Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Simon Wistow

Simon Wistow

Co-founder (Fastly)

Posted in developer, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Simon Wistow. I'm the co-founder at Fastly, an Edge Cloud company that got started 8 years ago because of sheer bloody mindedness borne out of teeth grinding frustration with the incumbent Content Delivery Network market giant who had a distinctly late-90s view on how websites work. I shall name no names.

In a past life I've been a bartender, a cowboy in the Australian outback, a scuba diving instructor, written mobile phone operating systems, been lead search engineer for Yahoo! Europe and worked on the Visual Effects for various movies like the Harry Potter series (good!), Wallace and Gromit (funny!) and Alien vs Predator (bad!). Since moving to the US from the UK I worked at LiveJournal (much to the delight of my goth friends back in London), Scribd and Zendesk. Someone looking at my CV once commented that it reminded them that "career" was a verb as well as a noun.

At Fastly I started off running engineering but since then I've done most jobs at the company - usually when no-one else wants to do them and only until I can hire someone better to replace me. At the moment I focus on Strategic Initiatives and what that seems to translate to is spending a lot of time in airports and writing a lot of documents, whitepapers, screeds and manifestos that I'm not sure anyone actually reads.

What hardware do you use?

Computer-wise I have the standard San Francisco startup issue MacBook Pro plus an iPhone. It is a boring setup that literally no-one gives a shit about other than the kind of people who write papers and op-eds about hyper-local monocultures. Instead I'm going to talk about travel because I've spent the last couple of years trying to streamline my approach as an attempt to save my sanity on the road.

I alternate between 2 bags that I take with me when I travel - a Hook & Albert Weekender in waxed Gray Canvas and a Henty Wingman Messenger. If it had been available when I bought the Wingman I'd have probably gone for the CoPilot which is a little bigger.

Both are bags which are also suit carriers - to the shock of younger me I have to wear suits with surprising frequency these days, not least because it seems like every single one of my friends has been getting married recently. I prefer duffels or messenger bags to wheelie cases - I was put off by multiple instances where I had to run with a wheelie case or navigate it through crowded train stations up and downstairs when I couldn't read the signs because they're in a language I don't understand. The Wingman can take a surprising amount of stuff considering how small it is, plus the inner "tube" is waterproof. And since it's a messenger style bag with a cross strap it's super comfortable to carry for long periods of time. The fact that the garment bag wraps round the outside and is really easy to unclip and hang up is a super smart piece of design.

That said - the Hook & Albert just looks cool and I can fit more stuff in it. The waxed canvas is water resistant (certainly enough for walking through a rain shower) and it just keeps getting better looking as it ages. That said it's expensive (although there are cheaper knockoffs I've seen advertised) and the fact that you have to unpack your whole bag to get at the suit is less convenient than the Wingman though. Also, I wish the pockets on the outside were real buckles rather than fake ones backed by magnets. I wouldn't feel comfortable checking the bag with anything in those because I'd worry they'd pop open and I'd lose whatever was in there (I think the latest version of the bag uses zips though which is much better).

That said, Simon's First Rule of Travel is "Never check bags". The Second Rule is to carefully choose the person in the security line to go behind - there are certain groups of people who inevitably take forever. Go for the person who looks like they do this a lot. It will save you time and, when you travel a lot it's not necessarily about the big things but just shaving down the irritations to make things slightly nicer. My Third Rule is turn up early. I used to be one of those people who would leave it to the last minute but I realised that it was just stressful. Most of the time all I'm going to be doing is reading and writing email so why not just do that at the airport. That way the lines tend to be shorter, everything less rushed and, in case something goes wrong (like, for completely hypothetical example, picking up an old expired passport by accident) then there's time to sort it out.

I put all my toiletries in a Ziploc bag and leave those in my laptop bag - it's not exactly glamorous but it's easy to pull out and throw through the x-ray machine if security make a fuss.

I have an American Express Platinum card. Partly because it looks baller (solid metal card, what-what!) but also because the benefits are amazing if you travel a lot. I get 5x points on any flights booked, upgrades at hotels, lounge access (including the very cool Amex Centurion lounges), free Global Entry and TSA Pre, $200 worth of travel rebates, travel insurance and I've used the concierge service a couple of times and they've been incredible. There's also a $200 credit for Uber if that's your sort of thing.

If you don't travel a lot then I'm not sure it's worth the hefty annual fee (it recently went up to an eye watering $500 a year) but for me it's worth it and totally pays for itself.

