’letmein’ is not the worst test password

3-minute read

Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a technology vendor procurement marketplace. Today, we’re chatting with Ahmed ElSayed, our Principal Software Developer, on how to drive software innovation.

Ahmed ElSayed, Principal Software Developer of Beaze (a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace)
Ahmed ElSayed, Principal Software Developer of Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

Why Beaze?

For starters, we tackle real business problems with unconventional solutions. But really, my Beaze work family is also my family. We may not be blood-related, but the people I work with are my close friends who keep me grounded, and I want to see us succeed together. I’m both humbled and thrilled to bring my passion for technology to the table. 

How did you break into technology?

Besides tinkering with the family computer running Windows 95, I was a massive fan of video games. However, the names were in English (which I didn’t understand at the time). Having grown up in a predominantly Arabic-speaking country, nobody told me what the actual names of these games were, so I made up my own for them. Like, for example, I somehow dubbed “Donkey Kong” as “The Boy and the Cave” since the main character entered a cave and had to slide under and jump over barrels. I was fascinated by how important hardware technology was in enabling those games to run smoothly.

Donkey Kong, circa 1980’s. Beaze, a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace.
The original Donkey Kong, circa 1980’s. Photo credit: Nintendo

In college, I knew I liked the problem-solving aspects of engineering and eventually settled on programming despite having enrolled in electronics. While it’s been years since graduation, I still get excited every day about learning new ideas, techniques, patterns, or technologies in the industry/field. Technology is inseparable from communication, which in turn is inseparable from cultural and global impact and change. I love how tech has the power to democratize access to knowledge, science, and education. Its impact on societies, cultures, and individuals is undeniable.

What’s your philosophy?

To know something, you have to have learned it first. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. One of the most useful technology experiences I had was a very senior coworker who helped review my code change very patiently and taught me how to organize my thoughts when thinking about a problem. It was a reasonably simple session, but I learned a lot by observing him break down a problem and organize my code better to be more readable and concise. I’m most grateful for my school, teachers, authors, and mentors who helped and taught me everything I know.

Child Hill. Beaze, a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace.
“Child Hill”. Photo Credit: WaitBuyWhy

What are your go-to tools? What’s your secret weapon?

Task serialization is a big one. When there are bugs piling up, it helps a lot to have them all centralized in a tracker like Gitlab Issues. You get a flattened list of tasks that are easy to prioritize, sort and tag. This makes it easy to pick off work items one-by-one. Our team gained a HUGE productivity boost when we switched.

For ideation, nothing beats pen and paper. I like to outline problems and sketch out solutions. It seems counterintuitive for a developer, but it’s true. By breaking down problems into a visual decision or component tree, it’s easier to understand abstract ideas. It works for even the most complex systems, from single sign-on (SSO) logins to a distributed resource assigning and reclamation. 

What lesson do you wish you had learned 10 years earlier in life? 

Take ownership and pride in your work. As a software engineer, I proactively obsess about how customers use my products and I’m always on the lookout to find ways to boost their productivity. At my first job straight out of school, my team would often receive escalations from customers. I used to passively wait until a manager decided if we should work on it, ignore it or pass it along org-wise. Even if I knew how to solve the problem, I didn’t take any initiative. Later, I switched teams to work with a group of downright brilliant engineers. Their sheer passion and determination to make products better no matter what was clear as day. I immediately started looking up to them and trying to learn as much as I could from them. They always worked to produce the absolute best they could not rather than to just “meet the requirements” or satisfy an ask. That mentality encouraged me to reach for the stars in terms of innovation and advancement software-wise and strengthened my resolve to push software engineering as far as I possibly can. 

What does success look like to you? 

I always think of a quote from Einstein: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”. 

If I can find a solution that’s both simple and complete, then success feels near. 

