Eric Tendian

Searching for words.

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20 in their 20s

I’m humbled to announce that I’ve been named a member of the 20 In Their 20s 2019 class by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Photo of Eric Tendian with his radio

Photo by John R. Boehm and Stephen J. Serio for Crain’s
Profile by John Pletz

As the youngest member of the class at 23, I feel extremely lucky to be alongside such accomplished people, also early in their careers. There’s still a long road ahead for me if I’m going to achieve what I want to achieve, both professionally and personally.

Curiosity propelled me here, and what will get me to that next milestone.

There’s too many people to list that helped me get to this point, supporting me every step of the way - you know who you are. Thank you.


I hear a siren go by and turn my radio back on.

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What Working At Packback Has Been Like

On April 9th, 2014, just over 5 years ago at 18 years old, I set out on a journey of curiosity that has changed my life. That day I accepted an offer to join the fledgling startup Packback as a summer software engineering intern (back when Packback did textbook rental). I’ve been here for about five years now, first as an intern and the most recent 3.5 of them working full-time, now as a Senior Site Reliability Engineer. Getting to this point was not easy, nor did I foresee ever having this title when I first joined, partly because I would have no idea with a person with my title would do. So, I figured it’s time to explain what this person does.

Sidenote: if you don’t know what Packback does today (hint: it’s not textbooks anymore), go check out our new website first!

Success never comes on a straight line. I’ve been broke. Terrified. Excited. Rewarded. But every step of the way I...

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What now?, one year later

It’s been a year since I graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology. (it’s also been a year since I posted something on here, yikes)

One year ago I posted “What now?” in which I talked about what I planned to do now that formal education was complete.

First, let’s recap how I did on the goals, and then I’ll talk about some things I learned these past 365 days, and finally what’s next for me.

Goals Check

  • Advance to Level 1 Senior Engineer at Packback
    • Completed! Since February I’ve been a Senior Engineer.
  • Organize my professional and personal networks, then catch up with at least 4 people a month
    • Incomplete - I did do some catching up with people, but fell short of the 4 per month goal. Did do some work organizing my network, though that is incomplete.
  • Host or speak at 3 or more meetups
    • Incomplete - Attended a couple meetups, but did not host or present at any.
  • ...

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What now?

Today I received my bachelor’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. After 18 consecutive years of formal education (pre-K thru undergrad) I end my academic career.

“So, what now?” I ask myself

Luckily, I don’t need to worry about getting a full time job. It’s been three years since I joined Packback, an EdTech startup, that “exists to awaken the fearless, relentless curiosity inside every student.” I’m working there full-time now, where my “job description” can change every few months - something I enjoy.

It’s rare for me to have something I’m passionate about for more than 3 months. I’ve jumped between projects often, either because I lost interest in the previous project or had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. Sometimes I feel this results in me never accomplishing anything substantial.

I do have some projects I’ve been working on-and-off for a few years...

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In response to “I will never need to use X in real life”

Six years ago today, as a high school sophomore thinking about skipping college, I wrote a short essay on my feelings about the education system in this country. In two weeks I will have graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a degree in Information Technology and Management. I’d like to reflect on how my thoughts on the subject have evolved over the years since I wrote this.

First, some context: At the time I was becoming quite engrossed in programming and was about to embark on my first software development internship at a startup. I felt like most of what I was learning in school wouldn’t serve me a purpose once I started working. For a while I thought about just going straight from high school into a career, but by senior year I decided to give college a chance.

Today, I work as a software engineer at Packback, where we are building a discussion platform for...

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Can Google be wrong?

No, says Google.

Google Featured Snippet for "can google be wrong"

I was reading this article today: How Google eats a business whole - “Google’s Featured Snippets are not only often wrong, they’re also damaging to small businesses that depend on search traffic.”

So many people still blindly trust Google for their information, and rarely go beyond the first page. How many people have been misled by a Featured Snippet? Or more importantly, how many people never clicked on a search result because they already got the answer at the top of the page, in an easy to read format?

The article discusses this a bit, but I think this is what an information monopoly is beginning to look like. With Google Home and Google Now, the answers are read without the context that visiting the website may provide. As there is more and more information synthesis, I fear the negative impacts it could have on public knowledge.

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The Ethics of Overbooking

Overbooking has been in the news recently due to an incident on an overbooked United Airlines flight late Sunday, in which a man and three other passengers were forced off the flight due to needing to make room for United Airlines employees. The man was dragged from the flight by Chicago Aviation police, causing the man to bleed from his mouth.

Further information can be found in the article “United Airlines Passenger Is Dragged From an Overbooked Flight”.

I wanted to gain more context on this and how it applies to IT ethics so I read “When Automation Makes Passengers Freight: United Airlines and Seat Assignments”, written in response to the incident. I found these two paragraphs to be particularly relevant:

What I observed today was seemingly a process designed for planes and freight, applied to people. If a company transports freight and needs to remove a package, a computerized...

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Internet of Emotions

Last week, The Atlantic published an article The Like Button Ruined the Internet which discusses the negative impacts of the Like button and other social features. A few days ago, Pew Research Center published The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online which describes various technologists views on the lack of civil online discourse. This supports what I’ve learned from the lecture “Online Identity and Community” [in ITMD485].

What I found interesting about these two articles is how the first article seems to feed the second - with content designed for social engagement, often emotions will be the driving force in any online discussion of the content rather than the substance and argument of it. However, does this mean we should remove social buttons and require paragraph responses? Does that reduce free speech, if social interactions such as Liking a post count...

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Murder in a smart home

ZDNet: Amazon agrees to hand over Echo records for murder case

Could AI witness a murder? On Wednesday, it was reported that Amazon complied with law enforcement demands and handed over recordings from its Echo product, a smart speaker with a built-in AI named Alexa. The Echo could become the key witness in a murder case, as it was use in the home while someone was possibly murdered. The defendant “said he didn’t mind if Amazon released the audio recordings to prosecutors” so they were released.

I find this particularly relevant to IT ethics and the law because it shows how these IoT devices in smart homes could be collecting private data which may be a key piece of evidence in a criminal investigation. Previously, the government would have less evidence to use in such a case, but with a combination of sensing devices in the smart home, lots of incriminating data may be found. Would...

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Cloudbleed and ethical disclosure

On February 23rd 2017, the content delivery provider Cloudflare revealed a serious vulnerability in its software for processing webpages as they traveled across its network. Due to a programming error which caused a memory leak, Cloudflare’s software would put server memory into webpages under a specific yet limited set of circumstances. The “server memory” inserted may include “private information such as HTTP cookies, authentication tokens, HTTP POST bodies, and other sensitive data” according to Cloudflare, all of which could be read by an attacker. Some of these webpages with private information have been inadvertently saved by search engines, complicating the issue.

The issue was reported to Cloudflare by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy, who detailed the course of events following notification on Project Zero’s issue tracker. What I find interesting and which relates to IT...

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