An interview with Tammer Saleh

I tried to live a year not working with computers. I can't tell you how much I missed them.

Tammer Saleh, founder of Thunderbolt Labs, is a long time Rubyist, leader, and published author. As VP Enginnering at Engine Yard, Tammer ran the development team and the flagship Cloud product. He authored the acclaimed book, Rails AntiPatterns with Chad Pytel. He’s also the author of the Shoulda testing framework, and the fantastic Airbrake service. Tammer has given classroom training in Ruby, Rails, JRuby, and Test Driven Development, and has speak at various Ruby and Rails conferences around the world.

Hi Tammer! How was your last weekend?

I had a great weekend with my fiance, Heather. We finally got a chance to see the new Batman, and I had a few lunchtime beers with some friends at Monk's Kettle. I also had time to work a bit more on one of our projects that use RubyMotion. It's been a hell of a ride with RubyMotion, and we've learned a ton along the way.

How you spend typical day?

I'd love to say that I spend the day writing code, but it's just not how it works when you're running a business. I spend most of my day touching base with our clients, writing blog posts, scheduling travel, and dealing with the thousand little tasks that a growing company needs.

Life's not bad, though. Right now, I'm sitting in a coffee shop outside of Yerba Buena Gardens, hacking on a virus simulator for a client project.

How would you like to spend a typical day?

On a beach in Barcelona? Oh, hey... :)

What software are you using the most?

Almost all of my time is spent in Terminal, MacVim and Chrome. We also use Propane ( as a campfire client, and GoToMeeting for our daily standups. Having an entirely remote team means we have to focus more on making sure we have good communication tools.

When on the web, I'm usually in either gmail, Pivotal Tracker or Basecamp. We've been using the new Basecamp more and more - the speed and simplicity they achieved is very impressive.

Imagine World without computers. What would you do for a living?

When I was younger, and had just graduated from UIUC, I tried to live a year in Japan not working with computers. I can't tell you how much I missed them. But if I was forced to give them up, I'd probably change my life entirely... I'm thinking a farm in Oregon with some dogs and guns :)

Please describe your perfect holiday.

I've spent most of my recent trips traveling to colder weather climates (Sweden, Dublin, Scotland, etc), mostly for conferences. We're definitely ready to spend some time under the sun.

What music bands we can find in your playlist? Do you listen to music while working?

I listen to music while coding -- when I'm deep in a problem, the right music keeps me focused. When I was a kid, I used to do my math homework while listening to Led Zeppelin's I & II on repeat. It's not got a pavlovian hold on me, putting me straight into the math/coding zone.

Otherwise, my tastes lean towards triphop (Massive Attack, Portishead) and heavy metal (ACDC, Pantera).

What was your way from working in ‘Caltech’s Earthquake Detection Network’ to ‘Thunderbolt Labs’?

When I was in UIUC, I worked my way through school as a Unix admin, and later writing neural network code. Later, I did Unix administration for Citysearch and Caltech's Earthquake Detection Network, but I got tired of being the sherif... I wanted to build things people would actually use.

So I looked around at the programming landscape. I knew C/C++, but also knew you didn't actually build things with it in under two years. Java had a worse reputation at the time than it does now. Lisp looked interesting, but academic. In the end, I probably would have chosen Python (not a bad language at all), but was wowed by the Rails intro screencast. Being able to build a useable product in minutes was too good of a promise to ignore, and I recognized that the Rails framework would also re-teach me some programming fundamentals that I had let atrophy.

I also had decided I wanted to move to Boston, after living in LA for far too long. I got a job with Thoughtbot, and stayed with them as they moved out of the Java and PHP market straight into Ruby and Rails. Working at Thoughtbot was a blast - I got all of the engineering exposure I wanted from some really smart developers, and I got a chance to contribute some open source software back to the community and speak at a ton of conferences.

Eventually I left Thoughtbot to go independent. Not too long after that, Randall Thomas (my current partner at Thunderbolt Labs) got me drunk and I woke up with a contract to be the Director of Engineering at Engine Yard. I helped rebuild the team there, and made VP before realizing that I'd lost track of my need to build things. Randall and I then left to start Thunderbolt Labs, and we haven't looked back since.


organized by :codegram