I've had a Chase Sapphire Preferred ever since the US Banking system finally admitted I was a real person and that I could have a proper grown-up credit score. I use it for almost everything else and it gets me a bunch of other benefits. They came out with the Reserve card which is very similar to the Platinum card but (for now) slightly cheaper. But the benefits overlaps mean that it's not really worth having both.

20 year old me kind of wants to reach through time and slap 40 year old me for writing about credit card reward programs but I like to think of it as minimal hacking of the system. If I'm going to be travelling a lot it's worth it to me to spend the relatively small amount of time to get the best out of the experience. It's not like I'm one of these people that juggles 18 credit cards and goes on mileage runs to South Africa for the weekend just to keep elite status on Delta but by being a little bit smart things are just a little be smoother and less stressful - I get nicer seats, I get to board first, I get the occasional upgrade, if a flight's cancelled I get priority. Lounges aren't the stately pleasure domes of yore (except for Virgin Atlantic and a couple of others), mostly a few slices of slightly sweaty cheese and a fruit bowl these days, but if your flight is delayed they're nicer to hang out in then the seats by the gate and you don't have to engage in hand-to-hand combat with your fellow travellers over the one available outlet to recharge your phone.

I've got a universal power adaptor that I picked up in one of those ludicrously overpriced airport electronic shops. At the time I was outraged by how much it was (probably about $40) but I've had it for years now and so, amortised over time, it doesn't seem so bad.

I used to take a Kindle with me. The third time I stumbled off a red-eye and forgot one in my seat pocket I just gave up and started reading stuff on my phone.

And what software?

First off - TSA Pre and Global Entry. So much time saved. So. Much. Time. Even if the Pre line is as long (or longer) than the regular line then the time saved by not having to unpack everything makes the line move faster. As someone who isn't a US Citizen having Global Entry makes coming back almost painless. I was lucky - originally when I applied wait-times for an appointment were several months but I happened to check a week later and there was a cancellation for the next morning so I jumped on that. I recently also got CLEAR because it came free with my airline status. I was skeptical at first but it's actually been really nice.

I use Hipmunk and sometimes ITA Matrix to search for flights, the latter mostly to find routes as recommended by a site called "The Flight Deal" which posts when a particular flight is on sale. I also skim read Ben "Lucky" Schlappig's "One Mile At A Time" site - again I'm not one of these crazy mileage running, SABRE hacking air-mile arbitrageurs but by catching up on their posts I get an ambient awareness of ways to get the best out of what I have and any cheap flight deals.

I have a subscription to Tablet because it's already made its money back in discounts and Hotel upgrades (best two so far: getting bumped to a two floor (!) suite at the Charlotte St Hotel in London and getting a steal on the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, as seen in Lost in Translation).

I put my airline status and all my flights into an app called LoungeBuddy because it tells me which lounges I have access to in which airport. Sometimes there are weird cross promotions, like being allowed in the Air France lounge at Logan even though I wasn't flying with them so it's definitely worth it.

I've tried to use TripIt but I hate the interface. I miss Dopplr. Periodically I think about trying to rewrite it but I'm too lazy.

I use T-Mobile's Unlimited International Phone Plan. It has saved my arse on multiple occasions, especially in places where the addressing system for buildings makes no sense whatsoever. I'm looking at you Japan.

What would be your dream setup?

There's a part of me that would like to be rich enough just FedEx my luggage to where I was going to head to and have it be waiting for me in my room when I arrive but then I'm far too disorganised to have everything packed early enough for that to work.

Other than that I'm pretty happy with my setup. I should probably put together a ballistic nylon pouch with all my travel electronics but I end up just grabbing stuff just before I head to the airport and that seems to work out fine. If I was smart I'd throw a Chromecast or an Amazon Fire Stick or an HDMI cable in there so I could watch stuff on the TV in the hotel room but watching stuff on my laptop works just fine so … meh?

I use an aging Timbuk2 bag as my daily laptop bag and for when I'm only going away for one or two nights. I wish I could replace it something a little more stylish so if anybody has any suggestions then please let me know.

I wish airlines other than American domestic carriers had more reach so I wasn't stuck with (omit name of my most frequent airline who I don't want to call out lest they revoke my status).

On a non-travel, dream-hardware setup note - one day I want to build a full size replica of a Cray X-MP complete with vinyl covered benches. Inside it would be completely empty apart from an FGPA which simulated the original machine.