Team Focus: Drew Stephens

This post is the first in an ongoing series focused on individual members of our amazing development, quality assurance, and operations teams.  Each post will introduce a member of our technical departments through an interview conducted by another member of our team and as many embarrassing photos as we can find.  You can think of it as our equivalent to elementary school “Person of the Week” programs.  However, instead of each person getting a week to display a shrine in their own honor, we will be dedicating a blog post that will live in perpetuity.


Drew with his rum on Talk Like a Pirate Day

Drew on Talk Like a Pirate Day

I’m very proud to begin this series by interviewing Drew Stephens.  Drew began his time at Genius.com as a software developer but gradually absorbed responsibility for the aesthetics of our Scrum board and thus was awarded the mostly honorary title of Vice President of Fonts and Colors.  In addition to his responsibilities as VP, Drew works on our backend application code.

A native Zimbabwean, Drew moved to Arlington, Virginia when he was young, graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York in 2006 and is an alumnus of Computer Science House.  He is a man who wears many hats (not to mention costumes) and is active in the parkour, home ice cream production, and BMW racing communities. Drew also has a deep appreciation for pirates and their official beverage: rum.

///M3

///M3

Drew, knowing that you are an avid photographer in the mold of Ansel Adams and Helmut Newton, our readers have requested your insight into the favorite picture you’ve taken. Please elaborate on what it was and the details surrounding the subject’s immortalization.
I took this picture of my M3 well before I was really into photography, but it is still one of the best shots I’ve ever taken and remains one of my favorites. I love shallow depth-of-field stuff and the water droplets look wonderful, especially that one clinging on. The image reminds me of my favorite thing in the world, driving, and always conjures up great memories.

I should also mention this shot of my favorite antenna tower.

What is your favorite thing about working at Genius.com?
The people that I work with. It sounds cheesy, but that is one of the best things about any company. I did a number of co-ops during school and had a job in DC for a year after graduating. While some of those were good, again mostly because of good people, none were great. At Genius, we’ve got a great group of people and the nature of our work allows us to have fun doing that work. When I first came to Genius, I was slated to be a Perl guy (expert?) which sounded like the best thing in the world to me. As time went on, I have found that what exactly I work on isn’t nearly as important as the people that I work with and how the environment in which we work functions.

I had no dearth of friends when I moved out California from the East Coast; a lot of folks from CSH live in the Bay Area — I live with a few of them at the RIT Retirement Home. Despite that, some of the best friends that I have in my new home are those people that I’ve met through Genius.

Eeeyy!

Eeeyy!

What advice do you have for fresh college grads looking for a software job?
Coming from RIT, where everyone is required to go through the co-op program, I really value the experience that can be gained from internships/co-ops. The most important thing is to get a variety of experiences. In particular, I really recommend finding real world opportunities to explore what you’ve developed an interest in to make sure that whatever you think you might want to do for a career is sufficiently interesting. I would also recommend variety. Don’t just go for companies that you know or are nearby, stretch and try out small companies and big companies. Try companies that are purely software focused and also those where software isn’t the actual product their selling. It’s also important to experience different types of software development. Desktop applications vs. web applications vs. embedded systems.

Beyond what you can do during college, when you are looking for a post-graduation job, don’t hyper-focus on the companies you know or you’ve heard of (e.g. Microsoft, Google, etc). Furthermore, when you’re actually interviewing at companies, be sure to remember that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Make sure that the culture of the organization and the team you will be working with match how you want to work. More important than the development details (domain, languages, tools) is the environment in which you will be working. The people with whom you work and how the entire team works together plays a lot more into how you will enjoy your job and life than any of the technical minutia.

At Genius you have done work in many different languages (JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Java, LOL Code). What is your favorite language?
Perl. When I do projects in my own time, I am more often solving bite-sized problems than building large, robust systems.  Perl, like Ruby or Python, make doing such tasks simple; above the others, however, Perl provides a much more extensive library of modules providing solutions to an uncountable number of problems.  When it comes to Perl, if you’re writing more than glue code, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Sutro Tower

Sutro Tower

The Vice President of Fonts and Colors is a position unique to Genius.com – how did you attain this title?
After a couple of sprints where I was very insistent about the colors for our user stories matching, I brought up the colored organization of our scrum board at a sprint review. Our Vice President of Engineering (who is a real VP) appointed me as the Vice President of Fonts and Colors.

We all have dreams, some achievable, some fantastic; what would you do if the internet didn’t exist?
Drive a race car.  I thought about getting into karting, which is the gateway to a lot of professional road racing (read: everything but NASCAR), when I was in high school.  Between the significant expense and the fact that racing is a more or less all-encompasing endeavor, I didn’t get very far.  A few years later, however, I bought an M3 that sees a lot of track and autocross time.

On the more fantastic side, I would be the hero in a zombie film.

You spend a lot of time browsing the web while at work. What is your favorite website?
Americas Favorite Pizza Weblog – their C.R.U.S.T technology makes for compelling pizza reviews.

What is your favorite local lunch spot and what do you order there?
We eat at so many delicious places that it’s hard to choose just one.  The vast number of excellent taquerias in California has deepened my appreciation of a good burrito.  In particular, the wet spicy chicken burrito at
Charlie’s Taqueria is quite delicious.  I can’t just settle on one answer to this question as there is Aladdin’s, a Palestinian taqueria just down the road from the office, that makes truly outstanding middle-eastern burritos (aka schwarma wraps).

What is your favorite tea?
This is an important question, because here at Genius.com, quality tea is in great abundance. My favorite would have to be good old Earl Gray, though China Yunnan is a close second.

What do you spend your glorious California weekends doing?
I’m a member of the Genius.com Engineering competitive hiking squad. We are the undefeated Northwest California champions of the Hiking And Nautical Department of the Joint Outdoor Bureau. There’s also good climbing in the Bay Area and, given the wide variety of people in the region, a great place to take pictures of people.

Drew knows where you live

Drew knows where you live

Now we're cooking with gas!  Ice cream with a blow torch

Now we're cooking with gas! Ice cream with a blow torch

Drew reading in the banana hammock

Drew reading in the banana hammock

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