A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.

Winter’s well and truly settling in here in Melbourne, which means it’s the perfect weather for staying indoors, preferably by some sort of log fire, and having meaningful conversations with the people who make Cogent great.

This month two Cogent developers, Lonnie and Kamal, met up for Lonnie to ask Kamal about everything from diving to photography, and the best project he’s ever worked on. Hint: It’s very cool.


Name: Kamal Rizk
Job: Senior Developer
Time at Cogent: 11 months

Lonnie: So Kamal, you’re a software engineer. Has it changed much since you first got into it?

Kamal: Yeah, definitely. In short, infrastructure now plays a much bigger part. In earlier days, we’d focus on writing the software, but not necessarily about how you’re going to implement it. We used to worry about servers and how to deploy them, but now that’s a piece of cake.

Nowadays, it’s not enough to be a good software engineer, you also need to understand infrastructure and build software that’s suitable for the whole system to run smoothly.

Was this always your career path?

Yes, I wrote my first software program in 1994, which I wrote in Basic and it drew a human face. From there, I decided that computer science was what I wanted to study at uni, so I did that and have been building software ever since.

Lucky for us! Do you remember what your first computer was?

It was an Intel 80486.

Kamal's Intel 80486

Kamal’s Intel 80486

Nice. What are you currently working on day-to-day?

At the moment, I’m working with a major Australian airline client on their hotel booking platform. The team I work with and I are responsible for maintaining and improving the web app for people to book hotels based on their flights. It’s a very personal business, and a very personal client as well.

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on throughout your career?

Yes, it was called the Encyclopedia of Life and was when I used to work at the Library of Alexandria when I was in Egypt.

It was a project between the Library of Alexandria, the Smithsonian Institute, and a bunch of other entities all over the world. The aim was to create an encyclopedia for almost every living creature on Earth. So for example, your kids could search for a tiger, and learn that the scientific name of the tiger is Panthera Tigris and is part of the Panthera genus. However, they’d also get access to a lot of more detailed data, pictures and articles collated from books, whether new or heritage books.

Kamal when he lived in Egypt.

Kamal when he lived in Egypt.

Wow, so the project you were working on was processing all that data and actually getting it out?

Yeah, essentially gathering the data from different resources, collating it and displaying it for a user — for every species on the planet.

Before I left we were planning to have version three live, and I’m super happy that version three is now in beta. It was a really interesting project that has huge scale.

Yeah, that sounds like a really impactful one. What’s been your favourite thing about working at Cogent?

I don’t really have a favourite thing, I have favourite things. The environment is a very friendly one where learning new skills is encouraged, and we help people grow and develop themselves. The transparency is also something that you don’t commonly see in businesses. I think I’ve always seen Cogent as a combination of very good culture with very nice people, and a very interesting business; which is a combination you can’t find in most other places.

It seems like you were pretty set on becoming a software engineer from an early age, but what else would you have become if not that?

I think I would’ve become a photographer. I really like photography and my interest in both programming and photography started around the same time. I had my own film camera when I was really young, and love that a picture can say a lot.

I eventually got my DSLR camera and am trying to continue as much as I can with it as a hobby. Lenses these days are super expensive, but they get amazing pictures and colors with them. Cameras have come a very far way!

Kamal killing it (softly) at Secret Santa.

Kamal killing it (softly) at Secret Santa.

Yeah definitely. What else do you get up to outside of Cogent?

Well, before I had kids I used to play a lot of tennis — it was a totally different world! Since getting married and having kids, the focus is more on family time, so my weekends are generally filled with family activities, and the photography.

Do you travel much with the family?

Not as much now, but I’m Egyptian and love a city in Egypt called Sharm El Sheikh, it’s one of the best places in the world. There’s a place within Sharm El Sheikh called Ras Mohamed and it’s the best place I’ve ever dived in. It’s just a totally different world under the water — the colours and the fish are amazing and you wish you could just stay there forever.

Oh cool. Have you ever done any underwater photography?

No, I’m a beginner diver so was just focused on the diving!

Kamal: Do my feet look big in this?

Kamal: Do my feet look big in this?

Fair enough. If you had a private chef for a night, what would you ask them to cook you?

That’s a very good question. I would most likely ask for rice, chicken, and something called Molokhia, which is like a green soup with a lot of bay leaves and garlic. It’s really delicious.

I really miss Egyptian food, and have found it quite hard to get great Egyptian food here in Australia. Luckily for me, my wife is an amazing cook, so I already kind of have a private chef, which is amazing.

That does sound good, I’m getting hungry. To wrap up, what’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?

My dad told me in my early 20s that life is full of trade offs, so you need to be smart at choosing your options.

Everything has its pros and cons — there are never 100% pros and zero cons — so it depends on how you can weigh up your options and choose from there which way to go.

That’s really good advice, and a good way to look at decision making. Thanks Kamal!

Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello