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The Face Behind The Technology: Meet Valerius

November 10, 2021

As the communications person at Angle, I (Sarah, hi 👋) sat down with our founders and team members to find out a bit more about what makes them tick. One conversation that was truly surprising, was the one I had with Valerius Huonder, our co-founder and CTO at Angle. But then again, if there is something I learned in my years at tech companies: Still waters are deep — engineers often are. 😌 So without further ado, let me introduce Valerius:

Valerius, you initially met your co-founder Matthias S. at ETH juniors. What’s your favorite project you worked on during that time?
I found ETH Juniors by coincidence through a billboard at ETH while I was doing my Masters in ITET. It was a perfect match: Not only because I could learn something new, but also because I needed money to pay for student lifestyle. 😉 I worked on an incredibly interesting project for Switzerland’s biggest retailer as a Java Web Developer and gained a lot of highly relevant experience — unfortunately I am not at liberty to tell you more about it. But it became one of ETH Junior’s longest projects and I became the most long term employee (over two years). And yes, that’s also where I met Matu. We instantly had a great connection and a bit later we realized that this connection is also a great basis to found a company together.

By the way, I can recommend doing an ETH Juniors project to anyone studying at ETH! It can truly be a game changer for your personal development and career.

What makes the (social) audio space so fascinating for you?
For me as a passionate software engineer, I love to discuss with peers and like-minded people about technological advancements, latest trends, best practices, learn how they do stuff, what they learned, where they failed etc. At ti&m, for example, we occasionally had brown bags and other events, where teammates presented new frameworks, programming languages or architectural approaches they learned and tried out. I really enjoyed those sessions.

I also participated in quite some Meetups and similar events here in Zurich, e.g. about Android development, React Native and even Augmented Reality and AI. For me, this was always an amazing experience: A passionate engineer presenting a new technology or telling about their experience, followed by a round of Q&A and ending with a networking apéro to get to know like minded people.

Due to Covid, those things became a nearly impossible thing to organize and attend in the past time. Also, regardless of Covid, if you are not working in a company that promotes such things as brown bags, or if you work e.g. as a freelancer (which I did for 6 months), it is quite difficult to find like-minded people and have such discussions. Or at least for me it is. I have not yet found an easy way on the internet to get in touch with like-minded people and have meaningful conversations in an effortless way. Because let’s be honest: Cold approaching someone over LinkedIn or Stackoverflow to have a deep conversation is very awkward and happens rarely.

This is what excites me about the audio space and what we are building at Angle: An effortless way to really connect with other people and have the brown bag experience online. Real human connection.

What has been the biggest challenge so far in your one-year Angle journey?
Honestly, it might sound cliche and worn out, but the biggest challenge for me was to cope with the fact that you are pretty much completely lost in a big fog of uncertainty and doubts, especially in the beginning of such a startup journey. And it is very tempting to just give up.

When we started in May, I knew that we would get a lot of negative feedback, a lot of rejections, hear a lot of “this will never work” or “no one would ever want this”. And we did. This is just part of every startup journey. I was well prepared for this. After all, Matu, Matthias and I very deliberately chose to start this journey. But after months of rapid iterations, trying to follow the lean startup approach, fake door testing things, being overflowed with well-meant but highly contradicting information on what we should do and what not, after building day and night just as little as required to test a hypothesis, throwing away code faster than I could write it, I really got to the point of “why the f**k am I doing this”.

I think it is important to acknowledge that this can be a big challenge — although one we are able to overcome.

If you had all the resources in the world, what feature(s) would you build for Angle right now?
As CTO of our early stage adventure I was responsible for building the entire platform in the beginning. That brings the challenge of always having to do trade offs on the technological side of Angle to get ahead as fast as possible while still being able to scale.

There are quite some things I would love to do just out of engineering fun, but would not bring any value to the product or our users right now. For example, I would love to spin up a huge Kubernetes cluster and introduce lots of asynchronously communicating microservices, all built with a super nice and clean architecture, and play around with event sourcing :-D.

🤯 Yea, I don’t even know what that means, but please, go on… 🤓
Also, I would love to build a highly scalable, super performant yet lightweight deep neural network that runs locally on iOS & Android and web, in combination with a novel feature that would ultimately allow our users to get connected instantaneously to other users that are highly interested in the same topic. This is either way our goal, but wouldn’t it be awesome if you could already now just open a topic on Angle and in the same second the perfect conversation partners would join to have a super engaging conversation for hours.

You are known to code and deliver incredibly fast and clean. What’s your secret sauce?
Thanks for the compliment :-). That’s a tough one.

Short answer: I am incredibly curious.
Long answer: I always had a deeply rooted fascination and curiosity for complex systems — always wanted to find out how things work and see the patterns behind them. This is not limited to technology. Originally, I intended to study medicine — because what greater system is there than our human body and mind. I guess biomedical engineering would have been a great study for me.