If you’ve ever been paged in the dead of night to debug failures in a production environment, you can probably appreciate the mission-critical importance of creating, and combing through debug logs. Once, there was this nestable deployment logger, which allowed software developers to define new scopes for logs. We created an XML serializing technology where the parser managed scope based on the XML tag. However, deployments with 100,000’s of logs bottlenecked because the parser needed to load the entire XML tree to append a node. In short, the cost of appending increased exponentially over time. Switching the implementation for a simple flat text with a simple scope level prefix eliminated the bottleneck and cut the code needed by half. It felt like the perfect combination of pragmatism, performance and reduction in complexity.

How do you keep up with innovation?

I’m curious. As hard as change can be, I honestly enjoy pushing myself to expand and adapt my skills at every opportunity. As Confucius once said: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm”. Github, blogs, and programming discussion boards are all great places to explore and learn. If you need a running start, it helps to take a class first.

How do you give back to the community and why?

I assist with teaching computer science at a local high school and contribute to programming mailing lists and forums regularly. Helping others learn is both emotionally rewarding as well as instrumental in furthering my understanding. I’m better able to distill and explain these concepts to different audiences. I also used to volunteer at a dog shelter, which is where I found one of my dogs, Jasmine. I would never have found her otherwise, so really, the community is giving back to me too.

When Beaze goes big, what will your biggest claim to fame be?

‘letmein’ is not the worst test password

Vivian, our CEO, wanted to demo our product to some investors and needed a demo turned around quickly. Trying to get it out the door in time for the presentation, I got a functional build out in time and thought it might be useful to have at least a little security against random web traffic. I gave it to her with a silly password ‘letmein’ (since it’s historically common and easy to break). She definitely remembered it, and now she won’t let me forget it either :D.

I found my name-sake through tech

3-minute read

Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace that replaces traditional advertising. Today, we’re chatting with Andre Makram, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), on survival tactics for parents in startups.

Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze (a B2B vendor procurement marketplace).
Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, why Beaze?

I believe in the idea. Why should customer outreach be hard or expensive or only for the elite? 

It seems unfair that business goes straight to companies that have money rather than companies that provide the most value. Historically, the ideas that made it big challenged the current way in which we do things and were relevant to the time. Right now, privacy is a huge issue everywhere. Sales costs continue to rise because of the monopolies that individual large ad companies control. Small companies who need help with areas outside of their standard expertise should not be taken advantage of, especially when costs are high and time is scarce. 

To me, streamlining all of these labor-intensive processes simultaneously and making business tools and data accessible to all is a big deal that will change the world. The only way to evolve is to automate away all the repetitive tasks so that you can focus on building innovation. Without a sound basis, you’re stuck doing the same boring stuff day in and day out. Automation is addictive; I’m happy to get my fix on with Beaze.

How did you break into technology?

When I got my first video game, FIFA98 by Electronic Arts on PC. On the first day, I played for 10 hours straight and could have gone longer but then my parents banned me from playing during school days. Technology has never been so cool or fun.

But, more oddly, technology brought my family back together. 

Back in the 1960s, during the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian army conscripted my dad. His best friend, who was Jewish, had to leave Egypt at the time and so they lost touch. The army assigned my father to radar technology due to his engineering background. He wanted to stay as far away from the violence for fear of injuring or killing his friend. My dad felt so bad at the time because he didn’t know what had happened to his friend. He decided to name me after him, Andre. More than 40 years later, Facebook became a thing, and he and my dad finally reconnected through the platform. 

This moment cemented the importance of connecting people to me. I realized then and there that bringing people together would be the most important thing I could ever do.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I helped figure out an innovative way to read data at warp speeds and high demand volume regardless of data writing time. This was critical because we were servicing millions of customers who would be doing a lot of concurrent reading. My team and I were awarded a patent for this innovative approach. We were harnessing the power of storing data in a non-relational database and pushing around new concepts about eventual consistency. 

What’s your philosophy?

