Learning From an Expert

David Jonas VP of Platform and Chief Architect

Sometimes, it’s hard to find an expert in certain fields of the tech industry because one software or method can immediately be replaced with something better and faster. It is easy to find people who are masters in one thing that suddenly becomes obsolete. However, there are people in the world who have not only maintained their positions of leadership but moved willingly with the ebbs and flows that come with change using their experience, talent, and inclination to learn more. This is how an expert is born.

One of our resident experts, David Jonas, No-IP’s VP of Platform and Chief Architect, is hands down deserving of this title. Not only does the team rave about his rigorous problem-solving and inclusive leadership, but he has been with No-IP for over 20 years! Therefore, it is safe to say that David, affectionately called Jonas, has “seen it all” regarding the pivotal changes with Dynamic DNS and the internet and No-IP’s evolution throughout the years. We interviewed the expert on a few things different topics, and he provided some funny feedback and sage advice that many of our users might find helpful when managing their IP networks:

The Evolving World of DDNS

Which developments in technology have had the most impact or changed the tides with DDNS?

The centralization of services into giants like Google and Microsoft suggested a death knell for DDNS. But I think it was wholly offset by the sheer number of creative and curious people who didn’t want to give over their control and their privacy to corporations. The open Internet has bolstered the communities that encourage innovation, self-reliance, knowledge, craftsmanship, and just plain fun. The people of those communities use DDNS. I personally got into Computer Science because I could create what I dreamed of. For me, it has always been about making and building rather than consuming. I think DDNS and No-IP support those who care more about governing their own future than the convenience of Gmail, Ring, and other heavily centralized services. 

Were there any developments or trends that surprised you?

The biggest surprise for me has been the integration of mobile Internet into every aspect of our lives. It is so ubiquitous now that it is hard to imagine life without it. When I started out, I had to tie up the only phone line in the house to connect to another computer. Now, it’d be unthinkable to stream a movie without being able to text a friend. Around 2000, I ripped all my CDs to MP3 and wanted to have them all with me in the car. There were no MP3 players that could do this at the time, so I built a full-sized tower computer into my car with a ten-keypad velcroed to the dash. I wrote a plugin for Winamp and modified Windows to start it instead of the normal GUI (Graphical User Interface). I printed out a sheet of all my albums and a corresponding number you could type to play the album. It was great! Except when going over a bump, the hard disk head would skip or crash. Now I connect back to my home server and can stream every album I’ve ever purchased, particularly those that aren’t on Spotify. I can hardly imagine going back. 

Do you have any hopes or visions for the future of No-IP?

No-IP is a small company. We have way more ideas than we could ever execute. So, I hope we can maintain our original vision of empowering Internet users and being a core building block of how people connect and solve problems on the Internet. We are dedicated to that goal – our core focus is “Unlocking the potential of the Internet,” so I have no doubt! And I’d like to see No-IP continue to expand its reach in developing countries. It is great to help people connect to their security cameras here in the US, but it is awesome to see a hospital in East Africa coordinating sites with No-IP DDNS.

Expert Advice

As an expert, what is your advice for growing businesses looking to start incorporating DDNS into their network management? What first steps would you recommend?

DDNS can benefit a business in so many ways: The common case of using a consumer-grade ISP (Internet Service Provider) is just the start. Normally, when changing DNS records, you have to wait for hours or a full day before the change propagates throughout the Internet. With DDNS, it happens in less than a minute. This means that if you need to move your website to a new server, it can happen almost instantaneously rather than having your website unavailable for hours waiting for basic DNS. Problems are just easier to address quickly, even in a cloud setup. Often, cloud servers don’t know their public IP. A simple script that runs when the host boots up can easily register its hostname to its public IP. DDNS enables flexibility. As a first step, simply managing DNS with a DDNS provider that has a great network gives you a lot of power. Then, when you recognize problems that can be solved with a little automation, DDNS is right there ready for you.

What are some common mistakes you have seen people do or attempt to do/shortcut while managing their networks?

The “two hard problems” of computer science apply to networking as much as anything else: cache invalidation and naming things (and off by 1 errors). It’s funny that DNS directly addresses both of those things! 

Cache invalidation comes up when trying to debug problems. When your DNS records are cached for long periods of time, and they expire at individual resolvers at different times, it can be incredibly confusing. Many postmortems come down to a misinterpretation of cached values. A short cache window like DDNS can make things easier to understand, particularly in a crisis. 

