This post is the second 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. Also this segment will occur every other week, to keep a steady pace, and provide the most in depth reporting possible.
Alex, and I (the interviewer) recently made the trip down to the Southern California music festival Coachella where I conducted a portion of this interview. On the way we decided to stop at Harvey Mudd College, the alma mater of a growing number of the Genius.com engineering staff. Alex showed me around the beautiful Southern California campus and introduced me to professors whom Alex had clearly schmoozed into a grade bump on one or two occasions. Then, in a clear attempt to bias this article, Alex bought me one of Patty’s (in)famous burritos. The writer will try to retain professional neutrality in the interview, but the burrito was admittedly delicious.
On our recent trip to Coachella, we saw quite a lot of different acts. I was wondering, what was your favorite show of the weekend?
Well I’d have to say, favorite show of the weekend was My Bloody Valentine. I had not heard of them before, and they played a totally different style of music that I’ve been used to. They put on an amazing show, probably the best I’ve ever seen behind Daft Punk’s Alive tour.
Alex, I understand you have an interest in music, and have attended several music festivals over the past several years. Which has been your favorite and why?
Well I’ve been to three really large festivals: Coachella for three years, Bonnaroo in 2006, and Vegoose in 2007. They were all pretty amazing. Vegoose had the best weather by far, Coachella and Bonnaroo the worst, depending on whether you dislike the heat or the humidity. But I would still say Coachella is my favorite: great acts, great crowd, and beautiful scenery.
I also know, and have seen first hand evidence, that you’ve been in several bands over the past few years. What do you enjoy about making music?
I guess my favorite part of making music is… there are a couple things. First, it is a lot of fun to write the different parts, different melodies, chords that play off each other. Layering different parts on top of each other to create complex sounds. I also really enjoy just playing music, producing the music, mixing the sounds together. And it’s fun when people enjoy what you’ve done.
I understand that you majored in Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, but spend most of your time at Genius.com writing software. What got you interested in programming?
Probably about 7th or 8th grade, my father bought me some programming software and books. Mostly Visual Basic, where I could make forms and buttons, very basic things. At one point I looked at C++, saw my first curly bracket and semi-colon and turned my back on the language; it looked way too complicated! A year or two later I conquered my fear, picked up a book on game development in C++, and created this little game with space ships that blow up asteroids and enemy ships with just a few levels. It wasn’t a very impressive game, but it was a start.
Around this time I started doing some web development, doing what most high schoolers do: I made a website about skiing. After showing some rudimentary skills, I happened to get a job from one of my Mom’s friends. Business was a little slow, as I was still in high school. You don’t get a lot of clients at that age. But by exaggerating my skills, and what I could do–basically telling lies about my abilities to customers–I continued to get new business. Fortunately I was able to figure it all out, so the customers were pleased.
I remember at one point I became a little bored of programming and the whole website business. So I told my parents that I wanted to work at a local hardware store as it paid pretty well and it seemed like a fun opportunity. My Dad said I shouldn’t, that I should really stick with the programming thing, and that it would work out. Turns out it did! I’ve been pretty much self taught, save for two programming classes in college. I knew I enjoyed programming, but I thought math was a bit more applicable to everyday life.
As a follow up, I heard that you are a bit of an entrepreneur, starting your own web development company, Zeal Solutions. I’ve heard about several of your clients, even Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann in her early years. Having owned, and operated your own business, what was the most important lesson that you have learned?
Well, that is a tough question. I suppose, it was to always delight your customers. Often I would struggle with what the customer really wanted. I kind of came across the whole agile methodology by accident, doing quick little prototype releases, then responding to the customer’s needs to adjust it. We had this iterative approach to things. So I learned a lot about how to talk to clients and how to translate what a non-technical persons’ needs are into technical terms.
Turning back to Genius.com a little bit, what is your favorite part about working here?
I think I’ll have to say, I really like the people I work with. Everyone who works here is smart, interesting, and very helpful. I feel as if we have a really solid team here. We interact well, and we really motivate and encourage each other to improve all aspects, from the specific code to the overall design of the solutions we are creating. It’s just a fun environment, and we do interesting things.
As a recent college graduate, what advice would you like to give others about the transition from academics to the working world?
