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Salvatore Sanfilippo, the author of Redis: from Sicily with talent and passion (baia-network.org)
360 points by davidw on Dec 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Founder @ RethinkDB here.

I've been following (and using) Salvatore's work for a few years, and he's been a huge inspiration for our development team. There is so much to learn from his approach to problem solving -- small, elegant features that do the bare minimum, but do it so well that no other product can come close. I've never met Salvatore in person, but continue to learn from his work every day.

If you haven't spent the time to figure out why Redis is so successful, it's very much worth sitting back and thinking about it. It's the very embodiment of the Unix philosophy, and yet it feels so distinctly unique you can't help but be impressed.

> If you haven't spent the time to figure out why Redis is so successful, it's very much worth sitting back and thinking about it.

For anyone who hasn't explored the Redis source, do it! It's very approachable and strikes and interesting balance between cleverness and maintainability.

Hard to believe I deserve all this kind words, just want to say thank you.

Since the interview didn't go into your Tcl work I want to use this occasion to thank you for creating Jim Tcl. It is an excellent embedded programming language.

For those of you who are not aware of it take a look at http://jim.tcl.tk/index.html/doc/www/www/index.html. If you thought Tcl had to be big compared to Lua and others you will be pleasantly surprised, especially since it comes with UTF-8 support out of the box.

Indeed. And thank the core canonical-Tcl developers (past and present) for the inspiring C implementation, and for antirez having the good sense to realize what he was looking at and model his work on it.

You are a great source of inspiration. Actually I need to say thank you for your work.

As a Sicilian living abroad (which must suffer through a healthy share of Mafia/Mamma jokes regularly) thank YOU for projecting a more positive image of the isle and the country.

i'm a naturalized us citizen. just a piece of advice:

if you're sick of the jokes, you don't have to tell people where you're really from. just make something up, or say something sort-of true and then change the subject.

i got pretty sick and tired of explaining myself and dealing with stupid jokes. nobody needs to know anything about you except your close friends.

I know you mean well, but seriously, why should I hide where I'm from ?

Although they tend to be annoying in the long run, these kind of jokes usually are done without any malice.

I just think it's sad how stereotypes tend to be the only things that define a particular place, when there is so much more to be found.

LOL dude. hide where you're from? this is America. what makes you think anything you've heard from anyone about where they are from is the truth?

It is much easier to tell the truth than to convincingly fake where you are from.

An Italian accent is not so easy to conceal, though :)

I think I've been lucky myself - in 6 years living abroad I was questioned a lot only at the apex of the whole Berlusconi debacle... And even then I think it was more out of curiosity than jest. Ymmv, I guess, depending on the environment...

You are a huge inspiration. Thank you sir.

I've been inspired by you ever since your earlier work in the Tcl community.

You're on my list of cool people that I am always interested in following what they are working on.

This is really inspiring to me as a developer working in Italy for an US company, and not leaving because of kids and family.

Thank you for Redis, but also for rekindling a bit of hope in my heart.

You're awesome.

No, thank you!

thank you for sharing with us all these great designs over the years

I know Salvatore by his nickname (antirez) from 1999-2004 when I was studying in Milan. I knew him as the author of 'hping'. IIRC his nickname featured in some 's0ftproject' articles. Didn't really had a clue that he was the author of Redis! That's impressive, really. I use reds with Sidekiq to run a-sync, background tasks in my Sinatra applications.

I happen to have a mother from Sicily and an entire family there. What Salvatore has achieved is astonishing. There are skilled people in Sicily, but almost all of them leave for a better place due to lack of labour, big corps, good universities and the Mafia which is a VERY real problem in south part of Italy.

That said, the food, the sea and the sight-scenes in Sicily are unbelievably beautiful. Especially the night view of the "stretto di Messina" (the string of sea that separates Sicily) in the summer. Taormina is also mesmerising.

If you're using Firefox maybe you're using NoScript. It's from Sicily too (http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-security/an-interview-wi...).

On the Mafioso in Southern Italy, checkout the film 'gomorrah'. Crazy stuff.

Check it again mate, it has nothing, and I said NOTHING, to do with sicilian mafia. Saviano's Gomorra narrates stories about "camorra", a criminal organization based in Campania, Naples' region. Both are criminal organizations, but are radically different from their origins to their criminal methodologies.

