I started talking to Ridgeline in mid-2018. For a number of reasons, I delayed my jump to the company until June of this year, when I joined Ridgeline’s Products & Engineering team to build a data and analytics platform for the product engineers to use. After being here for 100 days now, my initial takeaway is, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”
Prior to Ridgeline, I held a technology job at a major finance firm, where I spent eight years doing everything from hands-on web development, engineering management, devops, site reliability engineering, and a leadership-level role. The differences between these two organizations is stark; accordingly, this post is designed to highlight some of those differences and to dispel some of the pre-conceived notions I had about joining a startup.
Freedom to Focus and Learn
Ridgeline’s ultimate goal is to solve the most difficult problems in investment management infrastructure and technology. I have been given the space and time to work on these problems with the full support and resources I need. Long gone are the days of frustrated engineers, architecture councils taking months to define direction, delays to get new infrastructure that led to bad architectural decisions, meetings about meetings, and working through red tape to get even the smallest of changes made.
An example of my newfound independence: I have access to a self-service AWS playground that enables me to experiment and prove out ideas, efficiently leverage colleagues’ time and knowledge, and receive consistent leadership direction paired with empathetic feedback. This keeps engineers pushing forward and gives them the freedom to focus on the problems at hand, while appreciating that their opinions and needs matter.
At my previous company, the demands of the organization didn’t leave much time for learning or critical thinking. Plus, the role was comfortable — I knew what would happen on any given day. I was expected to work on custom software and keep hundreds of tangled legacy systems up and running, while occasionally helping the people who were expected to manage data center infrastructure and traditional IT responsibilities such as email and video conferencing. Lots of functions but little focus. Needless to say, it was difficult to get anything of substance done.
Now, at a technology company where technical expertise proliferates, I am able to solely focus on applying my financial and technical knowledge to the challenge of building a data platform. In three months, I’ve been involved in designing and building a fully serverless data platform based on AWS Glue and S3, transforming data using Apache Spark, learning how the Ridgeline application as a whole is built, deployed, and seeded with demo data, and most recently, examining the Ridgeline message infrastructure. There is nothing in my career that has compared to the feeling of delivering on aggressive deadlines and seeing something you had a hand in building become an important part of a larger ecosystem.
In It Together
One of the things I was most anxious about before I started applying and interviewing for new roles was my technical aptitude; was my knowledge already obsolete, and did I have the chops to make it through interviews? I had almost no real-world experience building software in a microservice architecture and fairly minimal cloud infrastructure experience, especially when it came to the serverless world. Interestingly, the technical interviews actually felt more like brainstorming and learning sessions with potential new colleagues than tests. And while it’s true that I had less experience in certain areas, I realized I have other skill sets that I had discounted. But what I didn’t fully realize was the importance of culture on the new team I would join.
Since starting, I have had the pleasure (and honor) to work with some of the smartest young engineers I have ever met (and who can code circles around me), along with senior engineers and architects who have so much experience and knowledge for me to learn from. All of these colleagues have one common trait: They are very generous with their time and knowledge. This, combined with a culture of helping each other out, has led to me learning at an explosive rate, enabling me to quickly execute at their level. Additionally, everyone has invested time in learning about my background and skill sets, so that together, we are a stronger, more diverse team. It’s important for me to call out this culture of helping, teaching, and learning, as it rings true with every single person at Ridgeline across the wide range of engineering and non-engineering roles.
Trading Comfort for Challenge
In my first 100 days, I found myself integrated into a phenomenal engineering organization and company, where I felt welcomed and challenged more intensely than ever before. If you find yourself entrenched in a role that is hard to leave because it’s comfortable, and you worry that your technical chops are stagnating, I highly encourage moving to a startup like Ridgeline. It will challenge you and teach you to be a better engineer and colleague. Looking back makes me wonder why I was ever so hesitant in the first place.