Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

How does SpiderOak use SpiderOak?

‘Practice what you preach,’ a common response to what is seen as empty boasting. In asking ourselves how we use SpiderOak, we think you’ll find some interesting insight into how the makers of SpiderOak use their own product.

We don’t just talk a good game, we walk the walk.


Linzi Oliver, M3 – Messaging, Marketing & Making Stuff Up

I started using SpiderOak in 2008. At the time, I had a Toshiba laptop which contained very important documents and sentimental photos and videos. I used SpiderOak to backup those files. It was a good thing I did because not long after, my laptop laid itself to rest for good. Instead of fretting and panicking, I purchased a MacBook and added it to my SpiderOak network. All my data was recoverable.

This year, I purchased a MacBook Pro after leaving my other laptop at the security check point of SFO at the beginning of a long trip. I was able to download SpiderOak and retrieve needed files. I picked up my old laptop upon my return. You’d be amazed to see how many laptops are left at security on a daily basis. It’s shocking.

I currently keep several folders in sync across all my devices. I also use the SpiderOak ShareRooms to share photos and videos with family, friends and colleagues. Best of all? I’m the only one who holds the key to my data.


Stay tuned! Tomorrow, you’ll hear from Matthew Erickson, Director of Programming.

Now hiring: white label engineer


We’ve found someone, and this position is now closed. Thanks for everyone who applied!

We’re looking for an energetic hacker to join us to support our partnerships / white labeling product engineering. On any given day, you’ll be working with our desktop client (in PyQt), working with our partnership sales team to develop custom clients for partners, and working on streamlining the whole process to start with the stock SpiderOak client and end up with a customized build for the partner.

Our ideal hacker will know their way around PyQt, effective GUI design, and building Python applications (py2app and py2exe, for example). Taking tasks that can be boring, labor-intensive, and repetitive and whipping them into a slick webapp should be on the list of things that make our hacker happy to do. In the course of this hacking, mastery of git will be essential. Lastly, this hacker shouldn’t be made unhappy by sitting in on sales calls; our hacker will eventually wind up as the technical lead for our whitelabel program, and in doing so will have to tend to a little business now and then. Creating a perfect experience for our partners and their end users should be a matter of pride for our hacker; unhappy partners should create an unhappy hacker.

SpiderOak’s a distributed company, and our ideal hacker is also a first-rate communicator. They will be commonly available during the US working day on our secret awesome undisclosed IRC channel as well as via phone and/or skype. Our hacker will raise a fuss if something beyond their control is blocking their projects- however, our hacker will be a problem solver and be more than up to making the impossible hack come to reality. They will jump at the chance to travel to work with other SpiderOakers, with key cities being Kansas City, MO, and San Fransisco, CA. Civility and “work-togetherness”, especially but not limited to strangers, is required. Effectively managing one’s self is also a key requirement; nobody will be looking over our hacker’s shoulder while they work. A sense of humor is appreciated.

Handy and useful direct previous job/life experience includes work in release engineering, GUI development, or QA. It’s also cool if you’ve also done tech support or worked in any business capacity in the tech world.

Still interested? Send an email to with your cover letter and resumé, and if we enjoy your cover letter, we’ll send you a small task to complete to see how you work. In this cover letter, tell us a bit about yourself, what you can do, and why you’d like to work for us. English only, please.

We know there’s talent in everyone regardless of what little papers might say, so we have no “minimum” requirements for degrees or resumés. We’re also super-equal-opportunity: quality hacking knows no bounds for race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, species*, or religion. If you can meet what we need, we’ll do amazing things together, no matter who, what, or where you are.


* We will probably not hire you if you are a kangaroo. Australian humans still welcomed, however.

Building Stuff From Kits

I grew up with the idea of making things. Homer Price building radios; old science fiction guys building space drives in their basements. The feeling expressed in Cory Doctorow’s Makers.

I’ve never built much myself. We didn’t have Legos when I grew up. I sucked at model airplanes. When I was ten or eleven, I begged the parental units to get me these kits. It was a fiasco.

My vocation is software. I build abstract structures in my mind and attempt to transfer them to machines. That’s what I wanted to do since I first heard about computers.

Over the years, I drifted away from the idea of making things. I’m strongly in favor of the Maker movement (as I am of free and open source software). But I haven’t seen myself as a part of the movement.

Then something changed. My friend Izzy gave me a Lego kit as a joke.

I work at home writing code for SpiderOak. I ended up building the kit in bits and pieces while working. Taking a break from coding, I would fit a few Lego pieces together.

The Lego kit worked really well for me. For one thing, instructions written for an eight year old are about right for me. But the real change is that I didn’t care how long it took to build the kit. When I was a kid, I would sit down, try to build something in one session, get frustrated and give up.

