Interview with Alexandre Manai, R&D Software Engineer

Cecilia Mobio |
July 23, 2019

Find out all about the professional life of Alexandre Manai, R&D Software Engineer at ActiveViam

Hello, Alexandre. Please could you introduce yourself?

I am an R&D software engineer working on ActivePivot, our core product. I studied at the Ecole Centrale Paris (Central School of Paris) and I also obtained a dual degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Oxford in October 2016. I then had my first professional experience working in the R&D department of a Fintech company, where I helped develop a web platform that centralized multiple tools. I dealt with back-end Java development and front-end JavaScript development.

How did you end up working at ActiveViam?

When I was working in my first role, I decided I wanted to work with servers as I had a strong interest in managing and optimizing complex algorithms. I had the chance to have a discussion with the heads of ActiveViam at the Centrale Supélec Forum and they left me with a very good impression of the company, especially as they told me that it was normal practice to give newcomers important features to develop. I eventually ended up starting at ActiveViam in July 2017.

Can you tell us about some of the large-scale projects that you’ve been tasked with since you joined ActiveViam?

As soon as I arrived, I expressed my willingness to get my hands dirty, so after a few weeks of training I was given the task of developing an important component.
Our ActivePivot software features a series of tools which each process part of the long journey that takes place between a user request and a data result. Among these tools is the Aggregate Provider which brings together different data storage and data recovery methods with the aim of trying to find the best compromise between memory usage and processing power. It is therefore really a question of achieving the right balance, depending on the available resources. When I arrived, there were two options. The first used almost no additional memory, and therefore required recalculations in order to retrieve information from the database, and the second method was faster but required more memory capability. In this context, I was given the task which involved a real research aspect. It consisted of trying to find an intermediate method which would be less demanding in resources and perform well. This lengthy task took me eight months to complete. There has been a real learning curve, through which I have been supported by our senior engineers. I realized that there are lots of things that we’re not taught in school, such as coding conventions, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything is rigorously documented at ActiveViam, which is something that really improves workflow.
If I had to sum up my daily life in a nutshell, I would say that my main responsibility is developing new features, as well as improving existing ones, and providing overall support in dealing with bugs found by customers. Needless to say, each new feature must undergo one or more tests to ensure the proper functioning of the feature and measure its performance.

What skills are required to work with servers?

This may seem obvious but you need to know how to program effectively, keep performance issues in mind, and clearly distinguish between the phases of critical software creation and of software use. The truth is that there are more secondary skills expected of us, such as seamlessly writing code, making it readable to others and taking code reviews seriously, but also being able to learn how to manipulate other tools, such as Git for version control, or the tools involved in continuous integration.

What are the advantages of working for this company?

ActiveViam looks for developers who can get up to speed quickly, which allows you to get swiftly to the heart of the matter. This was why they entrusted me with the main task I mentioned earlier, without having strict deadlines. Although there is a real need for high-quality code, we are obviously not expected to know everything from the get-go. However, we are expected to know how to continuously learn and how to reason quickly and efficiently. In exchange for this freedom, we are entirely responsible for our code so if a bug is identified, it is up to us to fix it.
At the same time, being surrounded by very competent colleagues is highly valuable: if you are faced with a dilemma, you can count on them rather than looking for an answer that is not necessarily adapted to your issue on forums.
Of course, having reasonable hours is also a huge plus as it gives me time to indulge in my two passions: sport, and drumming!

How do you see your future at ActiveViam?

I came here to become an expert at developing algorithms and, more generally, an optimization expert, specializing in Java programming language, so that’s my main priority. I would also like to develop skills in system administration, network engineering, the cloud, etc. These are things which are not taught in manuals but are regularly and episodically experienced through our tools. Again, ActiveViam focuses more on quality than on sticking to deadlines at all costs. This allows us to devote time to aspects that might be seen as additional work in other companies. We are responsible for our own training, which ultimately allows us to perform better.
I want to finish by highlighting the overriding friendly atmosphere at the company, not only between colleagues but also with the line management who are always available and know how to be informal when appropriate. You only have to experience the atmosphere at our traditional summer BBQ hosted by the head of R&D, or our annual ski retreat!

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