Diane and I left Edmonton Tuesday night for a quick trip to Dublin, Ireland where I visited Pocket Kings for an interview. If successful, we'll most likely move over there later in the year. Here's how the trip went. Our flight left Edmonton at 7:45 on Tuesday night. Our friend JR was kind enough to take us to the airport, so we arrived with more than the pre-requisite two hours to get through airport security. Having not eaten anything yet, we sat down at the Montana's in the waiting area and had a lazy dinner while keeping an eye on the hockey playoffs. It took almost an hour for the food to be cooked, I'm not too sure why they were so behind, but we had two hours to kill before hopping on the plane, so we didn't mind.
The schedule involved a roughly 8-hour flight to Heathrow airport in London, followed by a 2-hour layover there and a 1-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland. Surprisingly, the flight over wasn't too bad. Diane and I got the middle three seats of the Boeing 767-300. So we raised the armrests and had a chance to have each of us sprawled across two seats to sleep for a little while. I think I got about two hours of sleep on the flight, which wasn't too bad considering I don't tend to sleep well on planes. Diane did a little better than I did I think. As part of the entertainment, we saw the movie Enchanted which was kinda fun. It's not a terribly indepth movie or anything (being Disney), but it was cute.
We landed in Heathrow in around 1:30pm local time, and followed the appropriate paths out to terminal one where we had to catch our next flight. Heathrow differs from other airports I've been at in that they don't announce what gate you will be leaving at until a certain set period of time before your flight departs. So you wait in the large common waiting area for the magic board of numbers to show you what gate you go to, and then you run off to that gate because your flight is probably boarding already.
The flight from London to Dublin was pretty boring. In fact, it was the hardest part of the trip out there for me. We were trying to stay awake so that we could hit the time change running, and that proved awfully difficult on the less than one-hour flight over. But we arrived safe and sound in Dublin, a little dazed from the long travel, but not in too bad shape. We got into the hotel and made a couple phone calls to Darse and Mike who we planned to meet up with to see a little of Dublin and stay awake long enough to make sure we were going to bed at night.
So about an hour after settling into our hotel, Darse and Alexandra arrived at the hotel to show us around the hotel vicinity a bit and then we hopped aboard the Luas green light rail train headed to downtown to meet up with Mike. We took it all the way to the end of the line to St Stephen's Green station which lets you out next to St Stephen's Green (a relatively large public park with well-maintained flower beds and grass), and Grafton Street (a busy all-pedestrian shopping and pub area in central Dublin). Darse took us to a place he and Xan really like called Bewley's. They were heartily recommending the salads there so I ordered a goat cheese spinach salad that was very tasty and very filling. It had large bacon bits on it (bacon in dublin is a bit meatier and less fatty than north american bacon. It resembles back-bacon a lot more). In fact everyone at the table had a salad and they seemed to be enjoyed by all. I also got the opportunity to try out a Guinness competitor called Murphy's. I rather enjoyed.
By the time dinner was over, it was getting late since we sat and chatted for quite awhile. Before heading back to the hotel though, we tried to pull out some euros from a bank machine. Unfortunately, both Diane and I had trouble pulling money out - Diane even made the machine go out of service! Oops.
So failing that we hopped back on the green Luas and headed back to the hotel more than ready for bed. I tried to get a good night's sleep, but probably didn't get any more than 5-6 hours. I was to have a big day the next day, after all and I just couldn't get my mind settled down enough to sleep. Even after I got to sleep I still woke up at something like 3 in the morning - probably due to the jet lag as well as my nervous excitement about the interviewing the next day. Diane fared a lot better than I did and managed to sleep most of the night.
The next morning we ventured down to the hotel lobby to feast on the included continental breakfast. It was a decent spread, although it wouldn't change at all while we were there. There was some very tasty croissants, a decent selection of breads to toast, a large fruit tray, a cheese platter, some cold cut selections, as well as cereal, yoghurt, juice and even some fruit smoothies.