It’s awesome! I was pretty fortunate to land the job at Genius.com in the first semester of my senior year. So things were pretty relaxed my last year at Harvey Mudd. My real recommendation would be find something you really want to do, and just go for it!
So having been taken around Harvey Mudd College, you guys took me to Patty’s taqueria. A spot frequented by Harvey Mudd students, and a place of much adoration around the office. What can you say about the Patty’s burrito? Why is it so universally loved amongst HMC students?
Patty’s burrito’s really have the best of everything. One of the most unique things about their burritos are the fresh homemade tortillas. They also have incredible hot sauce. Patty’s hot sauce, you can douse your burrito in it, and it only makes it better. Also, it’s very possible they have some kind of addictive drug in there, because my friends and I have an addiction that just doesn’t normally occur with food.
On the topic of Harvey Mudd, there are quite a few fellow Mudders in the Genius.com engineering department. I would like to offer you the chance to air any dirt you may have on them from their college days. What do you say?
Oh my gosh! You won’t believe it but this one time….[REDACTED BY ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT]
On your desk you have several plants now (Marge and Homer) for which you care quite deeply. What inspired you to bring your green thumb into the office?
I do have to admit, I don’t have much of a green thumb. I’ve tried several times to maintain plants before, and have seen them die. Though I suppose trying to grow a banana tree in Minnesota isn’t the best idea. But I thought when I came to the office that I could really use a little greenery around the place. I mentioned this a couple times and one day Ryan (Director of Engineering) brought in Marge, my tiny green friend. I saw Marge and I immediately knew this was a good fit. Fortunately Marge requires very little tending, so there will be little chance that I’ll kill it. I have to water her every few days, protect her from Shubh the Destroyer (QA Engineer), and Nishtha (QA Engineer), who constantly assault my plants. Ryan brought in another plant a few weeks ago, whose name we haven’t quite settled on yet. Homer is one option but there are a few others floating around. If you, the loyal blog readers, have any suggestions for names for the larger counterpart to Marge, please leave them in the comments!
On the topic of the aforementioned marauding QA engineers, Nishtha and Shubh, I understand you have a long standing feud with them in the office. How did this all start?
Well, back when we were working on Genius Enterprise, our marketing automation product, Nader (Front-end Engineer) and I were working on input validation. Due to the number of possible data types, validation turned out to be very difficult. There is a large set of rules that need to be passed, validated, and displayed to the user in differing ways. Nader and I had been working very hard on this and we were convinced that what we built was correct and complete. Thus, we made a bet with the marauders that they couldn’t find any bugs in the validation. The bet was that the losers would buy the winners lunch. Unfortunately they found bugs. I don’t remember exactly what they were, but I remember them being pretty minor! But still, we settled, bought them lunch, and fixed the bugs. QA is all about ferreting out the most subtle of bugs, and software developers are all about figuring out edge cases and preventing bugs, so we have a friendly rivalry.
While at Harvey Mudd, I overheard that you started an annual ‘Mustache Party’ on campus that is currently in its third year. I’ve also seen you sporting a mustache around the office. I have to ask, what is the appeal of the mustache?
Well… it is a complex attraction. It really brings out the sexiness in the person and it exudes style and class. In the case of the Mustache Party, it makes for a great beer foam mustache on top.
On the topic of Harvey Mudd parties/hijinks, you showed me some of the damage you had done to your old stomping grounds. Are there any particularly interesting events you would like to share with our blog readers?
There was this one time that I suspended a friend’s stapler in a bowl of Jello, like Jim did on The Office. Let me tell you, it is harder than it looks! We had to make some particularly thick jello, suspend the stapler from strings, then extract the strings without leaving any noticeable trace. Other shenanigans…. well, I cannot discuss them here to protect the innocent, or guilty, so I’ll leave it at that.
What are your favorite things to do on the weekends out here in sunny California?
Unfortunately, most of the recent weekends have been filled with rain. However, I enjoy biking around here, leading Ray (QA Engineer) down wrong paths while hiking, going up to San Francisco, the museums, even touristy things like the Golden Gate Bridge. I love downhill skiing, but unfortunately I was not able to go this season. But next season, you can be sure I’ll be out on the slopes!