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Interview with Low End Talk Member @stevewatson301!

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One of the best parts of being a member over at Low End Talk is getting to know the other members. Today we’re featuring an interview with well known and well liked Low End Talk member @stevewatson301. Steve’s been a member since 2017. The LET/LEB staff are grateful for Steve’s contributions to our community!

Hello! Do you want to share anything about the work you are doing for your job, the kind of work it is, what you do all day, not necessarily the identity of your employer (though you can say who it is if you want)? Thanks, Steve!

Most of my professional experience has been working with the “big clouds.” I currently work for a Fortune 500 company where I’m responsible for building a service on the cloud that controls and monitors IoT devices.

Apart from this, I like to self-host stuff and operate several websites, which helps me better my DevOps skills. These things can quickly become rabbit holes for even more side projects! For example, I used to run a network of honeypots to monitor brute-force attacks. I have another project measuring network latencies and the like.

Next I might ask about your participation here at LET/LEB. Why are you here?

I initially discovered LEB while looking for a cheap VPS. As someone who had only done things locally so far, the thought of having a server running on the internet was exciting! My first server was with MikroVPS.

Later, I wanted a Windows VPS, but couldn’t find a similar deal. That’s when I checked out LET, though I was mostly a lurker at the time. At some point, LEB’s offers became rather tame. Some seemed to provide great value on paper, but their servers frequently had slow performance and downtime. That’s when I started being more active on LET to find better deals. I stayed for the various things you could learn about the hosting industry.

How could LET/LEB improve?

It’s a touchy subject as I don’t see eye-to-eye with the current management. While their heart is in the right place, I can’t help but feel the execution was abysmal.

I’m not quite sure what it is, but I feel that LEB is missing the “spark” it used to have in the ~2015 era. I also feel that the number of things one could learn about the industry from following conversations on LET has declined, and there has been an uptick in the number of “trashy” conversations.

That’s a lot of complaining! To answer the question, the current management needs to figure out what they want to make of LEB and LET, without immediately jumping to monetary goals. For LEB, there needs to be a content strategy that connects with its intended audience.

For LET, moderators should goad folks away from low-value conversations. Perhaps, LEB could also add value to LET. I’ve seen some websites use their forum as the comments section, drawing in members who may otherwise have had no interest in the forum.

Can you say some more about the tech stack you use for your job? Any Tool Command Language (“TCL”)?

For the cloud side, we mostly use Java and Python. There’s also C/C++ for the IoT devices, which talk to these cloud services using MQTT or HTTP, as the case may be.

As for how we build services, the trend these days is to split things up into “microservices,” which are components with a few, well-defined responsibilities that talk to each other via network calls or persistent queues. These microservices run on various managed cloud services provided by AWS.

For example, we use Fargate for our regular containers and Lambda for some short-lived tasks. We also use RDS for the database, which can do some cool things like multi-region database setups!

Why attend university when many jobs in tech don’t require one?

A university education can give you a more well-rounded understanding of computer science. This makes you a better problem solver – as an example, I once had to track down a performance issue in an application, where I could apply a few things I had learned in my operating systems course!

At the same time, I’ll admit not all jobs require a degree, and you can learn way more through online courses, or even just tinkering around with technology in your spare time. As an example, most of my DevOps experience happens to come from my side projects.

Do you have a favorite IDE? What do you use most of the time?

I’ve used many text editors/IDEs over the years – I started with Notepad++ when I was still in school. I used Atom for a brief period but switched to Sublime due to performance issues. I then switched to Jetbrains’ free student offerings and concluded that their products were head and shoulders above anything else.

Fortunately, the companies where I’ve worked have had a significant developer base using their products, so that took care of the pricing. (Though I’d say their products are certainly worth the price.) Due to my line of work, this means I use IntelliJ and PyCharm.

What are a few great deals, especially great VPSes or dedis, or other wonderful items which you found here on LEB or on LET?

GreenCloud’s BF2021, Hosthatch’s BF 2020, and offers from Inception Hosting that I found on LET have served me well. Further, LET’s community made me aware of Oracle Cloud’s free tier, and I have some experiments running there.

I’ve never been much of a dedi person. Though many folks on LET like to consolidate all their workloads onto a single dedi, I’m wary of putting all your eggs in one basket.

For tech jobs, what do you think are the current salary differentials, if there are any differentials, between no degree, CS degree, and EE degree?