Having around people like Salvatore is really nice for remote working developers. Because you can see that working in San Francisco (or Silicon Valley) is not a must for a successful software developer. I definitely agree on that and with time more and more people like Salvatore will working remote in their favorite places without sacrificing their lives (being apart from their families, etc..) just to work in the valley.

If you can pull a great product and get sponsored like Salvatore, sure, you can match Silicon Valley and make a good living even in Italy. But you have no idea of how much lower salaries are over there and how much lower you are considered as a professional if you take a normal dev job.

For that, I have much admiration for Salvatore.

Source: Born and raised in Italy until I was 18 before coming to work in the United States.

In a way you are right, but I know quite a few exceptions. Also remember that the cost of living even in a large Italian city is much lower than in SV, NYC or Boston. In terms of professional recognition things are definitely improving, but again you certainly do have a point.

Source: lived abroad for many years, took a remote dev job to be able to come back to Italy.

Very nice interview

"The Italian culture is a big part of the things I try to make. One of the main characteristics of stuff I make is that they are "strange", don't resemble how a given problem was solved in the past, and I believe that this is a common Italian trait. Also I try to make things that are simple, but trying to get the fine details right"

This is something to think about, and I believe this is right (even though Italians make this too weird sometimes - e.g. excess bureaucracy)

"Your parents are your first VCs, they are investing into you in a moment where you are full of energies."

Heh, typical Italian. (Not complaining,though)

We Italians come up with unorthodox solutions all the time, because we grew up in an environment that only rewards two things: low profile, or being creative. And creativity is far more interesting.

> This is something to think about, and I believe this is right (even though Italians make this too weird sometimes - e.g. excess bureaucracy)

I'm 100% positive that the author was not talking about the Italian public administration.

Did I say he was? No.

There's bureaucracy outside of government?

I'm a huge fan of antirez and his ethos for things .. one of my favourite toys at the moment is his LOAD81 project, which puts a simple text editor (in SDL) and the Lua language together and gives young minds a nice place to explore programming: http://github.com/antirez/load81.git

imho, even this little project reflects the 'weird italian' way of doing things .. ;) It is short .. sweet .. simple, and everything you need in order to create an entirely new sphere of things.

Nice, I've been following antirez for a while but never seen that project, looks interesting.

It is a quite interesting project .. if you've ever wondered how you can implement a text editor from scratch, using SDL .. or even if you just want a simple way to understand SDL itself, then this project is a great example of how to do thing. I'm hard-pressed to think of a better way to implement an editor in SDL, in fact ..

I worked with antirez at Linuxcare Italy. Nice guy, besides, of course knowing his stuff. He ought to visit northern Italy more often though :-)

It's thanks to David I got exposed to Tcl, he gave me a five minutes intro and gave me a book for the weekend, and I got sucked into Tcl back then. A few weeks later I tried to write a toy interpreter for Tcl in C and this was a turning point for me (years later I wrote a proper interpreter for Tcl btw). This in turn is why Redis is Tcl-ish in some way (for example command names, and INCR everything-is-a-string semantics), and why the Redis test is written in Tcl. Thank you David. We worked together with another programmer called Marco Pantaleoni that also inspired me for a number of things. I remember these days as a wonderful learning experience.

That's hilarious, small world. I'm the author of Sidekiq, a major user of Redis, and I got my start in CS hacking on a Tcl extension:


As a Sicilian engineer working abroad, I always admired Salvatore. I exactly know and perfectly understand what is like to be successful in the comfort of Sicily, I hope someday to be as successful as him and able to come back to my beloved Sicily.

Moreover my wife and I believe that for our parents to experience their grandchildren is extremely positive, so it's not easy to go away.


I live less than 2 miles/3 km from where I grew up, and having my parents and children be able to develop a deep relationship is one of the most important "quality of life" benefits for all three generations. I did not grow up near my own grandparents, and only really got to know one of them through extended summertime visits, so I can really appreciate the difference.

Salvatore is an inspiration for all the developers living in off the grid areas. I am based in Greece where there are a similar challenges (crap government which almost tries to stop you from building a business) and opportunities (good quality of life(especially if you are not in Athens) - family). It would be nice if we reach a point where our location does not matter that much.

It's not too often that the top response to the Stackoverflow threads I find via search comes from the main author of the software, but antirez is all over it with Redis - above and beyond, definitely one of the people I most strive to emulate.