Naming things is just plain hard; there is no way around it. It takes a clear understanding of what is to be accomplished, discipline, and some prescience! Yes, you must know the future. Getting a name wrong now can cause problems later. Luckily, when it comes to DNS, we were all gifted with some forward-thinking engineers. They recognized that naming will be super important in networks, and they built in elegant tools to help get it right.  DNS gives you a hierarchy to organize your names and pointers to associate static names with dynamic resources. Since we cannot know the future, these tools let us address our lack of prescience by being flexible.

To answer the original question, I think there is a tendency to create rigid, inflexible systems, which is clearly a mistake. And I don’t think this is due to time pressure or lack of intelligence. I think it is only due to not knowing what tools are available and how they can be put together to make a system that is robust. A very common example is being cautious with the names that are published externally. For example, the URL to your CDN. Once that is in the wild, your customers will rely on it forever. Emails you sent with that URL will need to remain good forever lest the images break. So, if you use the CDN provider’s address directly, you must pay them forever! Better is to make a CNAME on your own domain that points to the provider’s name. Then if you must change providers you can update the CNAME. The CNAME adds the flexibility to change your CDN provider whenever you like and avoid vendor lock-in. 

Blast From the Past

How has your role changed throughout your time at the company? Were you always considered an expert?

I’ve been with No-IP for over 21 years. When I started, No-IP was only one part of the business. We also did consulting and built custom websites for clients. All employees, all four of us, answered the phones for No-IP customer support. As the business grew and each area required more attention, each individual had to begin to specialize. I focused on programming and system architecture, which fit well since I had designed and maintained our email services. Email, especially back then, required a lot of system knowledge ranging from Linux internals like filesystems to queueing theory to managing distributed systems. Although I’ve done other roles like managing the development team and being involved in the leadership of the company, system design and programming are really my specialties and where I can contribute most effectively. 

What are your favorite No-IP memories? What are some of the craziest things you’ve had to do?

My best memories in the early years are of our crazy solutions to problems. For instance, when we moved data centers from San Diego to downtown LA, we basically shut everything down, deracked the servers into the back of Dan’s car (Dan Durrer, Founder and CEO), and then hightailed it 100 miles to the new data center in the middle of the night. It was a mad night, but it saved us 10s of thousands. Another time, there was an outage while I was at the Cirque du Soliel show, Ka. This was 2006 or so, pre-iPhone, in the Blackberry days of the most advanced mobile phones. I had a Palm Treo that No-IP had bought me. I was able to stand at the back of the theater for a few minutes and SSH (Secure Socket Shell) into the affected server, figure out what was going on, and block an abusive IP address to restore service. My future father-in-law, who brought us to the show, was suitably impressed. 

In more recent years, my best memories of No-IP are the fun events and cool people I get to work with. As a whole company, we go on ski trips, race side-by-sides, volunteer to clean up trash, host hackathons, and all sorts of things. I get to work daily with people in South America and learn about their lives and culture. I love it.

A Colleague and a Friend

He’s not just a DDNS expert, Jonas has a solid reputation at No-IP: He’s been applauded for being a master code slinger and someone who is willing to write up and work on documentation, even with a tenured technical background. A number of members of his team praise him for his rigorous and persistent attitude when it comes to resolving issues at work. On numerous occasions, Jonas puts his ego aside and brings in other perspectives and levels of expertise to join in on problem-solving.

But besides being a humble know-it-all, Jonas is lauded as a friend first and DDNS Mastermind second. Chuck Musser, No-IP’s Systems Engineer, has this to say about Jonas the expert:

“Jonas is our beloved and respected architect, chief coder and tireless upholder of standards. His presence is critical for a small company with big ambitions an lots of things to do. He dispenses wise counsel and good humor in equal measure. David (Jonas) designs for the long term, which is not so common in the fast-paced world of software. He wants No-IP’s systems to meet customer’s needs
now and in the future. Rather than encouraging people to move fast and break things, he insists instead that things not break. He practices what he preaches not only when designing software and writing code but also when tending our systems as they run in production. We’re lucky to have him around. When you consider our high availability, you have Jonas to thank for it.”

There is so much to glean from the experts in every field. Interested and inspired to work with some of ours? Take a look at our Careers page to see if we have an open position that’s right for you! Maybe you’ll turn into an expert, too!