By day, Daniel Imrie-Situnayake nurtures the next generation of ace programmers as an Instructor at Hack Reactor. By night, he works at Tiny Farms, a startup to develop the engineering infrastructure in an emerging field: insect farming. In both, he is concerned with process: by building better infrastructure, people can better execute their entrepreneurial spirit and their creative ideas. Imrie-Situnayake and his team came up with Tiny Farms through research and a willingness to consider the evidence behind an unlikely idea:
“My two [Tiny Farms] cofounders and I are into food, gardening and growing things,” he explains. “We basically wanted to start a project to get people closer to their food. When we were doing that, we started stumbling on these people that were growing insects and using them for food, and we realized this wasn’t some crazy thing, this was driven by hard science.”
Imrie-Situnayake was further won over by reports from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on how incorporating insects into our diets can lead to a more sustainable world. While cows require around 25 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of protein, he notes, for crickets the ratio is 2 to 1.
The United States has an agriculture system focused on a handful of plants and animals, and for those we have a highly developed system of cultivation and production, but for insects, the infrastructure is still in its nascent stages.
“We realized we could make a contribution on the engineering side of it, so we started growing bugs and finding out what problems we ran into,” Imrie-Situnayake says.
Raising crickets, silk worms, or any number of other critters involves myriad concerns regarding diet, heat, moisture, and the ways that these change over the course of an insect’s life. Tiny Farms works on hardware and software to manage these and other issues for large-scale insect farmers (which there are more and more of all the time).
While insect farming is a relatively recent interest of Imrie-Situnayake’s, he has been programming since he was eight, typing in games in BASIC from books he checked out of the library. His first Software Engineering job was doing back end work for an Artificial Intelligence company.
That’s where he realized that what he loved about coding was “assembling an interface for other people to interact with,” he recalls. “What interests me about programming is the ability to build a system that helps someone get a job done better.”
One starts to see parallels in Imrie-Situnayake’s appreciation for programming and the role of his company, Tiny Farms. In both, he looks to be a facilitator and a catalyst for what people can do.
“The tools we have now can really learn from someone and adapt to what they’re being used for.
Being a programmer, you have the opportunity to shape how people interact with the world, and give them a more pleasurable experience.”
Once he got the itch for coding, Imrie-Situnayake had to learn certain topics that had not come up in his education or work experience.
“I had to go, in my own time to train myself on all these things I’d never used before like Source Control and even Data Structures and algorithm stuff,” he describes. “My appreciation for Hack Reactor is massively increased by that, because I know how hard it is to do that by yourself.”
Being someone who knows about unique ventures, Imrie-Situnayake appreciates the path Hack Reactor has forged with its innovative teaching method:
“It’s really cool to be working somewhere that’s coming at education with a totally new approach and having so much success,” he says.
Imrie-Situnayake’s role as an Instructor will be wide-ranging. In just a few weeks of being a full-time staff member, he has conducted mock interviews, code reviews, and served as a mentor on large student projects.
“It’s easy to feel proud of what we’re doing when you talk to students and find out how ridiculously talented they are at the end of the process.”
Imrie-Situnayake is now an integral part of that process, and now counsels students with his thoughtful approach to programming every day at Hack Reactor.