I discovered that it was really satisfying to me to build something with my hands.

I quickly tired of Lego kits. On feeds associated with the Maker movement, like O’Reilly and BoingBoing, I saw the Monochron Clock. This looked like more than I could handle. But when I saw the detailed instructions it began to seem doable.

So I gradually accumulated the equipment. Then I built some simpler kits to practice soldering and small muscle coordination.

Then I built the clock. It took several weeks, maybe more than a month. I was in no hurry. I would take a break from coding, solder in one little piece exactly right, then back to coding. I wasn’t trying to finish. I enjoy the process. I think it helps my coding too.

Here’s Sylvia building the same clock.

One day, there was nothing left to do. Now I have a clock and it works!

I built another clock (this one was much harder). And a watch. And a multimeter [Unfortunately this one didn't work. :-( You can't win them all.]

So something new has been added to my life, quite unexpectedly. A serious maker would create new things, or hack these kits into something unexpected. I’m not at that level yet. I’m just looking for another kit to build.

Any suggestions?

Some perspective

Taking full advantage of the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection, I’ve been living it up in London recently. I’m sharing a space much smaller than I’m used to with my girlfriend while I’m here, so I’ve been leaving to work from cafés much more than normal. Yesterday, I gave the British Library a shot.

For those unfamiliar with it, the middle of the main gallery in the library is the King’s Library Tower (not my photo). The structure is not unlike what other high-profile information stores look like, and the general arrangement of volumes stacked as tight as possible on shelves is unchanged. Beyond that, the thing that strikes me about King George III’s library is that it’s largely a reference collection. It’s not rare and exotic books for collecting the books; it’s an honest attempt to collect a large body of human knowledge (much like some modern institutions). We could certainly store scanned images of all those pages here at SpiderOak, and have space left over for intern storage innovative new things in the rack cabinet.

But it’s not about that, is it? A few 2 TB drives full of TIFFs and the OCR output? The books, and the tower they’re contained in, represent human history and progress in a way that a USB thumbdrive can never present. These books are still in circulation at the British Library. There’s certainly a place for the fully-indexed computerized system, but not here. In this information age, many of us idolize books as containers of knowledge, imperfect as they are. They burn. They get soggy and decay. You can easily break their bindings, scattering the pages to the wind. You can’t back it up to SpiderOak!

On the other side, they force you to consider them. Not just a single book here or there that can be set aside, but a big stack of books that force you to consider them. What are they? They’re fragile containers of what makes us human. They make us consider the very basis of what we think, how we think it, and what we’ve already thought of, and force it into our consciousness through their physicality that nothing else can match. It is humbling and awe-inspiring by turns, and in a way, they mirror us as they imortalize us.

Partnership Programs – How do you know when the fit is right?

It is hard to believe that it has been almost 1 year since I joined the SpiderOak team. When I was brought on, one of my responsibilities was to oversee our White Label Program, coordinating everything from the initial sales inquiry all the way through to implementation. For those of you that don’t know, SpiderOak offers a White Label Program which provides an opportunity for organizations to integrate their branding into the SpiderOak application while providing the flexibility to implement their own pricing strategy.

When I first started, we were still in the learning stages. We were seeing a huge variation in the types of inquires we were receiving. Companies from India & Australia, small Internet Service Providers, and IT consulting companies were flooding our inboxes interested in the product.

Now on one hand, this was extremely exciting! We were doing minimal advertising and people were coming to us. However, we found ourselves in the position of wanting to meet everyone’s needs while simultaneously creating a streamlined process for bringing on new business.

So what did we do? The truth is, we had to experiment. We starting bringing on partners that in retrospect were not the right fit. Initially our White Label Program had a very low upfront cost to join which attracted the wrong type of partners. We found ourselves maintaining branding applications for organizations who weren’t selling the product and if they were it was in very low volumes. Thus the cost to build, support and maintain the relationship was not profitable.

So we made some tweaks and shifted our positioning. Our product was built in such a way that it is quite easy to customize. Supporting an obscure slavic language, changing the User Interface text, hosting sub domains, it is all possible to do. The question became, WHO should we be doing this for?

While we still have a lot to learn about creating the right partnerships, we do know that the right kind of partner is the organization that can hit the ground running because they have the network established. Today, SpiderOak is white labeled by companies with anywhere from a few thousand to 100 million plus end users.

12 months later, I can say with certainty that we have made a tremendous amount of progress. Like most partnerships in life, they often take time to evolve. It’s rare to see overnight successes and I am constantly challenged by the amount of patience one needs to build a solid foundation. And so we try and we try again. However, despite all the variation we see on a daily basis, SpiderOak is much closer to truly understanding how to identify the right fit, which is critical when fostering long term growth and success.

