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Byron Rakitzis
Byron Rakitzis is an accomplished musician. (Facebook Photo / Byron Rakitzis)

Byron Rakitzis is the co-founder and architect at Igneous Systems, a Seattle-based data-storage startup. He’s also an accomplished classical musician, and he said that with technology, “when you’re in the flow, it feels similar to playing music.”

The musical flow started at age 6 for Rakitzis, when he started playing piano, and during his lifetime he’s played more than a dozen instruments, including violin, flute, bassoon, oboe, “and a bunch of weird ones like krummhorn.”

Rakitzis’ story hit the right note with us, and he is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

“My favorite instrument is the violin, which I’ve been playing seriously for almost 15 years,” Rakitzis said. “The repertoire of the violin is limitless, and I know I’ll be learning to play the violin for the rest of my life. Even though I’m a classical musician, I know that with the violin, I could also play bluegrass, jazz, or rock. You can do just about anything you want with it.”

When it comes to the tech part, Rakitzis was the first employee at NetApp in Mountain View, Calif., where he said he wrote a third of the code in the first product they released in 1993. Igneous was a finalist just last week at the annual GeekWire Awards, where it lost out in the Innovation of the Year category to Microsoft.

“I’ve authored or contributed to more than 30 patents in storage and file systems,” Rakitzis said. “I’m compelled by the storage story and I feel like I contribute my skills to solve difficult problems.”

Those passions also leave room for a real love of food and what the Pacific Northwest has to offer in that regard.

“I like visiting farmers’ markets and pickling cucumbers in summer,” Rakitzis said. “My Polish wife has taught me a lot about seasonal fruit and vegetables. I feel better when I think about what I eat. I love that so much good seafood can be sourced right here in the Puget Sound. It’s worth expressing gratitude just for being here in Western Washington.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Byron Rakitzis:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m co-founder of Igneous Systems, a secondary storage startup. As its architect, I design, write, review and implement code that solves enterprise storage problems. Mostly, we use the Go programming language. I was previously at a successful storage startup in California so I understand this problem space. With Igneous, we have a new twist on an old story. I’m compelled by the story and feel like I can help. There’s an explosive growth of data use in our world, and Igneous is solving a big enterprise challenge — the need for secondary storage to store, back up and archive data.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Data storage is a persistent problem. It’s not going away. We live in an information-saturated world. The challenge of storing, curating and cataloguing it will be with us for a long time.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “A few things inspire me: making a breakthrough that turns into a patent or a paper. Finding a unique answer to a technology problem. Creating a computer program that functions beautifully by doing ‘more with less.’ I’m also inspired by intelligent colleagues. If you can work in a community of really smart people, you will have a rewarding career.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My laptop. The laptop is the “Dick Tracy” device of old. I’ve fixed bugs for Igneous while riding the S-Bahn in Berlin. That’s tremendous. What freedom.”

Byron Rakitzis
Byron Rakitzis at the ping-pong table at Igneous Systems. (Byron Rakitzis Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Barebones, which frees me up. I don’t like to sit much and my laptop is portable — so I can be on the move when I need to. When I’m at the office, I like to talk to the other programmers anyway. Collaboration is the most valuable aspect of office life. You’ll often find me talking to my colleagues over a game of ping pong. There’s also a treadmill desk at the office and I use that whenever I can. You can often find me in coffee shops with my laptop, as well.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Build in routines to unplug. I reduce the hours where I’m actually chained to a desk and work more opportunistically. It’s hard for me to stop thinking about work so I just let that happen but I make sure I’m always home for dinner and I make breakfast for my kids. Spending quality time with my family is priceless.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac — It runs Unix under the hood so for a seasoned Unix user, it’s very familiar. Just type at the shell prompt! But the graphical interface also just works. I’ve been a fan since I got a Mac ‘cube’ with OS X on it in 2000 or 2001.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard — that rich speaking voice gives him his command authority. He’s an old soul. ‘Next Generation’ had deep and beautiful storytelling. Q testing Picard by sending him back through time to live out alternate what-if timelines is genius.”

Byron Rakitzis
“It’s worth expressing gratitude just for being here in Western Washington,” Byron Rakitzis says. (Byron Rakitzis Photo)

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time machine. I’d get to go back in time and have coffee with Mozart.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Be honored. It’s happened a couple of times in my career and it’s always thrilling.”

I once waited in line for … “Wimbledon 1999 — A friend and I took the first Underground at 5 a.m. and queued up outside the grounds for hours and hours in a snaking, long line. They let us in at 9 or 10 and we got to see John McEnroe and Steffi Graf play mixed doubles.”

Your role models: “All the great music teachers I ever studied with. They taught me what it means to pursue excellence to the Nth degree and to be completely uncompromising about results. My flute professor in Holland combined musical integrity with generosity and care for his students. If I could be a tenth as good as that, I would be proud.”

Greatest game in history: “Go — an Asian analog of chess but far deeper and more interesting.”

Best gadget ever: “BIC lighter.”

First computer: “Mac SE (along with 2400 baud modem!) purchased in 1989.”

Current phone: “iPhone SE.”

Favorite app: “I just don’t do apps. Safari?”

Favorite cause: “Doctors Without Borders. They go where other organizations can’t or won’t go. They go where people need help the most. I’m utterly humbled by what they do.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Tesla Powerwall battery pack — the one you put in your home.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Driverless cars.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Cultivate your sense of history … our perspective is far too short-sighted, and many ideas have been around for a very long time. “There is nothing new under the sun.'”

Website: Igneous Systems

Twitter: @IgneousIO

LinkedIn: Byron Rakitzis

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