With 11 years of Alfresco experience, Robin brings a lots of expertise to the Alfresco community. Get to know more about him and his work in this week's featured member profile:
Joint CTO at Ixxus
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to use Alfresco.
I was introduced to computers at a very early age by my Dad who brought home a Hewlett Packard Series 80 from work and I remember playing a downhill skiing game on it. We had a series of home computers from the early 80s (Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48KB, Amstrad CPC 6128) and I used to tag along to the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) computer club in Bristol. The most notable alumni of that club was the late Sir Terry Pratchett who used me as a hat stand for his trademark black fedora.
A computer science degree followed and then I embarked upon a career within IT consultancy.
In early 2005 I was in discussions to join Opsera, a start-up that was going to build a CMS, when Alfresco came out of stealth mode. One quick pivot later and the plan was to build an information management appliance based on Alfresco. So I’d poked around with the earlier preview releases of Alfresco, but started in anger with version 0.6 in September 2005.
Opsera became the first Gold Alfresco partner in the UK. The Enterprise Services division was later acquired by Ixxus, an Alfresco Platinum partner, in September 2010. Ixxus was acquired by Copyright Clearance Center in May 2016.
What challenges did you face? What are you most proud of?
Having spent the previous 9 months on a Microsoft-based data warehouse programme, one of the biggest hurdles in learning Alfresco was getting my head around the Spring Framework application wiring. Inspecting the runtime behaviour to be met by a call stack full of e.g. Proxy$54 required a different approach to understanding a code base!
I’m proud of having been able to share a lot of my knowledge primarily through Alfresco conference presentations and helping to influence Alfresco’s technical direction, but in hindsight from 11 years of involvement of Alfresco, the idea that I’m most proud of was to expose Alfresco as an IMAP server. Small legal firms were an initial target for the information management appliance and those users lived in Outlook. I proved the concept in late 2005 on Alfresco 1.0 and it later became the OpsMailManagerproduct. Alfresco ultimately commoditised the idea when basic IMAP support was included in Alfresco 3.2.
How are you using Alfresco currently?
At Ixxus, we took the decision 5 years ago to specialise on providing content solutions to the publishing market. Consequently, we have developed a range of Ixxus Publishing Modules that augment Alfresco and have won various awards from Alfresco e.g. Solutions Partner 2013-2015. The most common use case is for helping publishers create, approve and publish their content-centric products. As Chief Scientific Officer I am mainly involved in higher level discussions & architectural decisions, though I do get the occasional deep dive.
What resources have been the most helpful?
I learnt Alfresco the hard way at the bleeding edge and tracking the commits, but I have to say that Jeff Potts' ECM Architect blog is a good read.
Any secrets, hacks or advice for new users?
I’m a big advocate of Open Source which has always been one of the appeals of Alfresco. However, with great power comes great responsibility; or just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently doing quite a bit of pre-sales work that will hopefully result in some new customers both for Alfresco and Ixxus.
If you’ve worked on multiple Alfresco projects, which has been your favorite?
It’s a tough call, but a recent favourite was a customer project in 2014 that involved rolling up my sleeves to work on encryption at rest development for AWS S3. Amazon had just released Server-Side Encryption with Customer-supplied keys (SSE-C) so meeting the customer need required modifying upstream open source libraries as well as extending the Alfresco S3 Connector. This was the topic of one of my BeeCon presentations earlier this year.
What’s one tech trend/software/app that really excites you?
I think the server-less space is going to get very interesting in the short term, but graph technology is one of my key areas of interest. The Neo4j 1.0 release announcement in early 2010 gave me the idea to reimplement the Alfresco NodeService interface…
Anything you’d like to share with the community? A fun fact about yourself?
I think my earliest contributed patch to Alfresco was to fix the CIFS code to support multi-homed servers. That resulted from some network traffic inspection to see why we couldn’t map a network drive to Alfresco when it was running on a Linux server as opposed to a laptop.
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