Meet Andrew Davis, a System Engineer, whose work creatively revamped the Fastmail storage system.
Name: Andrew Davis
Role: System Engineer
What do you work on?
I’m part of the platform team that looks after the servers, the network, and the platform on which our service runs.
How long have you been working at Fastmail? How did you get involved?
I started in January 2020.
I’ve always tinkered with tech things in my spare time. Before I left high school I’d already set my career on a different path—I was a tennis coach for over a decade. Due to some health concerns, I had to make a career change. So, I went back to school to study computer science. I interviewed at Fastmail as I was finishing my degree. Fastmail had never hired a junior before, so it was a learning experience for both sides, but I think it has turned out pretty well! 😄
What’s a project that you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?
The nvme imap project. Our old storage architecture was a tiered system with recent mail on SSDs (solid state drive storage device) that were pretty fast for 2015 with email aging out to slower-spinning hard drives.
The nvme imap project revamped this from the ground up. It removed the tiered nature of the storage and put all customer emails on SSDs, not all old 2015 SSDs, but blazing-fast ones. Now, not only is your recent mail faster than ever, but old mail is just as fast.
Previous work on storage had been iterative. This was a chance for a re-think, which required a lot of thought on how to get the density to make it economically viable. At the end of the process, we ended up with a much simpler architecture to understand AND removed many of the maintenance pain points. It really was a win for everyone: customer emails are accessed faster, and platform headaches decreased.
What other projects inspire you?
I’ve been listening to the “Oxide and Friends” podcast. Oxide is a startup that is building a new computer for organizations that don’t want to move to the cloud (or have some workload they can’t or won’t put in the cloud).
At Fastmail, none of our applications are in the cloud for a variety of really good reasons, but there are also pain points! So it’s great to see someone looking to build something new in this space, gain some of the flexibility of the cloud in the process, and iron out a lot of the pain points of orchestrating a whole lot of independent machines.
Each week they run a live podcast discussing topics in the general tech sphere, or bring on their engineers to discuss the creation of their product. My favorite episodes are the ones discussing bringing up new boards.
What are your favorite Fastmail features?
It isn’t a single feature but how I combine them. I really like having an organized inbox and everything sorted. So I love combining subdomain addressing and wildcard aliases.
For example: if my domain is
[mydomain.com](<http://mydomain.com>), subdomain addressing lets me accept mail to
[accounts.mydomain.com](<http://accounts.mydomain.com>). From there, I have an alias
*@accounts.mydomain.com, so when I sign up for any service, newsletter, or product I can name them.
Then, I use rules to file them all into a generic “accounts” label, and I have other rules to elevate emails for specific accounts that might require more urgent attention.
What’s your most used piece of technology?
The most used is my work laptop. I just got a new one. It’s pretty nifty with 12 cores, it’s faster than my desktop from a few years ago!
But my favorite technologies are ones that are smart without needing computers in them. For example, I love my old-fashioned rice cooker that turns off automatically once all the water has evaporated: no computer chips required.
What are you listening to these days?
I’ve been listening to a lot of FELT recently. They’re a Japanese electronic pop kinda group with a super unique sound. My three favorite songs by FELT are Crumbling, Oblivion, and Lost in the Abyss.
What are you watching these days?
I’ve just finished watching season 1 of The Last Of Us. I was a big fan of the video games, and it was great to see how a game can be adapted into a high-quality television show.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I play video games, go to the beach, bike ride, and hike through nature. I can’t run anymore, so I try to walk an hour a day.
What’s your favorite animal?
Maybe I’m biased, but definitely my cat. I’ve always had cats growing up, and they really become integral parts of the family. As I’m answering these questions I’m sitting on my back verandah watching her chase insects around the yard.
Any Fastmail staffers you want to brag on?
Marc. Not only is he our deliverability specialist, he’s involved in the platform team. So with the rest of my team in the states, Marc is my go to discuss new ideas and review work in my timezone.
What are you proudest of about your work at Fastmail ?
I like stopping and looking around and filling proverbial potholes. One of the things that had been neglected was keeping our documentation.
So I spent a lot of time updating and writing newer runbooks to make the lives of future members of my team easier.
Big shout out to everyone who joined me in a call to run through different tasks or explain different systems, so I could write them down.
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