It is a relatively broad topic with many nuances, and I can only speak from my own experience. So my answer will certainly not be all-encompassing.

If you’re early in your career, having that CS degree gives you a leg up in terms of the roles available. Employers like to bump up the requirements for any given position, and certain software development and SRE roles require a background in networking or operating system that is difficult to gain outside of a degree.

Not having a CS degree in these cases often means you’re ineligible or aren’t the first preference of companies. This, in turn, implies you might have to go into a mid-tier company or can’t negotiate your salary to the extent that may have been possible otherwise. For some SRE roles, I’ve observed a 30-40% difference in compensation between mid-tier companies and the big players.

Outside of some of the specialized fields I mentioned above, many companies are willing to look past the degree requirement. Frontend web development is a great example, where being able to show examples of your work, having some freelancing experience, and just generally having a good grasp of a frontend framework is often sufficient to get a job with a well-playing employer.

Managing an open-source project is also something that many employers consider. Personally I consider it a bit unfair given that many people have family responsibilities or might not have the “marketing” skills to gain traction around an open-source project, even though it may not speak to the technical excellence of said project.

For EE degrees specifically, this is a whole other topic. A lot of these jobs aren’t being done in Europe or the US and are outsourced to China which naturally pushes down salaries for folks who are based out of these regions. As far as I’m aware, embedded folks at my company are paid about the same or slightly more than software developers. However, generally speaking, there’s a return-on-investment factor to pure hardware/embedded companies, which means many companies can’t afford to pay as much as a pure software company.

Do you have an image we could use?

So, I have a number of side projects, and one of those happens to be running honeypots on tiny VPSes (with a dedicated IPv4 though, NAT doesn’t really work for this use case) to be able to analyze behaviors of bots and attackers on the internet. I’m sure everyone here had the experience of their servers getting brute forced by these bots.

There are already a lot of honeypot projects out there, but I do things a little differently. I use iptables port forwarding to be able to listen on all ports, and then handle each connection based on its protocol.

For SSH and telnet connections, I put them in a docker container, to avoid detection of my honeypot and to see the actual behaviours/payloads instead of just their initial connection attempt. Once attackers think that it’s an actual system, I’ve observed them trying to port forward connections to email servers and websites in hopes of sending spam, credential stuffing, and the likes. This is what it looks like on a particularly busy day:

Honeypot on a busy day

I think I ought to ask you about the honeypot software you are using. Did you get some of it from somewhere? Looks like you wrote some of the software yourself? Is what you wrote available anywhere?

Yes, I wrote the software myself in Python, as I was looking for some features that aren’t available in other software I’ve seen so far. It’s not public at this time, and the code isn’t quite the best.

Since you and another member has asked the same question some time ago, I may consider making it open source in the future. There would be a post on LET if I do.

What would you recommend for self study about Lisp interpreters?

If you’re looking to learn more about the front end bits of compiler design and don’t have an academic background, I’d suggest starting out with the tatsu Python module and follow the calculator example, as it teaches you some stuff about grammars and how to design them with associativity and precedence in mind.

Once you have got the hang of it, I’d suggest taking a look at the Crafting Interpreters book for more depth on the front end and back end parts. It skips over some of the code optimisation bits (which can get complicated quickly, search for cloog if you’re interested, not that I understand it either as such advanced math is never covered in an undergrad course), but it is instructive and teaches you stuff.

There’s also https://www3.nd.edu/~dthain/compilerbook/ which contains a condensed overview of many design choices in the area of compiler design.

Are there other folks who you’d like to see interviewed for LEB?

If I may suggest, why not take look at interviewing providers like Virmach or UltraVPS? Or maybe if you’re looking at forum regulars, Nyr, ValdikSS, yoursunny about networking topics.

Thanks for the suggestions! Thanks for doing the interview with me. I really appreciate it!

Thanks for your time, and for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Not_Oles

3 Comments

  1. Steve – thanks for the suggestions on LEB/LET. Always listening.

    Great interview. I enjoyed reading it and it is always good to hear about the background of our community members.

    Thanks to both @stevewatson301 and @Not_Oles.

    June 28, 2022 @ 2:59 pm | Reply
  2. Outstanding interview. It was a pleasure to read, and it is interesting to learn more about the histories of those who are a part of our community.

    July 8, 2022 @ 3:39 am | Reply
  3. weaboo:

    kyaaa, Steve-sama, kakkoii!

    August 14, 2022 @ 8:13 am | Reply

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