For more information on our partnership programs please visit:

5 Ways To Boost Your Virtual Office Productivity

For anyone who works from home, you know how a virtual environment presents special challenges – primarily because they are so geographically dispersed like the SpiderOak team. Given that we rarely meet face-to-face, SpiderOak relies on the powers of technology to get our jobs done. This can be quite challenging for anyone who is new to the scene. As such, I’d like to share five ways to help you boost your productivity so you aren’t sitting in front of your computer – naked and stressed.

  • Be culturally savvy. Before I started with the SpiderOak team, I had never worked with such a diverse group. If you work with folks outside the country, take some time to learn about their cultural nuances and practices. Be aware of their holidays and work routines and be careful not to unintentionally insult or offend them. Everyone must have respect for each other in order for the global workforce to succeed.

  • Start in a smart way. You may feel frazzled if you have a lot of deadlines looming. Realize that you have to spend some time before you start to get organized and plan your day. Start small and with simple tasks before you move to your bigger jobs for the day. For many, people procrastinate when they don’t like a task so make sure you ‘get in the mood’ with things you enjoy.

  • Provide support for your team members. Virtual workers will have concerns from time to time that you need to address promptly to keep productivity high. For example, we would like to make sure our Customer Relations team is up to speed on our mobile platform; as such, they are getting smart phones to help provide our mobile customers better support. If your associates need anything to get their work done, go ahead and support them by getting them what they need. I’ve quickly discovered If you’re willing to work to accommodate, they will be more likely to return the favor.

  • Route tasks effectively. When I was first hired, I had no clue what any of our team did! A thorough knowledge of your virtual workers’ skillsets will help you route work properly. After all, everyone has different specialties so make sure that you delegate appropriate work to each person. This will help everyone be more productive and you will get the results you need. You can actually see what we all do here.

  • Communicate! This is probably the most important for a virtual team. So many things have gone wrong because individuals do not communicate. It is essential for the very existence and operation of any business or any organized effort. We are all guilty of failing to communicate from time to time. You need to make sure you discuss your communication methods and how often you must get updates. The SpiderOak team has been practicing this a lot and playing with ideas to increase better communication. We aren’t done yet and are always improving.

  • ‘Getting things done’ more efficiently leads to greater success and fulfillment in our lives! In a virtual office environment, we must purposefully train ourselves to become more productive. It is my hope that the 5 tips above can help you in your quest for what I am calling virtual productiveness. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, we’d love to hear them!

    Can 9 women have a baby in 1 month?

    Well the saying goes that if takes 1 woman 9 months to have a baby, then perhaps there might be a way to construct an environment where 9 women can come together to have a baby in just 1 month. However, in this particular case, logic (or illogic depending on your perspective) does not apply (or applies in full).

    I often think of this expression when forced to answer questions of product development — when a certain feature or capability will be available and so on. Whereas I do agree that adding team members can play an important role in overall growth – some of which is critical to maturing well (like an attentive support staff for example) – often is the not the key to success as this story would have us remember.

    So when people are glaring down at you and wondering/requesting/demanding everything move at an incredible pace, you can simply look up and say “Sorry – it took my mom 9 months and I came out okay – didn’t I…”

    Thankful Indeed

    When starting an Internet business, there can be no knowledge of the type of users you will ultimately attract. Will they be from one part of the world or another? Will they be young or old? Will they have brown hair or blue? Will they wear suits or flip-flops? We certainly wondered plenty about this and continue to do so as we grow; however, there has been one constant across the full spectrum – our users are great.

    Similar to any business, we have had our problems – little bugs creeping into the code in one form or another. And at times we have had to ask our users to be patient and work with us to resolve a given issue. In every instance (and I should know given that I do the majority of the customer service emails), understanding and a willingness to be part of the solution has prevailed. In
    one particular case, we even had a user disassemble our code, find a fix, and post it in the forum.

    Therefore, regardless of where you are from, the color of your hair, or the type of shoes you wear, I would like to take a moment to say thank you – to all of our users – for exhibiting patience, understanding, and restoring faith…

    I would also like to briefly mention that we were the proud recipient of an Editor’s Choice Award given to us by Computer Shopper. After all, it is nice – every once in a while – to be recognized by others.

