Think you've got a lot of pressure at work? Don't mention it around Oscar Gerardo, the chief architect of NBC.com, which in 2009 was the most visited site among all the major broadcast networks, racking up over 7 million unique visitors per month and hundreds of millions of page views per year.
Although the title of architect might evoke images of someone who designs buildings rather than web sites, Gerardo oversees all the engineering, basically ensuring that the site's design is as functional as it needs to be to handle so much volume - a process that includes teams working around the clock in several different cities.
Gerardo will be in town to deliver a key note address at Geekend this weekend, and we caught up with him by phone last week to talk about his visit and the challenges of overseeing NBC's website.
Web guys are notoriously behind the scenes. Do you get a chance to get out and talk at events like this often?
Oscar Gerardo: No, not really. That's why I jumped at the opportunity. I think it's a good venue for NBC to show off a lot of the stuff we've been doing that I don't think people are aware we've been doing.
Are you nervous?
Oscar Gerardo: No.
With the increase in focus on web traffic and more people watching shows online now, has that made your job a lot harder? Or did some good planning leave you in a good place to deal with the change?
Oscar Gerardo: A little bit of both. There've been challenges trying to keep pace, and staying on the cutting edge of videos. When we first started, standard definition was the standard so it was a fairly low bit rate. Continuously needing to improve on that, to now be able to provide an offline experience and hi-definition experience, and the challenges that come with that, which is longer trans-code times, but the workload stays the same, and also the amount of storage needed is a lot greater. We've had challenges on that side. What that has been alleviated by is by planning and really being able to get a good infrastructure so we can really streamline that.
Is there a way to quantify to a non-web person how much work it takes to keep something like NBC.com functional with millions of hits everyday?
Oscar Gerardo: At this point, we're a 24 hours-a-day 7-days-a-week shop. We have about 12 people that are completely dedicated to trans-coding video. They are pretty much a 24-7 shop. We have our support team, which consists of about five people who are 24-7, and their task is to make sure everything is running smoothly. We have monitoring at all ends. They're the first line of defense, if there's an issue, to investigate it and fix it as quickly as possible.
Is there also a security component? Are shady organizations constantly attacking the website?
Oscar Gerardo: Being such a high profile website, and a corporate initiative, we have a dedicated security team that is always watching out for that. We're constantly getting one sort of attack or another.
How does something like the Olympics change your day-to-day job?
Oscar Gerardo: Actually, it doesn't impact us all that much because we're NBC.com so we're part of the network. The Olympics is part of NBC Sports, so that's a different department. They have their own team. The impact really was pretty much we create a page and link to them. That really doesn't affect us.
To the non-tech person, architect connotes a different profession. How does your job compare to the one that most people are familiar with?
Oscar Gerardo: I thought it was funny that whenever I tell people my title it always confuses them. The similarities is just like an architect designs buildings, the architect designs software and hardware components. It's the infrastructure that is whatever the front end is running. That's usually how I explain it.
What is your going to be talking about at Geekend?
Oscar Gerardo: I'm going to be talking about all the social networking initiatives we've started since 2006. I'm going to go over a brief history of what we've done and how it's grown from a regular myNBC social networking site to what we have and how that has allowed us to use those features to create a better user experience and how that has helped us alleviate a lot of the challenges we originally had of being able to administrate a lot of user content such as comments, user-generated content like photos and videos and anything else the user interacts with.
You don't look like a real corporate kind of guy. Is that a perk of working in the web department?
Oscar Gerardo: Yes, it is. My background is, I got my first experience when the dot com boom happened in the late 90s. It's kind of like, it isn't that unusual for a person from that space to look the way I look.
Do you ever catch any flack from the old guys in suits?
Oscar Gerardo: Honestly, I have not. I have on and off experience with NBC Universal. I started off with Universal about 10 years ago, and it has never really been an issue. One of the initiatives I like is that it's very meritocracy based so that's what you're judged by. So long as you do a good job and excel at what you're supposed to do, that really is not the issue.
Oscar Gerardo speaks at Geekend
When: Friday, Nov. 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 305 Fahm St.
Cost: Weekend passes are $60 for students, $165 for general public
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