I always want to do better than the day before. It’s human nature to want to improve. If you stop, you’ll go extinct. I’ve since learned to manage my time better and go with the flow. Requirements change constantly and you have to just roll with it. Part of the fun and challenge of engineering is the tradeoff between overhauling and designing from scratch versus tweaking an existing design and possibly acquiring technical debt.

When something doesn’t feel right in my gut, I pay close attention to it. Things need to make sense to you in order for you to be bought in and subsequently succeed.

What tools do you use to succeed?

The internet. Sorry, was that answer too broadband? 😀

Seriously though, Spotify. Music changes my mood, it allows me to release stress and regain focus. It’s a big part of my daily routine.

As well, I do only one task a time so I can be 100% engaged. Humans were not meant to multi-task (unless you’re Xabi Alonso).

Don't multitask. Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso
Multitasking done right? | Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso

What words of wisdom can you share?

1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Incremental progress is better than nothing. 

2. Always have a backout plan. This means having a way to reverse course, especially when you’re doing something risky. I’ve seen so many smart people paint themselves into a corner. 

3. Fail fast. You need to know when something is wrong ASAP.

4. Go for the option that is the easiest to maintain when you have multiple equivalent or similar options.

Who inspires you?

In technology, Elon Musk. He had a vision and executed it without compromise. Because he set the bar so high, the engineers had to throw away all convention out the window and had to start from a totally different place.

In life, both of my grandmas. They were both not allowed to go to upper-level education. Since they weren’t allowed, they did it themselves through self-study (and then even went on to home-schooled me in French among other subjects). Not going to school didn’t stop them from learning what they wanted to learn. 

What’s it like being a working parent?

It taught me how to deal with non-predictability and how to prioritize. Just last weekend, I was trying to finish some work on the weekend and my kids kept interrupting me every 15 minutes. To deal with them, I gave them my full and undivided attention in exchange for 2 full hours of heads-down time. It also taught me to manage my time better since I don’t have time to do everything.

I’ve also built out a play date network, both through friends and through extended communities like the YMCA. This allows me to meaningfully spend time with my kids and for my kids to keep having fun in a safe, educational environment with trusted friends and partners when I’m busy. It literally takes a village to raise smart kiddos. 

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

I support the Washington State Arboretum. It’s a favorite spot of mine, they house plants and treats unique to this area that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. I’ve taken my kids and parents there many times and I want it to be just as nice for the next generation. The local staff weren’t sufficiently resourced to maintain the grounds. Last year, a group of us picked up all the garbage and mulched the area to prevent invasive weeds from growing. 

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Beaze to achieve?

I want a customer to tell us that they can’t think of a time when Beaze didn’t exist.

Use poker and piano to read clients

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how the leaders of vendor companies are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with the co-owners of CMIT Solutions of Bothell & Renton, a Microsoft Silver Partner in managed IT services. This power couple, Michel Abraham (President) and Amal Alissa (Vice-President) took some time out to talk about tackling diversity in B2B.

CMIT Solutions of North Seattle, Bothell, Lynnwood, Sammamish, Issaquah and Redmond. Beaze, an IT vendor procurement marketplace.
From left to right: Michel Abraham and Amal Alissa from CMIT Solutions North Seattle. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, Why CMIT Solutions?

Amal: We both worked at Microsoft for most of our professional lives. We had so many friends who owned small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs); they came to us often with questions and issues. We found out that because of their size, they couldn’t receive personalized support from any large corporations because they prioritized enterprise businesses. These SMBs were left behind. 

Michel: I received many support tickets from SMBs while working in a large corporation. Often, the problems had straightforward solutions but would get ignored for 6+ months before being fixed even though the fix itself might take a trivial amount of time. I kept thinking about how not resolving them was harming their productivity (which has a much more significant impact because they were under-resourced compared to larger organizations). They needed the right enterprise-level approach to SMB. That’s what we decided that jumping into CMIT would be a better way. 

How did you break into technology?

