Singlewire Spotlight: Nick Pongratz

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Each month, we’re featuring one of our stellar team members on our blog. Learn more about them and what they do at Singlewire.

How long have you been at Singlewire and what’s your position?

I have been a systems engineer at Singlewire for three years, with my start coinciding with the auspicious date of April Fool's Day, 2015.

Before working at Singlewire, I was a network voice engineer at CDW, and in 2010 happened to have the pleasure of working for Singlewire to design and install their small Cisco-powered phone system when Singlewire moved to their office in Madison. Since then, every component of the system has been updated and replaced (so I am no longer on the hook for dropped calls).

Please describe what you do at Singlewire.

As a member of the Platform team, I build and maintain the operating system (affectionately known as "Platform") shared by the on-premises components of InformaCast, InformaCast Fusion, and the Paging Gateway. This includes developing and maintaining our high end "back office" systems that perform the work of building the operating system.

I tweak our OS to run on various hardware and virtual platforms, develop scripts and tools that define interactions among various OS components, create tests to confirm proper operation, and I am involved with proactive and reactive responses to security issues. I also spend a lot of time carrying out research and experiments to improve and test various aspects of the OS and our build systems, including performance optimization and security testing.

What do you like best about working at Singlewire?

I love working alongside Singlewire's hardworking and truly intelligent, talented professionals in a bright, comfortable office in the woods. I find my work stimulating, challenging, and enjoyable, and I love knowing how the fruits of our work help countless people.

I hope to avoid sounding ingratiating, but I believe all of this is primarily enabled by our executives and managers who have set a positive tone since the founding of the company. They have created a culture of high achievement, where I have never felt micromanaged or pressured into a death march. Because our work is so important, we have high expectations, and are entrusted with great responsibilities and fairly wide latitude to execute (within the constraints of business realities, of course).

What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on here?

My favorite project was my first at Singlewire: creating the operating system ("Platform") for Paging Gateway 1.2.1. This involved learning about and setting up the build system and infrastructure, creating automated tests, and helping to design and implement foundational services such as backup, recovery, and upgrades.

Paging Gateway 1.2.1 was my favorite project because of its fantastic results and the amount of learning and work that went into it. Its design has proven robust, and we have been able to incrementally improve on it with every release. It was a great success with which I was proud and quite pleased, and I think I am even happier with the results of each subsequent release. We learn a lot with every version of our software, and the foundation we laid with PG 1.2.1 allows us to apply what we learn to continually improve our process, our systems, and the software we release.

Where do you see Singlewire in the next five years?

In five years, I think we will broadcast to more than desktop phones and computers, mobile phones, overhead pagers, and digital signage. Given our flexible design, we are ready for any new medium that emerges as the best way to inform people about emergencies and other critical communications.

We will also serve a far greater number of customers in five years. We make every release more powerful, easier to use, more resilient, and more customizable for various industry verticals. In addition, we are doing work today that will greatly enhance the security capabilities of our offerings, which will make Singlewire the most effective notification provider for customers with especially sensitive security requirements.

What TV show or movie are you most ashamed to admit you love?

“The Postman” (1997) is the greatest movie of all time, and in no way am I ashamed to proclaim that scientific fact. What's not to love about a slow-moving, three-hour, post-apocalyptic (failed) blockbuster set in 2013, starring Kevin Costner, the late Tom Petty, and dramatic cameos by an inexplicable lion?

Honorable mentions:

“The Punisher” (2004)

Perhaps I should be ashamed that I have found enjoyment watching a vigilante initiate vengeful acts of extreme violence. To be clear, I do not believe noble ends justify immoral or unethical means. Be that as it may, The Punisher is probably my favorite superhero film.

“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (but mainly just the first two seasons and the last episode)

The characters are extremely bizarre (sometimes grotesquely), the plot makes no sense (when there is a plot), and each episode is twelve minutes long. All positives.

“It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”                             

Nihilism is bad, mmmkay? It can also be insanely funny.

What was the last book you read?

Fiction: I recently finished the “Dark Tower” series, Stephen King's epic magnum opus and pseudo-autobiography. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys westerns, mysteries, soft science fiction, fantasy, or any of King's other books, as this series ties many of them together. (Like a certain rug in the foyer, but I digress…) I started reading the series in 1994, and while it's nice to finally finish it, the story will forever cycle through my mind.

Non-fiction: “Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking,” by Oliver Burkeman. Recommended for anyone who is weirded out by the unrealistic, unquestioning, lockstep adherence to positive thinking demanded by many so-called self-help "gurus." It's a survey of a few philosophical schools and psychological practices, and their sensible, pragmatic approaches to improve happiness. I enjoy philosophy, and do not enjoy "gurus," so this book was right up my alley.

What is the best concert you’ve ever attended?

Taylor Swift, when she opened for Phil Vassar at Madison's Willow Island in August 2006. Having me in her audience was clearly the peak of her career; it's been downhill for her ever since.                  

As fun as that show was (and it was fun, especially seeing Phil Vassar!), my actual favorite concert was the second time I saw Dream Theater, in 2002. I spent most of the show in the front row with my dad and a very good friend, almost getting crushed in waves of humanity, ecstatically enjoying some of the best progressive metal ever created. I am still amazed at the preternatural skills showcased by each member of Dream Theater, and we still talk about how much fun we had. (Rock on! \m/)

A very close second would be seeing Roger Waters in 2017 with my fiancée, Norma, and her brother. I've been a fan of Pink Floyd much longer than I've known about Dream Theater, and finally seeing Roger Waters's spectacular performance, live, was a dream come true.

Spotify, Pandora or iTunes and why?

Ugh. iTunes, very begrudgingly. Of these three options, it (probably) invades our privacy the least, but I greatly dislike how buggy it has been since version 5, how inexplicably resource intensive it is, and how terrible its user interface is.

Now, ahem, since I have the microphone, please allow me to promote VLC as a superior option for your music playing needs. It does not spy on you or your media consumption habits. It is open source, ad-free, trustworthy, and plays everything well. Its user interface, while spartan, is consistent, uses few resources, and is less crash-prone—everything I hope for when I sit down to listen to an album like Dream Theater's “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory,” or my favorite podcast, “Sovryn Tech.”

One horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?

One hundred duck sized horses, but only if they're wearing roller skates (obviously).

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