But regarding coding: my deep passion and drive for software engineering led me to basically code all day and night. It is highly important to me to constantly improve and deliver the best work I can. Some people might think I’m a bit obsessed — they are right. In my opinion, if you want to progress and excel at anything, you have to become obsessed about it — but in a healthy way 😅. I read and tried everything I found over the last years. At work and in my free time. And I am by far not done. This is the beauty about software engineering if you are a very curious person: It evolves so quickly that you are never done learning. 🤓

For real, why do you love Flutter so much?
Love might be a bit of an exaggeration 😉. But yeah, I really like the development experience you have with Flutter. And they did not overpromise: You really can build beautiful apps that perform very well both on iOS and Android in an enormously short amount of time. Also the communication with native services is very easy. And Dart is kind of a cool language. There are however also some things I really do not like (e.g. the lack of some very useful language features compared to e.g. Kotlin, such as data classes). But for Angle, it was the perfect choice: Flutter allowed me to very quickly build the entire app and iterate very fast to try out new features.

Besides coding, what are you passionate about?
Kitesurfing. My girlfriend Mira motivated me to take a kitesurfing lesson in 2017 while on vacation on Saint Martin. At first I was a bit hesitant, as I was not such a big fan of the open water (little wuss, was afraid of being bitten by a shark 😅). However, our teacher was so cool and supportive and the wind and water conditions were just perfect to learn to kitesurf. It was an amazing experience. I liked it so much that since then, Mira and I try to go as often as possible somewhere we could kitesurf. By now, we did the Kitesurfing license and bought our own equipment. I am looking forward very much to our next kitesurfing vacations.

You are one of only around 60k people on the planet speaking Rhaeto Romanic. Is it a dying language or will it keep existing for a long time?
It definitely is in great danger of extinction, but I hope it keeps existing for a long time.

It is the responsibility of our generation to try our best to teach our children and the next generation Romansh.

What’s your favorite word in Rhaeto Romanic?
“miezmiur e miezutschi” → half mouse and half bird → bat (Fledermaus)

I find the etymology very straightforward :-D (as in many languages. “Fleder” + “Maus”).

I also like: “lom” → soft → lung and “dir” → hard → liver

iOS or Android?

What do you enjoy most about building and launching your own product with your own company?
To build something from the ground up as I wish with all technological freedom

To take full ownership of it. Angle is my “baby” and I can help it and watch it grow.

One thing I really love about that process is seeing the joy I can bring to the users when they use my product.

Dark mode or light mode?
I prefer dark mode in my IDEs when coding, but light mode on e.g. messaging apps.

What’s the most valuable skill in an engineer?
Hard to limit it to only one:

  • Good analytical skills are table stakes.
  • Curiosity, perseverance, eagerness to learn, being open-minded and the ability to adapt fast — as the technology evolves to fast
  • And confidence in one’s own skills, as there is often no right or wrong, only better or worse approaches to solving a specific problem

How many programming languages do you know?
This is always a difficult question to answer.Most modern high-level programming languages are so similar that if you know one very well, you can easily master another one very fast. E.g. If you mastered Java, you can easily learn Kotlin, which are both in the end not so different to Swift, JavaScript, TypeScript or Dart.

Ok, ok, you’re telling me I’m asking you a noob question. But still, people like me want to know. How many?
I would say I “know” some couple of dozen languages (meaning already coded some stuff with them), and am very versatile in about a dozen (meaning use them regularly)?

Java, Kotlin, Dart, JavaScript, TypeScript, Swift, Objective-C, C++, C#, C, Python, Ruby, Rust, Go, PHP…

Kotlin or Dart?
Kotlin. Dart is a super flexible language, I really like it. But I miss a lot of features that I really enjoy in Kotlin, such as data, sealed, nested and final classes, custom enums, the cool scope functions (let, run, with , apply, also) etc.. Thus, it is quite verbose in my opinion and it feels very weird to have to generate code to keep it concise.

What’s your favorite podcast?
It is not so much a podcast, but I quite like Tom Bilyeu’s interviews in his Impact Theory and Health Theory channels.

Night owl or morning person?
This comes and goes in phases. I hate routine. I usually deliberately decide for one schedule for the next few months.

😄 …why am I not surprised…
For a while, I decided to wake up at 5, go for a run or in the gym in the morning and start the work day full of energy at 6am. But this didn’t last too long. At other times, I work until 3am in the morning and sleep until 9–10 am.

It would probably be healthier regarding circadian rhythm to have one solid schedule and stick to it 😅.

Yep it might. But hey… Whatever works for you. 😄 So, what do you do to relax and clear your mind after an intense week at Angle?
Enjoy quality time with my girlfriend, take time to cook something special, vegetarian together with her, enjoy having a nice dinner. And occasionally go for a run.

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