Meet the team: Alan Herbert, Software Engineer

Antimatter HQ

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to the team behind our groundbreaking cryptographic infrastructure service. Want to join us? We’re hiring!

What about this role excites you? 

We’re working on a difficult, global problem that needs solving: protection of private information.

The technology we’re building now will be used by B2B SaaS companies to provably secure their clients’ data, but the fundamental components could eventually be applied to other issues, like giving individual internet users control over who can access their private information. Currently, personal data is used to do things like run hyper-targeted ads and sway election results, and it’s almost impossible to control how your data is used. In a world where it’s becoming hard to have a novel thought—because our data is used to influence what information we see—it’s nice to be part of a project that is working to keep data secure.

I like difficult problems, and this is a very difficult, very interesting problem. Other companies have invested a lot of time and money into solving it, but so far there aren’t any good solutions. Antimatter is working on a good solution, and I want to be part of that. 

What are you working on right now?

We’re trying to achieve a fully encrypted containerization environment with as little impact on the developer and client using the product as possible. It’s one thing to solve the problem, and another thing to do it well. We’re doing it well.

Where were you before Antimatter? 

I got a PhD in enhanced network threat detection using hardware acceleration. I’ve worked in security at a bank, lectured for a bit while finishing up my doctorate, and have had a whole bunch of side jobs along the way, from game development to educational tools. Now I’m here. 

Can you tell me about your experience with the Antimatter team? 

It sounds lame, but at Antimatter I’ll never be the smartest person in a room, and I love it. Everyone here is sharper than I am in their own way. It’s a huge learning opportunity—every day, I work with people I trust who conduct themselves well. 

Sean is amazing at low-level networking and wrangling data. Michael has a wealth of engineering knowledge, and has a really good sense of what will work and what won’t. Seeing how he reasons through problems is so helpful—the way he thinks and draws conclusions is really impressive to me, and I’m trying to see those connections as well. I haven’t worked directly with Allen yet, but he’s great, and brings years of database experience—it’s freeing to be able to trust a coworker as much as I trust him. Beau is an excellent designer, and has a skillset that I will never pick up past a rudimentary understanding. Andrew is great at what he does and has a lot of experience and knowledge about starting a company. I learn from him every day. 

When I feel like I’m not growing, I get bored and lose interest. I don’t think that will happen at Antimatter.

How would you describe the culture?

It’s really supportive and trusting. If you ask for help, you get it—and if someone asks you for help, you’re encouraged to do the same. I’ve experienced other workplaces where you can’t ask a question, because the response you’re going to get is: “You should already know this.” At Antimatter, everyone is excited to explain and share. We work hard, but it’s easygoing. We’re honest with each other. When something arises that is actually an issue, people will tell you, and will work with you to find a middle ground. If you’re not coping, you can say so, and the team will help you find the resources you need. 

The Antimatter team at our second retreat.

Tell me about one of your favorite past projects.  

I’m from South Africa. During my fourth year in university I built a toy network simulator to see if it could be used to better train students in the field. It was also used to run simulations based on the infrastructure of South Africa, testing to see what would happen if a link breaks or a data center goes down. The government in South Africa took a liking to it and asked if I wanted to do the research properly during my masters.

Electricity in South Africa is expensive, infrastructure that can support large installations is expensive, and we don’t yet have a lot of people trained to maintain such infrastructure. If I wanted to set up a network with 10,000 users as a test, who’s going to look after it? So instead of building a test network, we can simulate it all in software. I built a large scale network simulator with one million nodes, with simulated endpoints like chat clients and web servers. You can also bind real computers into it and have users interact directly with the network in real time.

What’s it like working with a globally distributed remote team? 

I haven’t battled to get a hold of anybody more than usual, even when everyone’s in an office. And we have in-person retreats, which really help. It’s different to meet someone and interact with them outside of work—cleaning a rented house together, cooking food, going skiing. You worry more about their personal wellbeing. It’s been good.

Why did you choose to work for a small, early-stage company? 

If you get in early enough, you get to shape the product. You get a say in what technologies to use, how solutions should be implemented, and best practices. It gives you a lot of creative freedom. 

I’ve had frustrations when I’ve joined companies where there’s already a set way to do things that can’t be changed. An older company might eventually reach the point where they are set in what languages they use, and to make any significant changes would commit them to months of work. 

Now’s a good time to join because you get to be part of the decision-making process about how things will be done. I’m not forced to think and do things in a certain way. That makes me feel comfortable. 

What are some of your hobbies outside of work? 

I play guitar, I play piano, and I tinker a lot, particularly with hardware. 

I etch my own printed circuit boards (PCBs). I take a piece of fiberglass laminated with copper, mask off certain sections, place it in a chemical bath, and let the chemicals dissolve away everything that isn’t the circuit I want. From there, I can solder on the parts I want. I use the PCBs to make fun objects, like a machine that plays GIFs on loop (below). It’s like LEGOs for adults. 

Want to learn more? Meet our founding team and check out our open positions.