After relaxing a bit at breakfast, we ventured from the hotel to the pocketkings office. Diane was meeting Xan there to spend some time exploring Dublin while I got grilled and roasted in interviews all day. I'll let Diane tell you about her time exploring.
Okay, so it wasn't really a grilling session. Actually it was quite pleasant. Darse gave me a fast paced tour of the office -- which is spread over two floors in a building the Cherrywood science and technology park. The building is actually right across the street from Dell's Dublin office.
After getting a quick tour and a guest pass to give me access to the many, many security doors scattered throughout the office, I was sat down in a room to meet up with members of various teams within the company. The first person I met with was Aaron Davidson -- a former member of the UofA CPRG (although we never worked on the project at the same time). Aaron gave me a pretty good overview of what the structure of the company was. For those interested, there is a *lot* of breadth across the computer field at the company. Everything from low-level server programming, to hardware, to QA, to internal tool building, to website design maintenance and content, to ... well there's a lot there.
After Aaron, I met with a guy named Diarmuid who is one of the server guys. He drew me a very nice diagram of how the server powering full tilt actually works. It was a little overwhelming, but it was also pretty neat. It's a big event-driven architecture which impressively handles over 10,000 simultaneous users. It's pretty neat, but it also sounds like it'll have some pretty intense growing pains over the next few years. Working there seems like quite a challenge!
I had very short meeting with another member of the server team named Deoni (no idea how to spell that, so I apologize to him). The reason wasn't anything to do with us, but rather that it was lunch time. So we went up to the kitchen where pocketkings has a set of full gourmet chefs cooking up a storm for lunches. Through some sort of legal loophole they charge 0.10 euros for each lunch (just to avoid counting the meals as benefits). The lunch consists of your choice of any or all of 3 main courses, a choice of salads and sides and dessert. And it changes every day. Sounds like if I end up there I'm gonna have to watch how much I eat!
After lunch I spent some time with Darse chatting about bot detection techniques, and then I had meetings with Chuck and Brendan who are both leaders of various teams. The meeting with Chuck felt a lot more like an interview since he was asking me some of the typical interview questions. He was quick to explain what he was trying to do though -- he was trying to figure out how I would fit into the company, along with several other things like whether hiring me would be a good investment for the company since each employee requires a fair amount of training. I'm not too sure how well that conversation went, but it ended abruptly since I had to go talk to Brendan. That was a nice conversation -- we talked about several things including what direction the company is going and what challenges they are going to face over the next little while.
I was a bit overwhelmed at this point having met so many people and having had some fairly intense discussions, but Darse had two more people for me to meet: Henry and Shawm who are members of the Biz-Int (business intellgence) team. This team is the one that makes decisions about what games to run, what the policy of the site should be, the marketing, game fairness, and all that sort of thing. So that conversation was pretty interesting since both Henry and Shawm play poker and we got a chance to talk about things like the man-machine poker match and stuff that is near and dear to my heart lately.
After that meeting, I relaxed for a bit before we headed out to dinner with several of the Biz-Int team to a high-falutin (yup, I used your term, Darse) restaurant called Divas. I felt a bit underdressed since I hadn't dressed up for the interviews (if I had it would've been a bad move since the company isn't like that). The staff at the restaurant asked to take our coats when we entered, the food was fancy, expensive and small-portioned, and they didn't even serve beer! Still, it was a pleasant evening with lots of wine and we had more than enough food which admittedly was pretty tasty.
After dinner a bunch of us went down the block to an Irish pub to meet up with some of the server guys who were out having dinner to say goodbye to one of their members. So we sat down and I enjoyed my first pint of real Irish Guinness. It was pretty tasty, although to be honest I didn't really know how to tell the difference from home. I guess I hadn't had enough guinness in Edmonton to compare to it.
After dinner Diane and I caught a cab back to the hotel and fell into bed. It had been long day for both of us, although Diane got considerably more exercise than I did sitting around the office. I did decently for sleep that night although I was up and awake around 7am still wired and excited about the next day. I was considerably calmer than the previous night though since the first day of meetings went so well.
