Meet the Lindens is a series of conversations / Q&A session with staff from Linden Lab, held as a part of the SL Birthday celebrations in-world. These present opportunities for Second Life users to get to know something about the staff at the Lab: who they are, what they do, what drew them to Second Life and the company, what they do, what they find interesting / inspirational about the platform, and so on.
Wednesday, June 22nd saw Oz and Landon Linden sit down with Elrik Merlin and Saffia Widdershins, this article hopefully presents some “selected highlights” of the chat, complete with audio extracts from my own recording of the event. Note that these are not necessarily presented in the order items were discussed during the session; to maintain a sense of flow, I have grouped some items together. However, for those who would like to hear things chronologically, the video the session is embedded at the end of this article.
About Oz and Brandon
Oz Linden is perhaps best known for his work with the viewer and open-source communities in Second Life. He joined the company in 2010, and is perhaps one of Second life’s most unabashed and proud promoters.
Starting in support of the Lab / open-source community relations, Oz moved upwards and forwards in the company, managing the relationship between the Lab and the third-party viewer community, and thence on to Director of Engineering, and lobbying for the post of Technical Director for Second Life when the Lab commenced re-aligning itself to manage two large-scale core products: Second Life and Project Sansar.
He has a strong background in open-source development and in web technologies, including voice applications, communications protocols and defining industry standards definition. He notes of working for the Lab:
Working on Second Life comes with some odd benefits… you get to pick your own avatar name, and it turns out that’s what everyone at work calls you by. So I became Oz Linden. Four years later, I’m the Director responsible for Second Life core product engineering, and having more fun than a barrel of virtual monkeys.
Landon Linden is the Lab’s VP Operations and Platform Engineering, a post he has held since December 2013. Originally a research chemist with a long-term involvement in MUDDs and MMOs, he decided that there were probably saner pastures in which to work than research chemistry (he relates with a smile), and so hopped over into IT, working in consultancy prior to telecommunications before joining Linden Lab in August 2008 as a Lead Systems Engineer.
Since that time, he’s been literally at the heart of Linden lab and Second Life, initially leading the engineering team that designs and implements the network, infrastructure, and low-level systems on which Second Life runs as well as managing the team responsible for creating all the Lab’s internal applications: support tools, service administration apps, and continuous integration systems including test automation.
In October 2011 he became Director of Systems Engineering and Operations, responsible for technical operations and platform engineering (data centre, network, system infrastructure, build systems, internal tools, and application security) as well integrating some of the Lab’s third-parties service (Amazon AWS, CDN providers). From here he moved on to Senior Director Platform Engineering and Operations, overseeing the team which creates the platform for all Linden Lab products (e.g. platforms, payments, virtual currency, data warehouse) and ensuring production services run as smoothly as possible. With his move to VP Operations and Platform Engineering, Landon now also oversees the foundational infrastructure and services being developed for Project Sansar.
It’s interesting you have this cross-over between chemistry and virtual worlds. do you see any kind of common ground, apart from the madness?!
Landon: I think about this a lot, and I really wish I could come up with a really interesting answer, but I don’t. In terms of what I was doing in chemistry and what we do in Linden Lab; I don’t see a lot of base overlap. One of the things that I used every day in chemistry and what I tend to use in my job today is the underlying methods can be similar, particularly with regards to statistics.
… One of the things that fascinates me about virtual worlds is that it is a human-created space but it’s also part of the machine; it’s in the computer. And so we have lots of information, just like social networks, about what is happening, how people are behaving. So, one of the things that has always fascinated me is sociology, psychology and economics. What frustrated me about those disciplines back in my hard science days, back working as a chemist, it was very difficult, and it remains very difficult, to do hard science research on that. And in virtual worlds, there’s this kind of perfect collision of the kind-of fuzzier side of science and the things you can directly measure.
Economics in particular is something that I’ve been desperately interested in, and I think most economists would just drool to see what is happening, directly measure what’s happening, in the Second Life economy.
Oz: I think those disciplines are not as far apart as you think they are; at least based on my experience. I have a whole bunch of former chemists that I’ve worked with in programming over the years, and I think the thought processes are very similar.
Landon: I think it’s worth pointing out though, that I think that virtual worlds and Second Life in particular can be tremendous tools in teaching people about chemistry. In fact I have a story – I will spare you the gory details – but I had a professor in college who just put it quite plainly that everything you needed to know about organic chemistry is summed-up in two kinds of principles.
One is electronic effects, and that essentially means that negative or opposite charges are attracted to each other, or like charges repel each other. And stereoelectronic effect, which essentially means you can’t fit a square peg through a round hole. And if you can visualise what is happening in a chemical reaction, it will help you understand whether or not something’s going to work, or at what rate it will work. So virtual worlds can be a really powerful educational tool for chemists, to help them understand that, “Oh these things actually have physical size, and they willing fit together if they want.” And we’ve seen some of that.