We Are From Herzlia


http://www.dkheadshots.com - © 2015 Dennis Kwan Photography

I was a pretty forgettable student in school, with all the regular suspects in my class schedule, and accounting as my high school elective. I enjoyed the subject, and was pretty committed to a career either as an accountant or an actuary. Halfway through Standard 9, I was convinced by a friend to do computers with him as a seventh subject.  It was a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, and also, the teacher (Rob Wucherpfennig) is freakin’ awesome, so it was guaranteed to be fun.

I matriculated in 1992, and started at UCT the following year (Elec Eng. + Comp Sci) … but, being the lazy and apathetic academic that I am, I traded the promise of a degree for the offer of real world employment in the growing Internet world, and accepted a job offer while studying.  I dropped out of University in my third year and joined Internet Africa full-time, where for two years I worked as a Systems Administrator, learning unparalleled amounts simply by getting the opportunity to tinker, and to code solutions to real-world problems.

In 1997, as a result of a job offer, I immigrated to London and worked at Morgan Stanley, after which I moved to Zürich Switzerland in 1999. I spent a few years consulting in the finance and commodities space (but always in Systems Engineering groups), taking a break for 6 months in 2002 to spend time in Cape Town after I met Dvora (née Balkin, class of 1998 – we got married 2003).

After spending 4 years at a Zürich-based Wireless Hotspot start up (if you’ve used Wi-Fi at Zürich or Munich airports, or in any of their hundreds of hotspots in Swiss hotels, conference centres, or McDonald’s locations throughout Switzerland and Liechtenstein, then you’ve crossed paths with my influence), I joined Google in 2006, where I worked as a Site Reliability Engineering (“SRE”) Manager until 2012.

For the duration of my time at Google, I owned the data backup and archival service for the company, where I managed a team of SREs responsible for the foundation layer of defense against data loss or corruption for all Google products.  We built out a truly massive operation that constantly backed up all of Gmail, Search Index, Geo products, Google Apps, Logs, etc. — this was a period that really opened my eyes as to how to build and run services at “planet scale”.  I was also involved in an internal venture to deliver better connectivity to Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, etc), which saw significant investment in providing improved service to the region.

I remained in Switzerland for 13 years, during which time I got married (2003), and had two sons – Aron (2005) and Asher (2007). In 2012, I accepted an offer from Facebook, and we moved to California. I managed Production Engineering for Facebook’s Data Infrastructure services, and took on a broader set of storage teams through my time there.  My primary focus was running the storage and compute areas of the data warehouse and analytics services within Facebook, as well as building their “cold-storage” production engineering team.  I left to join a data analytics start up in San Francisco, where I established their SRE team and laid out plans for future growth.

In December 2015, I returned to the world of “planet-scale” services, where I manage the SRE teams at LinkedIn, responsible for the infrastructure that underpins our core datasets (“People You May Know”, “Jobs You May Be Interested In”, LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft in December 2016. It’s extremely humbling to have had the opportunity to contribute to, and grow with, four of the industry titans (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft).  We continue to live in Silicon Valley, where my kids attend a local Jewish school.


Dr Candice Sher

Candice’s husband, Michael Locketz ‘hooding’ her at College of Medicine of South Africa’s admission ceremony

Candice Sher has recently qualified as a specialist anatomical pathologist. Both her and her husband, working in the medical field specialising in biopsies diagnosing diseases, performing autopsies as well as lecturing medical students. They have a daughter who attends Gan Aviv.


Posing with all my art

I was born and raised in Cape Town and matriculated from Herzlia, Class of 2001. Shortly after, I completed a BTech degree in Textile and Surface Design at the newly-merged CPUT while dabbling in fine art and illustration on the side.

After graduating in 2005, I spent a fair amount of time travelling and working in the Isle of Man (UK) and New York before accepting a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in Europe in a relatively unknown town called Olomouc (pronounced, Olmutz) which is a quaint university town in the eastern province of Moravia in Czech Republic. Olomouc has a population of roughly 100 000 with myself being the only South African. It is a pleasant two-hour train ride away from the country’s capital, Prague.

During my stay in Olomouc, I held the position as “Invited Artist” at the Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine, in Palacký University’s biomedical research department. It is the only university in the world that employed an “artist-in-residence” for their medical research program. My role centred on “bringing science to the public through art” and I was mainly tasked with creating illustrations for talks about medical research given by the Institute’s director, as he would speak to the public at conferences around Europe.

A while back, the Institutes leading non-profit organization (Rakovina věc veřejná) approached me to illustrate a book entitled, “Dedicated Fairy Tales” for the purpose of raising funds for cancer research. The hands of 10 well-known Czech and Slovak personalities had written the stories, and the launch took place on the 5th of December 2016 in Prague, at the famous 5 star Mandarin Oriental Hotel which is situated on the slopes of Prague castle. The launch was a momentous and proudly South African moment for me as I earned international recognition as an illustrator. “Dedicated Fairy Tales” has been well received and exposed widely within the media, even making an appearance on national television.

We live in a world where it is particularly difficult to come up with original imagery. Every so often it feels as if we are simply recycling the past, especially within the fields of music, fashion and design. We absorb bits and pieces of what already exists and merely re-stitch them together to create second-rate versions of what already is. I often question how we could be more original in what we create. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of imagination and its intuitive nuances and I want to remind people of the importance of using imagination – a powerful tool, which unfortunately many of us are suppressing by immersing ourselves in technology.

My inspiration arises almost entirely from within my imagination. It is a very intuitive process. I play around with elements extracted from my doodles to create new and unique compositions. My illustrations mostly depict fantasy worlds and the whimsical characters that exist within them. Unlike most illustrators today, I prefer to create by hand instead of the computer. My preferred medium to work in is gouache (a water-soluble pigment) watercolour and fine liner pen on watercolour paper.

We tend to grow up believing that we should all stick to one particular course in life and follow in the footsteps of those before us. I firmly believe that there is no specific recipe for each of us to adhere to in life and we should not feel pressured into following the crowd but rather design our own lives by striving towards our dreams and hearts desires.

My advice to anyone wishing to pursue a career in the arts – spend less time immersed in technology and preserve your imagination. It’s difficult to be original these days, but always be yourself. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged by the enormous pool of talent out there because someone may be better than you on a technical level but there is only one you and nobody can express your story as creatively as you can, so go out there and tell your story.

Biologically inspired vase of flowers


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