So we got up and grabbed our continental breakfast again and then I cabbed it into the office by myself this time. Diane had plans to meet up with Xan again to explore more of Dublin (I'm so glad that Xan did this for Diane so she didn't have to be all lonely for two of the three full days there!).
The second day at the office was much less demanding than the first one. It seemed that most of the meetings with new people were over, so I sat down with Darse for a good chunk of the morning talking about bot-detection. I think I've even contributed something to his efforts ... but we'll see how that goes.
Before lunch I met up with another member of the team who I can't remember the name of (sorry!). I enjoyed our conversation immensely, but I think part of the reason was just that I wasn't repeatedly exposed to his name ... and people who know me know how bad I am at absorbing names. In fact, I'm quite happy with how I managed with names while I was there! Anyways, we talked a bit about some of the not-directly-server-related topics that he was working on. He's building tools that can abstract important subsets of the gigantic event stream coming in into various views on those events that can be used to do useful things. Stuff like viewing "hands" is difficult on the event stream without a tool to help you do that.
We had another tasty lunch, and then I sat down with Aaron for a little while to take a look at some of the actual code in the server. It's a pretty intimidating system -- but it's nice that it actually has a fairly intuitive underlying design. It's just that the implementation definitely has it's quirks that make it a bit of a headache to deal with. So was pretty cool.
After that I kind of just sat around for the rest of the afternoon catching up a bit on some reading and hanging out around the server guys who were all working. We had dinner out planned with the server team, so I had to wait until after 6 before we left for dinner. It felt a bit weird not having people to meet then, but no one else had scheduled meetings with me and I didn't really know what else to do.
So after waiting for awhile we left for dinner. After the goodbye evening the night before though, only 4 of us ended up at the restaurant. Still, it was a good time with the conversation touching all kinds of different topics from poker to various work things to holidays and even some office gossip!
Dinner went fairly late, but Diarmuid was kind enough to give me a lift back to the hotel where I met back up with Diane and heard about her day. And then we got some sleep so we could enjoy our explore Dublin day!
After sleeping in a decent amount (and missing the continental breakfast), we got in touch with Darse who was kind enough to organize the other people we knew and we left to meet up at St Stephen's Green and wander around Dublin for awhile. After having a quick brunch (at 2:00pm) at the Croissenterie, and finally solving the bank machine giving us euros problem, we walked by several touristy things: Trinity College, Christ Church, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, and another garden that I can't remember the name of that had a statue of Oscar Wilde. We also stopped in at a cafe in Mark's and Spencer (a department store), a couple of pubs (the Bull and Castle, and the Porterhouse), and eventually ended up going to dinner at Fives. (Lots of food and drink, if you hadn't noticed!).
Aaron wanted to go play some poker that night and I was curious to check out a european card room so Diane kindly let me go play for awhile. She hung out with Xan, and Aaron's wife Christine at Cafe En Seine, which is a nightclub close by the casino. Meanwhile Darse, Aaron and I bought casino memberships and headed inside to play some 1/2 pot limit hold'em. We played for a couple of hours, and both Aaron and I had really good sessions. Aaron made over 200 euro and I made over 240 euro! More details from that session on my own blog.
The ladies came and grabbed us and we shared a cab back to the hotel, saying goodbye to Darse, Xan, Aaron and Christine since our flight left the next day. It was a fun day of exploring, eating, drinking, and gambling! So thanks to all of them for making that possible.
The trip home was an ordeal, but not due to anything more than boredom on the flight home. You know it's a long flight when you watch the first movie, have dinner, and try and sleep for awhile ... wake up after what seemed like several hours only to find that there's still four and a half hours left to go! But we made it back to snowy Edmonton in alright shape. JR and Shelly were kind enough to pick us up at the airport and drive us back into town despite some terrible driving conditions. We counted TWELVE cars in the ditch on the way back in ... and there were still idiots speeding by despite the terrible road conditions.