Albert Dahan, founder and CTO of Metrological, started writing code at age five (earlier reports of a coding start at age eight were subsequently refuted by his father.) It was the mid-80s. His dad brought home a Commodore computer. By age seven, he wrote his first app: A 20-level game to evade small monsters, while racing to get through all the levels. (Age seven…!)
Fast forward to Metrological, which was deeply involved in building Liberty Global’s app store when the RDK started to emerge. As such, he attended the first “all-hands” of the technical brain trust ferreting out the early details. Since then, he’s become both well-known and well respected for his code contributions, and overall proficiency in the open source community. Here’s more about Albert:
Q: What drives you, when it comes to software design?
Dahan: Simplicity, efficiency, and the best performance for any technical challenge.
Q: What does that look like, when the product is software?
Dahan: In software, every problem is its own problem, in most cases. It’s all about making it run better for the end user. In our case, it’s about making TV better for people. Who is this software for, and how can we make it run the very best for that person? The more we can simplify the code — so that it performs even better, is easier to maintain, and makes it better for the people who use it – the better.
Q. You spent your early days in video code writing in extremely constrained environments — those early digital set-tops were pretty thin, in terms of CPU and memory. Is that how you became passionate about code tightness and simplicity?
Dahan: That’s the challenge, and I like that challenge. But even with bigger resource footprints, in the newest boxes — you still need more features, more capabilities, and you still need to write code tight. Keep it clean.
Q. A common observation about software is that it tends to behave like a gas, filling all available “space.” How do you stay true to tight, clean, simplicity, so that you avoid that?
Dahan: That is a true observation, and one I fight against. Often what you fight against is over-architecture. You’ve seen the diagrams — millions of blocks of elements. Very busy. If someone only has to deliver one of the blocks, it’s ok, but then he or she is only responsible for that block. If you instead bring it down into a smaller architecture, which does the same thing, you can work as small teams and make sure it’s efficient. Plus everyone takes ownership of it.
Q. What’s one thing most people don’t know about the RDK?
Dahan: It’s innovative and open character. The RDK enables anyone to contribute and enhance the open sourced projects it has.
Q. What’s one thing most people don’t know about open sourcing?
Dahan: It’s hard. It’s quite easy to start a project. You start coding. You make an alpha version; a beta version; you eventually wind up with something that can go into production. Making a code contribution, in an open source sense, is really just the beginning! It’s when the real work starts. Why, because it’s open. Everyone can see it, comment on it, suggest changes, submit changes. The majority of it is automated, but I’d say that 1% of it is not. In our case, our 1% tends to be five or six code changes a day that we’re discussing, and communicating about with the contributor. As adoption gets higher, those cases will grow, too.
Q. To what extent is RDK a part of your day-to-day?
Dahan: RDK is within our DNA at this point. We’re working to enhance the RDK every day — to fix bugs, do maintenance enhance features, introduce new features, and start innovation projects for the future aspects of the RDK.
Q. So it’s your everything?
Dahan: For me personally, yes.
Q. What would you highlight as an industry advance that’s directly attributable to the RDK?
Dahan: The openness of the architecture and her components. This gives all contributors and users the capability to enhance the services that operators deliver to their customers. A good example of that is the Netflix integration. That happened on the basis of the RDK architecture. And because of that we are able to deploy Netflix, within the guide, using a hybrid approach, in a matter of a month not years.
Q. What’s the favorite thing you’re working on right now — defined as “you have tons of other stuff to do, but you keep getting drawn back to that”?
Dahan: Connected living. My home contains many different IoT ecosystems. I think often about how we could blend them, in a flexible way, from an RDK perspective. From onboarding, to the standards environment — all brands have their own protocols, their own techniques. So I think a lot about how to make that relevant, from a TV perspective.
My home has many TVs. If the TV is on, turn up the heat in that room, if it’s cold, or turn up the A/C, if it’s hot. Assume someone is in that room with the TV on. Or: The clothes are done being washed. I can’t hear the buzzer, so, alert me that it’s time to put them in the dryer. That sort of thing.
Q. What’s something about you that not many people know?
Dahan: Maybe this doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but, I’m a gadget nerd. I’m not a nerd, but I’m a gadget nerd! My wife, Deborah, goes completely nuts about the number of apps she needs to know, simply to live in our house. The heating, the lights, the AC, the security, baby cameras, window shades, dishwasher, washing machine, on and on.
Other than that … my work is my hobby. So there’s no, ah, it’s 5P, I am now done with work. I love what I do, so, it doesn’t feel like work.
Q. What are you doing when you’re not working? (Are you ever not working?
Dahan: We have two boys: Ben (3) and Ralph (6 months). Any spare time I have, which is little, is spent with them. My eldest loves Legos, so we build whole cities together. I can’t wait until he’s old enough for Lego Technic! We like to go to the beach, go to the woods, go to the zoo. I am all about being with my little guys.