Making movies and curing HIV

Many of you may not know this, but in addition to being a performance test engineer I moonlight as a facilitator for making movies and curing HIV. This is true of every single person who works for Isilon.

During the hardware beta for what was released as Isilon’s S200 platform, I was working with one of the big movie studios who were evaluating the new platform. Sadly, this is not an externally referencable customer but it’s safe to say you and most children you know have seen their movies and loved them. And this customer loves Isilon. During the beta the customer sent us some sample data from their cluster for us to reproduce a problem they were seeing. The content of the files weren’t transmitted to us, but the names of the files came across and was clear what movie they were from. It wasn’t until that point that I realized that I now helped make movies.

Yes it’s very tangential and that particular movie had no assistance from me given where it was in its release phase when I started, but the point remained: Isilon helps makes movies; I now help make movies. I made a point of seeing that movie when it came out, despite not having initial interest in it. And it was a good movie, perhaps made a little better knowing what it was made on. Since then I’ve made a point of seeing every movie the studio releases, even if I wasn’t all that interested to begin with, because I helped make it – even tangentially.

A really exciting moment for me happened this past Wednesday when I was reading the July 2012 edition of Scientific American1, specifically the article Secrets of the HIV Controllers (pp 44-51). In it they call out their use of the “massive computing services at the Broad Institute”. The Broad Institute is one of Isilon’s customers, and obviously since I mention them here they are externally referenceable. The use of the resources at the Broad Institute moved forward these researchers’ work, getting humanity one step closer to understanding why some people have a rare, natural ability to keep the HIV virus at bay and preventing it from progressing into AIDS. I don’t know if Isilon’s hardware was used for this research, maybe it wasn’t. But it isn’t hard to imagine that even if it wasn’t, other researchers have used Isilon hardware at the Broad Institute or one of the other genomics institutes that use our hardware to move the ball forward on a cure for HIV, cancer, and other diseases.

This realization is huge for me. I play a but a minor role at Isilon. Isilon, however, plays a medium role in the big picture of medical research and all of this medical research eventually plays a major role improving the human condition. My part may be small but it’s important. My work is important.

Contrast this to the work I was doing at IBM. Sure it’s useful to enable people to log into their telecom provider and pay their bills (every time you log into the AT&T website to do something with your account, you interact with Tivoli Access Manager — the telltale signs are in the interstitial URL that does the single sign-on), but to me that’s an order of magnitude less in importance than playing a role in improving the daily health of millions of people.

At work we’re on the last few months of hard slog to release Mavericks, our upcoming software release, and this perspective helps on those unexciting days: not only do I help make awesome movies, I’m doing a small part in the search for a cure for HIV.

1 Nerd alert!

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

2 thoughts on “Making movies and curing HIV”

  1. Broad – Isilon

    Next time you are in Boston, come visit and we will show you our PBs..

    Martin Leach (
    CIO – Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard.


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