Salvatore is very talented. Not only because of Redis, which is great, but for other great tools too, e.g. sds: https://github.com/antirez/sds

Orgoglio italiano!

Kudos to the interviewer, Franco Folini, as well as Salvatore; these are excellent questions.

Redis easily creates millions of dollars in value, but antirez doesn't get to capture any of it. A 6 figure sponsorship is a drop in the bucket of what antirez should be earning.

How messed up is "our industry" - internationally speaking - if succeeding outside of SC is a major feat?

Or maybe it was more about succeeding in software in Sicily.

Not messed up at all. In any industry networks of people matter, which is why industries tend to cluster in geographic areas. Movies in Hollywood, finance in NYC, software in SV, government in DC, oil & gas in Texas.

Virtual collaboration tools are significantly reducing the barriers, but there is still no substitute for building professional relationships in meatspace. So doing something impressive in a field outside of the human network is an exception, not the rule.

To have just one cluster IS messed up. It would be one thing if Italy had its own tech cluster, or even if all of Europe only had one cluster. I never said that "meatspace" (what a terrible term, btw) isn't important. But why can't it be more distributed?

Not surprising that an apparent American isn't as concerned about it as me, though. Let's all move to the US and then make conferences about how the tech industry needs more diversity. The conferences will be hosted in Silicon Valley, of course. There will be free catering and foosball.

I'm a Ukrainian/Jewish American (though I do, admittedly, live and work in SV).

It's not that I'm in favor of only having one cluster, I've just accepted it as a fact of life. To some degree this has always been the case -- art in Florence, music in Vienna, etc. etc. etc. There are tons of examples.

I'd love for other major clusters to emerge, but sociological laws are as real as the laws of physics. It's no use to lament the inconvenience of gravity, and it's no use to lament the inconvenience of network effects. They simply exist.

> art in Florence, music in Vienna

The period of glory for one local school was much shorter than you can grasp with a superficial familiarity with the subject. And even during that period, the "lesser" centers were also important to the history of art.

> I'd love for other major clusters to emerge, but sociological laws are as real as the laws of physics. It's no use to lament the inconvenience of gravity, and it's no use to lament the inconvenience of network effects. They simply exist.

Hand-waving pseudo science. Do you have anything concrete?

That's not support. Particularly, it doesn't reduce the burden of proof for fact claims, it just amounts to the proposition that you should interpret a particular claim in the most reasonable form supported by the actual words of the claim.

So you're saying that I should, by the Principle of charity, just accept that your explanation is true and actually has some merit from a sociological perspective with no actual evidence? I don't think the point of that particular principle is so that you can get away with saying that things are true, in the same way that gravity is true. That's a pretty high standard to set for some truth!

EDIT: serial down votes are nice. "Hey, screw this guy, let's down vote all of his posts in this particular thread".

You're the one claiming he's being hostile towards non-Americans for no reason and making trite comments about pseudoscience in the face of the reality before you.

> with no actual evidence?

There is evidence, look at the thread you're posting in. Also you could imagine what phenomena you might see when individual actors following personal incentives make choices. Maybe you could then ask yourself why centers of gravity sometimes seem to move around, and look at examples in history, and then why not ask yourself how being in a world with more affordable travel would affect things. You could then understand things about how the world around you works. But no, it's easier to cry pseudoscience and not have to think about things.

Don't take it personally. They also did it to me. While we lack the "knights of /new" from reddit, we have a new breed of "knights of serial downvoting" :-)

Well, there are efforts to have an Italian cluster (http://www.h-farmventures.com/en/ and similar), the European cluster is probably London, and the global cluster is SV for sure. It's not _that_ terrible.

Sadly, h-farm does not really play in the same league of even third rate incubators in sv, both from cash and expertise perspective... And it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon

It's a neat place, but it's also way too isolated. You can't have an "ecosystem" if everything else around you is farms:


Succeeding outside Silicon Valley isn't a major feat. More people have done that than have succeeded inside Silicon Valley.

Now, mostly, although not exclusively, they have done this in other large urban areas - New York, London, Boston, etc. Succeeding outside one of those, in a rural area with no historical track record in technology, though, is something of a feat.

Luca Garulli created OrientDB and I believe he is also Italian. Super helpful guy too.

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