Interview With Janko Simonović, OriginTrail Senior Software Engineer
At OriginTrail, we are very proud of our development team. They are one of the most active blockchain open-source development teams, as you can see from our GitHub. To give our amazing colleagues from the dev team a much-deserved shout out, we launched a new line of interviews with OriginTrail team members. The first to undertake the challenge was Janko Simonović, a software architect and developer. He previously spearheaded the Reproducible Computational Analyses for Bioinformatics (Rabix) project and worked for great companies like Seven Bridges Genomics and Frame. He joined OriginTrail this spring and we are excited to introduce you our lover of coffee and code, Janko.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to our community?
I am a software engineer with great interest in various areas of software engineering and computer science. I like to tackle challenging tasks, especially when there is no straightforward way to solve them. I always try to be engaged in different fields of software engineering, from the field of graph theory and workflow engines to performance and scalability in general.
A little bird told us that you invented/built some interesting things throughout your career. Care to elaborate?
I have worked on various interesting tasks during my career. Since most of the solutions are proprietary and not open-source, I cannot talk about them. An open-source solution I feel really proud to have worked on is Rabix: Reproducible Analyses for Bioinformatics. Rabix is an open-source workflow executor, supporting recomputability and interoperability of workflow descriptions. After working as an active contributor to the Common Workflow Language protocol for some time, I felt the need for a scalable solution that will be able to execute CWL payloads in a performant way and that is how the idea behind Rabix was born. I invented the algorithm that powered the workflow engine and I was in charge of it while working for Seven Bridges Genomics, my previous employer.
You can find a brief description of the solution presented by me at the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC) 2017 held in Prague here.
What personally drives you to participate on our open-source project and why does open source matter/makes the world a better place?
The thing is that I thought that, in order to be open-sourced, the code needs to be perfect. This is not true. Maybe this is the reason why I did not open source the things that I had built earlier in my career, and got involved in it later. It is funny that at first I had to open source some of my projects, and then realized the whole potential of it. There are a lot of benefits of to open source. In my personal opinion, we would still be in the dark ages of software engineering if we did not embrace the open source ideology.
“It’s all about that collective mindset, contribution and transparency, which I find really important.”
There are many aspects of it that I find really appealing. When I use technology that is open-sourced, I feel much safer, because I can always know what is behind it. Whenever I think that I can somehow improve it, I can always do that and contribute. Maybe someone else can use it, right? It’s all about that collective mindset, contribution and transparency, which I find really important.
How did you get interested in the blockchain and decentralization?
The first thing I do when I hear hype surrounding a certain product is look at the technology behind it. I knew about many consensus algorithms and their usage, and I wanted to find out why the blockchain was so popular. When I tried to see the potential of it, I got tumbled across a lot of articles and blogs. I could not see the real potential because there was too much information on the price, trading and similar. There were just some basic details about the technology. That’s why I stopped for a while. Considering the tendency towards hype in our world, I wanted to wait for the smoke to disappear.
After meeting Branimir, I realized the real potential of the technology and untapped value behind the hype. We were talking about real problems and I tried to tackle them in my head. The missing puzzle piece was a consensus algorithm that happened to be the blockchain. So yes, OriginTrail was the reason why I got into this world. :)
It is easier now for developers who are not familiar with the technology. Every day, there are more and more really valuable materials about this technology in particular. I think that the time of the blockchain, and decentralization in general, is still to come. Don’t get me wrong, centralized and decentralized systems can happily coexist.
And, how did it lead you to OriginTrail?
Actually, OriginTrail led me to the blockchain.
What does your day look like?
It depends, really. Most often, I spend a great part of the day coding. Especially these days. That’s a good thing because I really enjoy doing that, but sometimes it means that I have to skip some of my hobbies. You might actually see me committing code at 3 a.m. But, as people say, it’s not work when you’re doing something you love.
In my freetime, I enjoy comics, going to the gym, hiking whenever I have the time, spending quality time with the people I love and I do not want to forget my dog Charlie.
Which challenges and/or use cases that OriginTrail is solving are you the most passionate about?
We are tackling many problems. Building a decentralized and scalable solution that solves a real set of problems in the supply chain area is not an easy task. There are many obstacles and we have to be creative every day in order to achieve what we had in mind in the first place.
“One of the most appealing to me is that we move information out of independent data silos and distribute it all over the world for the benefit of companies as well as the end consumers. Our system provides trust, which, in my opinion, is one of the most desirable features in the supply chain industry.”
As for the use cases, there are a lot. One of the most appealing to me is that we move information out of independent data silos and distribute it all over the world for the benefit of companies as well as the end consumers. Our system provides trust, which, in my opinion, is one of the most desirable features in the supply chain industry. Most things in life are easier when they are transparent.
If you had a magic wand, which blockchain and/or ethereum problem would you solve in the blink of an eye?
Sometimes, I wish I had that magic wand. I would like to solve a lot of things, but there are two that I sometimes find really annoying. As an engineer, I would definitely solve the scalability issue because I think that it is one of the most important bottlenecks, which, when removed, has the potential of transforming a lot of industries. As a user, I would make cryptocurrency wallets more user-friendly and secure.
Which skills does an engineer need to become involved with blockchain technology?
It is all about the engineering mindset. When you think as an engineer, it is not about the programming language you use or the tooling. It is more about the ideology and decentralization in general. We are so used to centralized services that we forget about the early days of the Internet itself. I recommend newcomers try to visualize the potential of the blockchain, and then choose the right tooling for a particular problem.
If you want to get involved in writing smart contracts, you should also be aware of some features and downsides. For example, learning Solidity is not hard, but designing a smart contract with immutability and gas in mind can be really tricky.
On the other hand, if you want to build your own blockchain, think twice. Maybe it is not necessary.
Any closing thoughts for our community? What should they be excited about in the months to follow?
I want to thank the community for giving us valuable feedback in the first place. We are working hard on improving the resilience of our code and reiterating through the protocol itself. Besides that, we are working on introducing some new cool features and lowering the cost of using the protocol. Stay tuned :)