BitTorrent People: Richard Brooks

An up-close look at some of the personalities found in our BitTorrent offices.

It may sound crazy, but wizards do exist, and at BitTorrent we have quite a few of them lurking in our midst.

Of course, they’re not magical wizards. But they can play one heck of a game of pinball.

Richard Brooks, an engineer who recently switched teams from working on our Sync product to engineering for one of our latest Labs initiatives, Maelstrom, is one of those wizards. Our pinball table is a source of fun and also competition, and Richard has proven himself to be quite a force in our pinball Hall of Fame.

I sit down with Richard to chat about education, start-up atmospheres, and how pinball actually works.

So what do you do here?

I used to work on the NAS packages and the build system for Sync.The position I was originally hired for was was Quality Engineer for the Consumer Electronics Team. Eventually the Customer Electronics team was brought on to the Sync team with the goal of getting Sync on as many devices as possible.

With Maelstrom I am focusing back on the quality assurance side of things: starting with build system improvements and automated testing of the browser.

What is it like engineering for a distributed system?

It’s definitely a lot harder to test. The overall testing environment can be a lot more complex than that of a website. However, thanks to Sync having an HTML-based user interface, it wasn’t too unfamiliar. I previously worked for a streaming music website – and so a lot of familiarity I had with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS translated pretty well with Sync.

Now working on the browser, that familiarity should be really helpful.


What brought you to BitTorrent in the first place?

When I left my last job I didn’t have another already lined up. I left Florida to see if I could find a job in San Francisco, thinking that I’d have an easier time with a San Francisco address on my resume than one in Florida. Thankfully, I had some family I could crash with while on the job hunt.

Of course, when I received the offer from BitTorrent, it was kind of a big deal. I didn’t expect an offer from the company behind as significant a technology as the BitTorrent protocol.

Your path here was a little different, since you quit school and entered the workforce young. 

The way I’ve found that I learn best is by having a project I care about accomplishing. That environment makes for excellent motivation to learn whatever is needed to get there. When I got started in my career, it was with an internship that encouraged taking on these sorts of interesting projects. That internship eventually turned in to a job as a QA-developer – sitting between engineering and customer support. It was front-line bug reproducing, filing, and fixing. Fixing the first bug may have taken a week, but you quickly pick up the domain knowledge and things speed up.


Richard, at right

You come from a more startup-like background. How does BitTorrent compare to that?

BitTorrent is more structured, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. A startup can be much more hectic, especially around Crunch Time. In that respect, coming to BitTorrent has been refreshing. I’ve also greatly enjoyed working with teammates who’ve been engineers or entrepreneurs in technology for the past few decades. That sort of experience isn’t necessarily there at a startup where most folks are in their 20’s.

It’s also the case that BitTorrent tends to organize small cross-functional teams around products. These teams go a long way in getting back some of that startup feel. Especially with Project Maelstrom — it’s a very focused, startup-like atmosphere.

Still, having smaller teams, you have that startup feel. Especially with Project Maelstrom — it still feels very fresh.

You are also a main fixture in our arcade.

I do like to say that I have a standing meeting with the pinball machine around 3pm. The game room is a great place to take a break from problem solving. Whenever you feel like you’re smashing your head against a wall, it’s better to put the problem on the backburner and do something different. A lot of smart folk tend to pass through the game room too, and so hanging out with your coworkers often leads to coming back to the problem with some new ideas.


How have you become so awesome at pinball?

Pinball is not something I had a lot of access to as a kid. There was an Addams Family table in the bar of a restaurant my family went to, but if you weren’t 21 you really weren’t allowed back there. So playing pinball was not something I got to do too often. That probably has something to do with why I think pinball is so cool.

Having pinball at the office is great. When I first joined, a few coworkers onboarded me with some beers and pinball. Not long after another engineer, Bryan Lester, got me to sign up for a pinball league. The league was a great way to get to know the city while getting out and meeting interesting people. Since then, I’ve put in enough hours to be somewhat practiced.

Addams Family is a great table — it’s the most mass-produced table ever made and a lot of people are familiar with it. Like most tables it’s fairly simple: you can go for the multi-ball or go for the objectives. Both of which are fun. The objectives progress nicely to a fun wizard mode. But it’s also a very difficult game. There’s no ball save and the magnets are rough. For those reasons, I think that’s why it’s a good competitive table.

I had a great game recently of 489 million, even with a weak right flipper.

What’s your favorite thing about working here?

That’s a tough one!

I consider quite a few coworkers friends. And going to work with your friends isn’t work. It’s fun.

Want to be a part of the BitTorrent team? We’re always looking for fun and exciting folks to round out our many departments. Check the job listings here.

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