Dana Contreras

Dana Contreras

Systems engineer (Twitter), pilot

Posted

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a systems engineer on Twitter's infrastructure team; I've been at Twitter since early 2010. I keep the tweets flowing and the whales at bay. I'm also known as DanaDanger, or Ms. Danger if you're being cheeky. I'm a licensed commercial pilot too but these days I only fly recreationally.

What hardware do you use?

My official Twitter gear is a 2.7 GHz 13" MacBook Pro with 8 GB RAM and a 500 GB SSD. The SSD makes all the difference when I'm dealing with large code repos (which is all the time). At work, I attach it to a 24-inch Dell U2410 monitor, which is almost wide enough for a Scala project window and a terminal side-by-side at the widths and font sizes I like. I could use another 100 pixels of width. My monitor rests atop a (now nonfunctional) NeXTstation Turbo, just for the nostalgia. I use a stock Apple extended keyboard and some random Logitech mouse that they threw at me when I got here. I'm not picky about my input devices; I just don't want them to change once I've grown accustomed to them. And in any case, nothing will ever outdo the keyboard I had on my NeXT.

I'm a total cheapskate when it comes to headphones because I constantly lose them. Right now I've got two pairs of Sony MDR-EX10LP earbuds that I bought at an airport one day when I forgot to pack my Apple earbuds. The Sonys are surprisingly comfortable, and they carry enough bass to make for satisfying heavy metal and drum 'n' bass, so now they're my favorite cheapies.

As for handhelds, I carry an iPhone 4S with a kick-ass etched steel backplate. I have Verizon so my phone is actually usable. My e-reader is a first-gen nook that I love dearly for its simplicity. But I still buy a lot of paper books, especially ones I want to see on my bookshelves. I own an iPad 2 but I never use it.

When I fly, I use a Lightspeed Thirty 3G headset with 20dB passive and 30dB active noise cancellation and a pair of Ray-Ban aviators. (I like to joke that I'm the only person in San Francisco who wears Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and actually is an aviator.) Lately I've been flying a Cessna 162, which is comically small for a commercial pilot, but it's a fun little airplane with a really nice glass-panel cockpit that has all the goodies like GPS, moving map, terrain/altitude alerts, and so on.

And what software?

• I'm going to start with 1Password because it seriously saves my ass. Whenever LinkedIn, Yahoo!, or who-knows-who-else gets hacked and a list of passwords is released, I don't have to worry about it. Total peace of mind. Set this app up now. Just go do it. They have an iPhone version and a Chrome plugin too.

BBEdit is my primary text editor, and has been for years. (I'm even on their testimonials page.) At Twitter I use it for all of my Scala and Ruby projects; I wrote a language plugin for Scala that works really well for my purposes. When I need a terminal-based editor, I use Emacs, like god intended. I've used IDEs happily in the past and will happily use one again just as soon as I find one that doesn't sap my will to live.

Sparrow for email. I'd heard so many good things about Sparrow before finally giving it a try, and now I don't know how I've lived without it. I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about their acquisition by Google though.

f.lux adjusts my screen's color temperature after sunset to match the color of the room lighting. Use it once and you'll say "ew, that's weird"; five minutes later, "I could get used to this"; ten minutes later, you realize your eyeballs would explode if you weren't using it.

Stay is another indispensable utility. It memorizes where I like my windows on my multi-monitor setup and it restores the layout automatically.

• I keep track of books I've read and want to read on Goodreads. Right now I'm reading Mists of Avalon. It is sooooo good.

Chrome for browsing because it really is the fastest, best browser out there. Speed was its claim to fame when it first came out and it hasn't failed to deliver. Still, I'll always have a special place in my heart for OmniWeb. And I have some weird, probably unfounded paranoia about Google knowing everything about me.

• For music, I use a combination of Rdio and iTunes. Rdio has a great UI, a huge selection, and a mobile app that will knock your socks off. I only use iTunes when I can't find something in Rdio's catalog.

• For communication, I reluctantly use Skype, Adium, and Propane. They get the job done but I don't love them. I'm able to communicate but it all feels so disconnected and interrupt-driven and overwhelming. "Should I ask so-and-so over IM? Should I paste a picture of this baby opossum into the API group chat? Should I Skype with my mother when I'm not wearing pants?" And the UIs! Painful. There's just too much going on between these apps and I need them to find a way to come together Voltron-style and live together in harmonious non-annoyance.

Terminal of course, for compiling, testing, and debugging Scala; running Twitter in dev mode; and responding to Twitter incidents. Which entails Scala 2.9 and Kiji, Twitter's customized version of REE 1.8.7.

• On my iPhone, I've been enjoying Path. I've earned a certain reputation on my Twitter account that represents maybe 80% of who I really am, and Path is great for those moments when I just want to say something dumb to close friends.

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly, a small, clear lake, a hammock, infinite bookshelves, a canoe, and like-minded company. I love my work, and I will continue to do my work in one way or another for as long as I live, with whatever devices I have before me. I've programmed on VIC-20s, old Palm Pilots, baby Macs, NeXTSTEP, ULTRIX, whatever. I just like figuring out how things work, solving problems, and learning cool tricks. But I pray one day to be free from the structures of corporate culture. Oh, and I want a seaplane.