Engineering a career: Coders at 7 Seattle tech companies share how they found their passion

by Quinten Dol
June 13, 2019

A career in engineering has diverse appeal. For some, it offers the chance to make a living from mental muscles they’ve been flexing since childhood. For others, the profession represents an opportunity to gain skills that will only become more valuable in our increasingly digital world. Some want to build robots; others just want to change things up in their career.

To learn more about what inspires a career in engineering, we spoke to eight coders at seven Seattle-area startups and mid-sized tech companies about how they got into this business in the first place.

 

limeade bellevue tech engineering
photo via limeade

When life hands you lemons, a good employer deploys Limeade. The Bellevue company helps businesses retain their hard-won talent with integrated engagement and well-being software designed to foster company culture and overall success in all aspects of an employee’s life. The platform uses personalized challenges, social activities and interactive learning modules to augment HR efforts.

At college, Director of Web and Mobile Development Keith Carpenter found he enjoyed building virtual tools more than he enjoyed designing physical buildings.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering? Was it a particular person, experience, company, project, or something else entirely?

I like building. I went to college to be an architect — of buildings, not software — but quickly found myself drawn to code and the problem-solving of programming. I still think of my job as building things, just that I'm using software. As I have moved into managing, I work more with people than hands-on coding — but I still connect it to making awesome products.

 

I also like to know that my team’s work is going to be used firsthand by people to make their work or life... a little better.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

Being around a team of people who believe in what Limeade is trying to do, and seeing those people — especially those that report to me — take steps forward in capability and confidence. As a person focused on front-end development, I also like to know that my team’s work is going to be used firsthand by people to make their work or life (hopefully both) a little better.

 

igneous seattle tech startup baseball tech league
photo via igneous

With a founding team that boasts experience with Amazon, Microsoft, Isilon Systems, EMC and NetApp — and 13 U.S. patents between them — Igneous is well-placed to deliver on its promise. That is: to help businesses organize vast data troves in a way that makes them searchable and accessible. And in this age of data breaches and privacy concerns, Igneous must also build its software to be hack-proof. The company is a spinout of the Madrona Venture Labs startup studio, and recently raised $25 million in funding.

Software Engineer Sudarshan Muralidhar is one of many engineers who was first steered toward the profession by a certain Danish plastic brickmaker.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

I have been interested in engineering since grade school. My first programming experience was with LEGO Mindstorms, a LEGO kit with a programmable core module. The drag-and-drop interface was very easy to use, but still taught basic concepts like loops, conditionals and functions. For a technology fair one year, a friend and I built a robot that used motors and light sensors to move across a table while cleaning it. Around the same time, I got into web design, and was fascinated with how quickly I could go from wanting to build an application to seeing it live on the internet.

 

It is understood that the next game-changing idea can come from anywhere, so everyone has opportunities to voice their thoughts.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

As a small company, Igneous provides a lot of opportunity for growth. It’s very fulfilling to work alongside of the best minds in the industry. Despite the decades of experience in the office, however, it is understood that the next game-changing idea can come from anywhere, so everyone has opportunities to voice their thoughts. At Igneous, engineers own their code from inception to deployment. This means that they are responsible for measuring success and addressing breakages in the field. As a result, we are all closely plugged in to the customer experience, and are familiar with individual users of our product. It’s exciting to work at an organization where the impact of our work can be seen immediately and directly.

 

tune seattle marketing tech startup engineering
photo via tune

TUNE’s software-as-a-service platform helps marketers manage marketing partnerships across multiple web and mobile channels. Since it was founded in 2009, the Belltown company has evolved its technology to support the unique needs of a range of affiliate marketing partnerships, working with networks, publishers and agencies. TUNE has worked with Baidu, Groupon and Shopify, among many others.

Engineering prowess runs in the family for Software Development Engineer Van Nguyen, who gets a kick out of seeing her creations at work.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

I grew up in a family where my father was a civil engineer, and I always thought the work he did was meaningful. In grade school I liked solving complex problems and going to my math classes. Because of this, when I first started college I knew I wanted to study engineering — however, I was not sure of the discipline. So I enrolled in an intro to computer science course, and found that I very much enjoyed the challenge and the adrenaline of seeing something I built work.

 

I get to work with lots of very smart people who I learn from every day.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

I am proud that I am part of a product that reaches so many people. I feel meaningful at TUNE, just like my father was as a civil engineer. What’s more, I get to work with lots of very smart people who I learn from every day. Thanks to TUNE and my team, I have a never-ending supply of things to learn!

 

lighter capital seattle tech startup
photo via lighter capital

For startups that don’t necessarily want to follow the traditional venture capital route, Lighter Capital provides an alternative model. The Seattle company takes its repayments for upfront loans as a percentage of future revenue, which gives entrepreneurs breathing space during those inevitable startup growing pains when cash gets tight. Lighter Capital recently launched new options: a term loan offering and a line of credit. The company has made investments in more than 300 companies to date.