    Loving the burrito…

    I have been eating a lot of burritos lately and decided that it is fastly
    becoming my favorite food. There is nothing more tangible – wrapping your
    hands around the warm tortilla shell packed tightly with rice and beans
    (always ‘mashed’ or refried as they are called in the States) and meat and
    beautiful green guacamole and salsa and sour cream and cheese softly melting

    There is a special place I go – measuring about 300 square feet. The
    majority is devoted to cooking space except a small sliver where patrons come
    in, order, and wait. The fire is always hot beneath the grill, there are
    always big pots boiling over on the stove, and always hardworking hands
    preparing food and tending to various tasks. In all the times I have gone – at
    all hours of the day – I remain amazed by the perfectly pressed shirt, neatly
    slicked back graying hair, quietly trimmed mustache, and gently balancing
    glasses of the gentleman who sits patiently behind the register.

    With a warm grin, he oversees the operation – speaking passionately and
    lovingly about the food they prepare. In my visits I can recall vividly our
    conversations about all matter of things. We spoke once for a half hour about
    tortillas, how his are prepared, handmade, and why they are able to better
    withstand the heat of the fuel packed tightly within. We spoke about the
    origin of the burrito, how it came to be a common food of northern Mexico, and
    how it moved northward with the migration of workers during harvest season. We
    spoke about ‘mashed’ beans, how they are prepared, how they are spiced, and
    how the consistency is maintained without adding additional lard. We spoke
    about family, where he was from, how he ended up in this little storefront on
    the western coast of California. From our numerous conversations, it is
    apparent that he has a great deal of respect for his life, what he does, and
    his journey.

    In thinking about all this, I am reminded of something that I hear more
    often these days. I hear it mostly echoing over our IRC channel when I ask a
    question about this or that – something I often don’t know or understand. And
    it is not limited to one particular name or instance but all have remarked and
    suggested this course of action over time. And it rings: ‘look it up on
    wikipedia’. Of course I – of all people – understand the power and wonder and
    majesty of the Internet. And of course the information garnered from the
    gentleman above lives within the hundreds of thousands of indexed and
    cross-referenced wikipedia pages. In the end, however, I always prefer the
    tangibility of open discourse – it makes everything taste better.

    Easy Things Made Difficult: Volume 1 / Tale 1

    Is it really that hard to make things easy? Well – perhaps. In the first
    installment in Volume 1 of Easy Things Made Difficult, we travel to the New
    Montgomery BART/MUNI Station in San Francisco.

    To relay this story most appropriately, I will detail the conversation
    between myself and an amazingly removed, disinterested, and unbearably aloof
    MUNI worker. She sat behind a glass enclosure – leaning painfully forward to
    speak softly into a microphone that crackled inaudibility. Turn-styles to the
    MUNI train flanked her on both sides of the booth.

    Ethan: “Hello. Do you know where I can purchase a ticket for the MUNI – I
    only see kiosks for the BART”.

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “Well – you have to use correct change – $1.50 – and
    drop it in the slot above each turn-style. There is a change station over
    there – next to the BART kiosk.”

    Ethan: “Thank you very much.”

    I then venture over to the change station. After entering my dollar twice
    and having it spit back at me each time, I notice a smallish sign – nowhere
    near the slot – that reads ‘Only Accept $10 and $20′. I wasn’t about to
    retrieve $10 dollars in change when I only need one. So I made the long walk
    back to my aloof friend sitting comfortably in her glass house.

    Ethan: “It seems that this machine only makes change for $10′s and $20′s.
    Is there a better way to resolve this?”

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “Well – you actually need to use the BART kiosk, put in
    your dollar, and press ‘H’ for change.”

    Ethan: “Is it me or does that seem a little bit confusing – especially as I
    am trying to go on the MUNI?”

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “I tried to explain this to you but you walked

    Ethan: “Even if I hadn’t walked away – you still have to admit that this
    process is amazingly confusing. There is a change machine that will only give
    you change for big bills and a traveler has to use the BART kiosk to get
    change for the MUNI. Confusing.”

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “I don’t understand? I tried to explain it to you but
    you walked away.”

    Ethan: “But don’t you think it is confusing that I have to use the BART
    kiosk to get on the MUNI? Perhaps if the process were designed to be a little
    less confusing, I would not have to bother you – nor would the other
    travelers. And that would be good – right?”

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “But you walked away before I could explain it” -
    flipping her hair to one side.

    Ethan: “If I may ask you a question – if you wanted to eat a chocolate chip
    cookie from a high wire between the two highest towers in Kuala Lumpur, do you
    think it would make sense to buy an apple and travel to Paris instead?”

    Aloof MUNI Worker: “That doesn’t seem like it makes sense.”

    Ethan: “Exactly.”

    I then made my over the BART kiosk, slide my dollar bill in the slot,
    pressed ‘H’, retrieved my four quarters (having two already in my pocket),
    dropped them in the change slot, passed through the turn-style for the MUNI,
    waved goodbye to my aloof friend, and made my way onward…