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Mike Stankavich — Data Scientist, IT Strategist, Code Artisan, Traveler, Dad

Yes, I know Linux

by Mike Stankavich on July 1, 2013

A few days ago a recruiter told me that I’d be a great candidate, but when she looked at my resume she didn’t see where I had worked with Linux. That’s a good point, as most of my primary employment (what the rest of us call a day job 🙂 has been with Microsoft technologies. So that’s what stands out on my resume.

But I took a personal interest in Linux in the late 90s, and made it an integral part of my personal IT projects. And later, I took what I learned and used it for side consulting projects.

I started out with self-hosting my domains. I realized that a large portion of the internet ran on Linux and Unix. So I decided to learn more. I started out with building out web and email hosting on Red Hat. I used both servers that I built from parts I bought at Fry’s and Newegg, and virtual private servers from providers such as Linode.

As time went by, I started getting more and more spam from my domains. And since they were MY domains I didn’t want to change email addresses. So I taught myself how to build and tune SpamAssassin. There was a time where my SpamAssassin installs were 50-75% more effective than commercial hosting. Most providers have gotten much more serious about filtering by now, so it’s no longer worth the time and effort to do it myself.

I learned even more when I switched to using the Gentoo distribution for my servers. The Gentoo DIY, build from source ethos drives you to find out more about how things fit together.

When VPN started showing up in the corporate environment, I quickly saw the flexibility that offered so I dug into building my own. I built a number of routers for my home network and even a consulting client or two using embedded linux firewall distributions such as LEAF, Bering, IPCop, and Smoothwall. I ran my home network on these for several years along with OpenVPN for remote access.

The next frontier that I took on was storage. I had a number of computers around the house, and I wanted them backed up. I tried a number of storage server solutions. After playing with FreeNAS, Nexenta, and OpenFiler I ended up running an OpenFiler box for several years. The one downside was that I never found a totally seamless and automated client backup package. I ended up switching to Windows Home Server because it works in a very reliable and transparent fashion.

Around that time, I’d say 5 years or so ago, virtualization became a much larger part of the IT picture. I saw it showing up in a lot of places, and I thought it would be cool to have one big physical server that could run all the different things I had going on my home network.

I experimented with Xen Server, KVM, VMWare ESXi, Hyper-V, VirtualBox, and more. Unfortunately all of them seemed to have a lot of IO overhead at that time, so I was disappointed with the performance, particularly for client backups. I ran ESXi and Hyper-V for a while, then later went back to a standalone WHS server and an Ubuntu server.

When I became an expat I gave up my elaborate home network. Now I just use a Synology NAS unit for file sharing and that’s it. Which runs embedded linux. So if need be I can open up an SSH connection and log in.

And as it turns out, I did work with Linux and Solaris during the day a few times too. I worked on a C application on Red Hat to enable bill of materials upload for Intel a few years back. And the Oracle servers that I worked with at Deutsche Bank ran on Solaris. I did some systems maintenance and some text file imports while I was there.

Over the years, I have also taken on a number of side consulting projects. A number of those have involved Linux, PHP, MySQL, and Postgres. I migrated a customer’s website from ASP.NET and SQL Server on Windows to PHP and MySQL, worked with a team of Python/Django developers to migrate a Cold Fusion and SQL Server app to PostGres, and I’m currently working on migrating an IBM/Rocket U2 ERP database running on Unixware (I’d say “ugh”, but SCO would probably sue me!) to SQL Server.

One more factor has driven my experience with the *nix platform. In 2011, I started another side business to develop mobile applications for the app store and sell mobile development services. While I’m no longer directly involved in that business, being involved with building iPhone apps drove me to switch from a Windows notebook (I was a longtime Thinkpad user) to a Macbook. I’ve found that I really like having the bash shell terminal prompt close by. I’ve installed Python, Django, Postgres, MySQL, Apache, Ruby, Rails, and more on my Mac to support various explorations.

So yes, I’m both comfortable and competent in Linux. Not an uber-nerd or kernel contributor, but I can definitely get around and get things done.

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When I grow up I want to be… a Data Scientist!

by Mike Stankavich on June 1, 2013

I tried to think of a clever excuse for not blogging for over two years. But the fact that there really is no excuse kind of overwhelms any minor cleverness I might devise. So I’ll just say that I’ve been on a REEEEALLLLYYYY long coffee break. Or something.  I don’t know.  Does it matter?