SVP of Engineering Jason Glover has been enamored with software engineering since his college days.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

At a university open day I became besotted with watching a robotic arm solve the “Towers of Hanoi” puzzle. It might as well have been operated my magic, and at that moment I knew I had to figure out how the magic worked. I really had no idea what a career in software engineering was going to look like, but a few years later I became involved in what would be the first of many startups. As it turns out, my career in engineering has involved a total of zero robots — but there has always been plenty of innovation.

 

There are no typical days for me, but if I’m doing my job right, all my engineers have everything they need to be efficient, effective and maximally autonomous.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

As an executive leader of engineering, my role is focused on problem-solving, enablement, culture development, strategy and mentoring. My “code cutting” days are largely over, but during two decades I gained a thorough appreciation for how to set up an environment that supports engineering and innovation. There are no typical days for me, but if I’m doing my job right, all my engineers have everything they need to be efficient, effective and maximally autonomous.

 

ookla seattle tech startup
photo via ookla

Ookla’s software — dubbed “Speedtest” — helps assess internet testing, data and analysis, which users leverage whenever internet speed and availability is crucial to their plans. Use cases involve the planning of WiFi networks, creation of site survey tools, performance of real-time analysis on service outages and construction of data analytics for mobile coverage. The technology serves customers of all shapes and sizes, ranging from huge enterprises down to individual, everyday people.

Software Engineer Cynthia Cobb was a burned-out high school teacher when she decided to try her hand at coding.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

After spending five years teaching and tutoring high school math and science, I was burned out and ready for a career change. I had always been interested in programming and as a teenager, I used to make websites about my favorite TV shows and hobbies. So I decided to teach myself coding in my free time and I soon found myself spending more and more evenings coding terminal games instead of watching shows. I like how programming combines creativity, logic and problem solving. I attended Ada Developers Academy, a Seattle coding program designed to boost diversity in tech. I made it through the three-month application process and after six months of full-time instruction, I started an internship at Ookla. My internship only reaffirmed my choice to switch careers. Software engineering has proved to be a very rewarding job: I get to work on complex problems, am always learning, and find myself in a much better place for career growth and obtaining my life goals.

 

Ookla has a strong focus on collaboration, which creates a productive working environment.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

The first thing that comes to mind is the work — I get to help design and build complex projects. I also like how my team collaborates through the design and problem-solving processes, and when we divide up the work, we make sure we each get parts that interest us while sharing the less-exciting tasks. Ookla also has a strong focus on collaboration, which creates a productive working environment. When we complete a big project, leadership makes sure to recognize the success was due to the teamwork across all departments. Lastly, it is pretty great that I can work from home as wanted — this is very much needed after spending my weekends playing in the mountains.

 

flipt seattle real estate startup
photo via flipt

By using artificial technology to scan social media, housing data and more to figure out which homeowners are likely to sell soon, Flipt helps real estate business get their adds in front of those eyeballs before the competition. Founded in 2014, the company helped real estate agents connect with more than 10,000 homeowners last year, and was recently featured on Built In Seattle’s 50 Startups to Watch in 2019.

Co-founder and CTO Jesse Gall discovered an aptitude for building new tools at an early age.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

When I was growing up, I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I love building things and I’m intrigued by how things work, both in the physical and abstract realm. When I understand how something works, I want to make it better. I have designed a silent computer, a guitar with improved intonation, and a more heavily abstracted Greek verb conjugation system. I have built a few websites, too. I love making systems better. I discovered this when I designed a more durable LEGO soldier as a boy, and a career in engineering naturally followed.

 

I build tools for our sales people, our customers and our customer success professionals.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

Empowering people. The most gratifying aspect of my position is building systems which make people faster or more effective in their jobs. I build tools for our salespeople, our customers and our customer success professionals. It’s gratifying to learn what a person is doing, and engineer a faster streamlined process using tools which empower them to be better at their job.

 

liquidplanner seattle tech startup
photo via liquidplanner

Projects don’t always run according to schedule. To this end, LiquidPlanner’s workflow management software automatically adapts calendars, schedules and deadlines as priorities change or resources shift in emphasis. The platform also offers visibility into which team members are working on what, who might have bandwidth for additional tasks and whether they’re at risk of missing a deadline.

Software Engineers Melanie Downing and Heath Smith both transitioned into their careers after time in healthcare and the military respectively.

 

What got you interested in a career in engineering?

Downing: After working for 10 years in healthcare, I was ready for a change. I knew I wanted to work in an environment that focused on problem-solving at its core, but also involved teamwork and collaboration. Software engineering met and exceeded all of my expectations.

Smith: My interest in engineering started when I was in Tokyo. I had a photographer friend who was traveling the world working as a software engineer. Just seeing that a single person could do so much with a laptop and change a whole website while sitting in a coffee shop was fascinating to me. Coming from a military background, this blew my mind! That is when I started to learn everything I could about software programming.

 

I love that I get to be creative when writing code and help my team solve problems.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

Downing: My favorite day-to-day aspects are the flexibility and accountability of working with friends and breaking through complex algorithms with those “aha” moments when something clicks or falls into place.

Smith: I really enjoy working at LiquidPlanner and being a part of a great team. I love that I get to be creative when writing code and help my team solve problems. Building something that did not exist minutes ago still amazes me.

 

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