Meet the Stitch team: Software Engineer Alex Smith

Alex Smith is a (mostly) fearless software engineer on the Stitch Engineering team, but, she says, “Sometimes they let me do things that give me goosebumps because it’s so much responsibility. On one recent project, if I was mistaken about anything, we would have had downtime, with the potential for data loss. We have elaborate systems in place to prevent data loss, and it’s generally impossible for a developer to cause it. The times we work without a safety net are incredibly rare, so that was nerve-wracking. But I love it when I beat a thing that I’m afraid of doing.”

Alex came to Stitch from a very different kind of organization. “I was at SAP for nine months. I thought I wanted to work at a big company after interning at Amazon. But the bureaucracy and the politics, the slowness of accomplishing anything, drove me nuts. And the role was less technical than I thought it would be. I love programming all by itself. Full-time, hard programming suits me. So I realized I needed to make a change. The day I decided to look for a new job I got a cold email from RJMetrics, the company that turned into Stitch.” Alex started with RJMetrics in March 2015 and became a part of the Stitch team the following July when Stitch was spun out.

A typical day at Stitch

A typical day in the office, Alex says, starts with coffee, headphones, and dealing with an email message or two. “We don’t have many meetings — we all communicate on Slack — but we’re always thinking about the direction of our code base, and we have design discussions about decisions that will affect the company for years.

“Our back end is written in Clojure. Many of us in the office code in Emacs using CIDER, which lets you connect directly to a running JVM and develop interactively. I came from a Java background but I never had a good experience with Java debugging. I’ve never seen tooling around Java match the kind of ease of development we get working in Clojure.

“I like to hop right into programming, ideally for the whole day. We’re pretty goal-oriented; I’m closing small tasks every day. I generally work on the back end. We work in the agile style, on small, granular tasks. We try to do at least one task a day, but often we do two or three. You eat away at a mountain of work, but it’s really manageable.

“Every engineer spends two weeks out of every 24 working on our strike team, tackling support tickets. The company has made a commitment to excellence, and part of that is to have an amazing support experience. It’s good for me as a developer — if we built code that was perfect, we wouldn’t have support conversations, so doing support helps us get closer to that goal.

“The company has never set an unreasonable deadline and forced us to work late or weekends. They’ve earned enough goodwill from me that I would do that if they needed me to, but they haven’t. Sometimes I put that pressure on myself, because I know a project would go smoother if I did. I have on-call shifts three times a month, so I have to be conscious of where my laptop is, but it’s not burdensome. We, the engineering team, make a strong effort not to have critical alarms in the first place — there are no regular or expected alarms. When I leave the office, I leave the office.”

People and values

While she likes the development work, Alex says, “One of my favorite parts of day-to-day life is lunch with my co-workers. We talk about movies, books, politics — it’s always great to be a part of that. Plus I appreciate the flexible hours — and being able to wear jeans to work! And I appreciate the respect — no one is counting heads at 9 a.m., or cares what you look like, because they know that’s not where professionalism comes from.”

Stitch embraces several corporate values, and Alex says one in particular has a regular impact on the job:

We use the phrase “do the right thing,” or DTRT, to remind ourselves to make decisions that we’ll be proud of in the long term. Our rule of thumb is that if we wouldn’t be comfortable with our actions or words being written about on the front page of the newspaper, then we’re not comfortable with it in private either.

“Sometimes you’ll fix a bug and realize there’s remediation work to do that we have to communicate to clients. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to wonder if the company will be sucked into politics or saving face. The team will react with transparency and honesty, and we’ll email clients if we think they need to know about something.”

Stitch is hiring, and Alex has some advice for prospective colleagues. “Learn what our product does. Sign up for a trial; it’s a pretty simple product. Read our blog and our marketing page. Have an idea of what Stitch is about so you can decide if you think you’d enjoy working here.

“For me, I love working at Stitch. There’s a perfect balance between casual and respectful. People care about your personal life, and they’re really professional. You’re given a lot of responsibility, and I always push myself to meet those expectations. Plus all my co-workers are such interesting people, and we have a good time together.”