So, what of the last three years?  Expat life has been good. Lots of travel, lots of learning, and a bit of self discovery. In many ways I’d like to keep it going. But family ties and professional development interests are leading back to the US at least for now. I’ll miss SE Asia. I do hope to spend more time in this part of the world. Our time here taught us that we can live with much less than we had when we lived in the US.  The challenge will be maintaining that level of minimalism after our return.

I’ll save the detailed travelogue and observations about life in Asia for future posts. For now, let’s talk about data science, big data, and mobile apps. My adventures in mobile startup land taught me that I have more love for databases, servers, backend services, and data in general than I do for mobile apps. This corresponds nicely to the recent upswing in interest in big data and data science.

While data science is multidisciplinary and definitions vary, it depends on three core skills as visualized on Drew Conway’s Data Science Venn diagram. I’m very confident in my hacking skills, and my love for reading and ongoing curiosity gives me a good foundation on the substantive expertise side. The one remaining gap is math and statistics knowledge. While I loved math and did very well in high school, I didn’t follow through in college.

While there are plenty of good schools in Asia, it’s easier and faster for me to address that math and statistics gap in the US.  Of course academic knowledge is one thing, and hands on experience is another. I want to focus on both. I decided that moving to the center of the Big Data universe in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area would be a great way to do that. Plus it doesn’t hurt that Stanford and Berkeley are in that area. So I bought one way tickets to San Francisco. I’m also looking at Vegas and Austin – data driven decision making dictates that lower cost and lower tax areas also merit consideration 🙂

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this next adventure plays out.  If you’re looking for a solid database guy with data scientist potential let’s talk.

PS: Apologies to lumberjacks and Monty Python fans everywhere for the title.


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Email Outage

September 7, 2011

If you have sent me email within the past few days you may have run into a bounce message. I have been able to track the problem down to the MailFoundry spam filter appliance at my hosting provider. The hosting provider attempted to fix the problem, but still ran into issues. They have a ticket […]

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Typhoon Juan (Megi) Update

October 18, 2010

By now you have probably heard that the Philippines was hit by a major typhoon yesterday.  Here’s a link from The Weather Channel:  http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/super-typhoon-philipines-photos_2010-10-18.  While it turned out to be a non-event for us in the Manila area, the northern part of the Philippines was hit very hard. We are very concerned for Marissa’s aunts, […]

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The Big Move Part 3: Hawaiian Interlude

October 18, 2010

    Finally things have slowed down enough that I can catch up on blogging again.  The last month has been very busy with the mechanics of the transition.  Ramping up on my new job and looking for an apartment and a car have soaked up most of my free time for the past few weeks.  I’ll […]

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The Big Move Part 2: Preparation for Departure

September 7, 2010

I know it has been a while since I posted.  But given the amount of change and chaos that have happened over the past few weeks I think that’s understandable.  Let’s recap. Committed to a new job based on a few phone interviews. Left my job at Intel after 12 great years. Sold or gave […]

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Moving sale 8/14/10 and 8/15/10

August 13, 2010

As part of our preparation for our upcoming move to the Philippines we’ll be holding a moving sale on 8/14/10 and 8/15/10.  If you’re around the Portland area, feel free to drop by.  I’ve put together a page listing some of the bigger items that we’ll be selling.  You can check it out here:  moving […]

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The Big Move

August 7, 2010

The two or three people who actually read this blog might be wondering why things suddenly went silent a couple months ago.  The explanation is quite simple.  I reached the cusp of a long term goal that involved a big career change, and I wasn’t ready for my current employer to find about about it […]

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Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

April 14, 2010

As I’ve considered how to steer my career path, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how to build and present skills to potential customers and employers.  Experts often suggest to specialize and appeal to a specific niche.  But then other experts say that companies don’t want narrow focus specialists and that they would […]

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Housing Crisis Redux

April 13, 2010

It’s been a while since I wrote about my housing crisis frustrations.  Thankfully I got things wound down with my property that I was selling (more details here and here).  At the end of the day, my HELOC lender refused to release liability so I ended up up filing Chapter 7.  I couldn’t see spending […]

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