Amal: I started in technology at Microsoft. It was a massive shift from being a musician with the Syrian Symphony Orchestra. While music was and continues to be a major passion for me, I was offered a position as a technologist and native speaker of both Arabic and Russian speaker. 

Michel: My dad bought me at a Commodore 64 when I was 14. It was mind-blowing how much time it could save doing math calculations for school. I could see how computers could save people time and accurately as well.

What’s your philosophy?

Michel: Deal with customers as if you’re dealing with friends. Be vested in their businesses and help them succeed.

Amal: We believe in karma. Whatever good you do comes back to you.

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

Michel: I’m a big advocate of Wonderland Child & Family Services based out of Shoreline, WA. They provide a considerable array of services, including occupational and physical therapy, speech-language pathology, special education, and infant mental health. They provide early interventions, and that makes all the difference when it comes to development in children with disabilities. We’ve offered them IT services at a deep discount so they can continue supporting the community. We also promote their organization with our clients to help get the word out. 

Amal: The war in Syria is terrible.  Imagine your hometown, which contains thousands of years of history and culture, being reduced to a pile of flaming rubble from bombs landing overhead every other day. Being a refugee from the Middle East makes it especially hard to immigrate to the US. We support Syrian refugees through donations in the form of money, computers, school supplies and clothing. In 2015, we did a fundraising event that raised $20K with the office of the state governor. More recently, it’s through Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM) (a Seattle-based non-profit). Child refugees and their families in Amman in Jordan, Turkey and Seattle receive school supplies and computers. SCM also has a program to settle the refugees in Seattle. I’ve also performed in a piano concert with Nadar Kabbani (VP of Amazon Flex) to fundraise on behalf of SCM. 

Syrian orphans of war. Photo Credit: Salaam Cultural Museum

What does success look like to you?

Michel: Making a difference to a client. We had this one non-profit client that had terrible infrastructure by every metric possible. We helped turn things around 180 degrees to the point that they are now officially HIPAA compliant. We gave them way more IT vendor services than they had paid for, and it was so worth it to both us and the families they support.

What can’t you live without?

Michel: The right team with the right motivation. You need to trust and delegate because time is scarce. You have to find the right people to help you with your business and that means finding vendors who care about providing value and returns. Money chasers are a huge turnoff.

Amal: Two things:

1) Solid infrastructure. Humans tend to be the weakest link in any operation. 

2) Best practices. Update them often and ensure everyone follows.

What’s it like being part of a minority group in business and technology?

Michel: We’ve always been part of minority groups, both as Christians in Syria and as Syrians in the US. It’s taught us to be more careful; people tend to hold grudges more. It’s best to always proceed with an open heart and mind. We do our best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and be supportive at all times. We teach our kids the same.

Amal: As a woman, it’s about being consistently underestimated. Unconscious bias is still alive and well, unfortunately. I use it to my advantage by allowing others to think I’m less qualified than I am, and then impressing them with better ideas and solutions than they thought possible.

What’s it like being a working parent and a spouse team?

Amal: Seeing our kids growing up, we want to do better. We feel a compulsion to match their success and make them feel proud of us. We also want to make them happy. When they see our drive, they know how difficult it is to be successful in life. They understand the importance of hard work. Success doesn’t just fall in your lap; it teaches them self-reliance. We want them to accomplish more than we have in our lifetime.

Michel: I feel so lucky to have someone like Amal. We complete each other. At home, without her, the house will collapse. I’m able to relax about our home life, whether its about school work, ballet or football. Because of her, I’m ready to focus on work. At work, she’s our resident strategist. She’s also excellent at reading clients and situations. As an IT vendor company, communication is 90% non-verbal and what people say with their faces and gestures is often more informative than their words. I would never want to play poker against Amal.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for CMIT Solutions to achieve?

Michel: We want to have contributed to the growth of every single client and with zero IT problems to boot.

CMIT Solutions (of Bothell, Renton, Lynnwood, Sammamish, Issaquah and Redmond) is a preferred managed IT and software development vendor on Beaze Beta.