Meet Grig Gheorghiu, Head of DevOps
Welcome to our latest Meet the Team post, where we introduce some of the hard-working people who keep Reaction Commerce moving forward. Today we’re talking to Grig Gheorghiu, our Head of DevOps. Grig joined the Reaction team in 2018.
Grig, you’ve traveled a long and winding road to where you are now, from boot camp in the Romanian military to Head of DevOps for an open source tech startup. What’s your origin story?
This could turn into a short novel so I’ll keep it concise. I was born and raised in Romania, and I was a college student when the Berlin Wall fell and the communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe. I would never have guessed I would write these words on a Mac laptop in Los Angeles but such is life.
Military training was compulsory after high school in Romania during my time there, so I went through 9 months of that. It probably doesn’t differ that much from the experience of spending 9 months in a low-security prison in the US (although I hasten to say I haven’t had the latter experience). One favorite moment is when a group of us changed into civilian clothes and jumped the fence to go into town. We got back around 2 AM and upon jumping the fence back into the unit were promptly surrounded by six or so fellow soldiers brandishing AK-47s with live ammo pointed at us. An officer was there as well. He took out his pistol, said ‘I am going to shoot each and every one of you’ and pointed it slowly at each one of us in turn. Then he changed his mind and had us spend the rest of that night cleaning toilets. I’ll stop here before I become too nostalgic.
When and how did you first learn to code? When did you first start to consider yourself a programmer?
I did my undergrad studies in Computer Science at the University of Bucharest in Romania. A big accent there was placed on theory at the expense of practice, so I didn't get a chance to code too much, other than some homework style programs I wrote in Pascal, C, and Prolog. My first real coding experience was at my first job, where I had to quickly learn how to use C++ on MS-DOS. The team there was very experienced and they had already built a large number of C++ classes for this custom widget library they were using. I had to learn the whole class hierarchy, which was overwhelming. I almost quit, but I am glad I persisted. A year later I was tasked to counting the number of lines every programmer had written in the previous year, and I came up on top. Believe it or not, the bonus that year was based on that number. I’ve been a firm believer in the virtue of copy and paste ever since (j/k).
Since those days, my career has taken me all over the place. I worked as a programmer in Romania for 3 years, then I came to the US and switched to network and systems programming, then to system architecture and administration. I also worked quite a bit in the field of QA automation. I can say that all these experiences have trained me well for my current role as DevOps engineer.
Tell us a bit about your past retail and ecommerce experience.
One of my first jobs in the US was at Guidance Solutions, an agency which did some pioneering work in the dot-com days by launching high-profile ecommerce sites such as footlocker.com and relaxtheback.com. I worked there as a Systems Architect and I cut my teeth in terms of designing, deploying, and monitoring reliable and high-performing system infrastructures for these sites. But being employed by the agency, I was never too involved with the actual day-to-day operations of the companies behind the sites.
Moving to the client side at NastyGal was my first chance to work on an ecommerce site from the inside out, as part of the team who built out the site. It was a good experience and it made me realize how complicated it is to sell real things (clothing in the case of NastyGal) on the Web. There are so many systems that such an ecommerce site needs to interact with—order management system, fulfillment systems, ERPs—and they all have a penchant for using really antiquated technologies, which makes interoperability very hard to achieve.
Working at NastyGal also made me realize that at the end of the day, the technology is just one part of the success of an ecommerce site, especially in the fickle world of fashion. It is hard-to-impossible to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the customer’s taste, and it is also very hard to achieve Amazon-like levels of customer satisfaction. Free shipping, two-day or same-day shipping, free returns, there are all these bells and whistles that consumers just expect from ecommerce sites because they are so used to getting them from Amazon.
Did you have any role models who led you to where you are today? Who influences you now?
I was fortunate to work with very talented and caring people when I started out as a programmer. They taught me the value of working as a team, and of helping and mentoring others. This has continued over the course of my career. I can’t really pinpoint any one person as a role model, but I would say that I admire and try to emulate people who are good at building out teams and at inspiring people to find the best in themselves. Curiosity and enthusiasm are two qualities that I look for and try to cultivate, both in myself and in people that I work with.
You’ve been with Reaction for a bit over a year now. What’s it been like so far?
It’s been a great year at Reaction. Amazing how time flies. The one thing that has really stood out for me here is the way that people walk the walk and not only talk the talk when it comes to life/work balance. I think it comes from the top, from Sara (the CEO of the company), who always encourages people to take care of themselves and to respect their time outside of work hours. I remember an email she sent when we were all under extreme pressure to launch a site, and she insisted that nobody work over the weekend. It takes courage to do this, and I respect it.
We are a very distributed team here at Reaction, and that brings both benefits and challenges. It makes it harder to interact with people from extremely different time zones. We have an annual all-hands meeting which makes such a difference in terms of meeting everybody face to face.
What are some things you’re working on right now?
For the last 6 months or so I’ve been immersed in the world of Kubernetes, Infrastructure as Code, and CI/CD pipelines, mostly for companies who want to launch ecommerce sites based on the Reaction Commerce platform. I’ve enjoyed the ride, and I am also thinking ahead and planning some infrastructure projects internal to Reaction, applying all the lessons learned in the last six months. I have around 1,000 tabs open at the same time in my browsers (plural) and I would like to implement at least 1% of those ideas. Some examples include provisioning AWS infrastructure resources with the newly launched AWS Cloud Development Kit and deploying services in Kubernetes using the kustomize toolset.
What do you do for fun? If we could peek into your life on evenings and weekends, what would we see?
I like to go for a 2-3 mile run whenever I can, to unwind and clear my head. I read a lot, so the Kindle is my constant companion. This year I also started to learn Russian, which I find hard to do, but fun at the same time. My goal is to read Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky in the original Russian, with no dictionary. ETA: 2030.
How would you describe your personality in one sentence or less?
I’m repeating something I put in my LinkedIn profile, but I like to believe that a fortune cookie I once got is right: ‘Your mind is creative, original and alert.’
What's a piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
Whenever I was able to follow this advice from the book of Proverbs, things went well for me:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
What are some shops or ecommerce experiences you like or admire?
I admire Amazon’s relentless pursuit of perfection and of zero friction when it comes to getting you to buy stuff from their site. It’s so easy to get addicted to the Amazon Prime service, with same day delivery being more and more common. They also make it way too easy to get books on Kindle.
If you were to launch your own storefront on Reaction, what would it be called? What would you sell?
I would partner with Elon Musk and sell round-trips to Mars. The site would be called 29secondstomars.com.
How about one last ‘Grig Fun Fact’ for everyone?
OK, here’s one: The '80s were a dark period in communist Romania, but we managed to sneak in music from Western Europe and the US. It probably helped us retain some sanity. Hence, I am a HUGE '80s music fan. Some of the songs we used to dance our nights away to were ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics, ‘Time after Time’ by Cindy Lauper, ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco, ‘Sussudio’ by Phil Collins, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham!, and too many others to fit in one blog post.