-one session with a teacher who can help me understand the nuances of the language. Although I was already in Japan when I joined, they also offer support in finding a place to live, opening bank accounts and all the paperwork from the local government offices. A really helpful service for anyone first coming to Japan.

How would you sell Fukuoka?

For me Fukuoka has the perfect balance of urban and nature. The city is large enough that it has all of the things that you could want however you only need to hop on a train or bus for 30 minutes and you can be at the beach or on a hiking trail in the mountains.

What is next for you?

I love the idea of kaizen or continuous improvement so I will continue to study and improve my skill set. For example there are lots of interesting tools written in Go and I would like to learn more. I am also interested in how people manage time and agendas, even going as far as to read RFC papers on calendar syncing to learn more.

I continue to enjoy studying Japanese and trying to improve my communication skills, when I get tired of staring at computer screens I like to walk around Fukuoka taking photos it is a great way to relax.

Thanks Paul!

After reading this if you are interested in finding out more about LINE Fukuoka please take a look at our English Site:

See below for positions we are currently hiring:

Software Engineer (Monitoring System)

Development Engineer (iOS/Android)

Development Engineer (Server-side)

Front-end Engineer

Software Engineer in Test (SET)

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