Engineer Q&A: Lauren Pappone, Client Engineer
My trajectory wasn’t traditional. After college (where I majored in sociology and environmental studies) I worked on organic farms and volunteered with Heifer International, where I taught kids about world hunger and resource distribution. (Less glamorously, but to support myself, I also worked in a restaurant and a supermarket deli.) I also spent eight months traveling through Mexico and Central America. During law school I focused on the intersection between human rights and environmental issues, and I eventually ended up at a plaintiff-side environmental law firm in Oakland. It was there that I got interested in coding, because I wanted to automate some tedious paperwork.
How did you figure out that this was what you wanted to do?
I didn’t study computer science in college. In fact, I quickly dropped the only CS class I signed up for because I couldn’t tolerate spending hours in a basement computer lab on those colored plastic iMacs. That was the way you had to do computer science back in the dark ages.
Years later, working as an environmental lawyer, I was passionate about my cases but frustrated that I spent so much time on document management. It was tedious and it seemed like a computer should be able to do it faster. So I started learning Python on the side, and months later, with some help from friends who were engineers, I had a script that turned an hours-long task into a thirty-second one. I realized that I’d been spending a lot of my free time coding, and that I was having way more fun doing that than I was doing my job. So I quit and enrolled in Hack Reactor.
What have you been working on lately?
Right now, I’m mostly working on making it possible for our customers who rely heavily on CDN caching to use our Full Stack product. (If content is cached on the CDN, customers’ backend code doesn’t run every time a visitor lands on their site, meaning that Optimizely’s Full Stack testing can’t work.) This project is fun because I’ve been working with our CDN engineer and a product manager to come up with and prototype a creative solution. I’m learning about new technologies, like CloudFlare Workers, and creating a solution that will make a huge difference to our customers.
I also just spent a week on my team’s support rotation, where I focused on triaging incoming issues and fixing bugs. It was a bit daunting to dive back into the codebase after a few months away on maternity leave, but I managed to get my dev environment up and running, answer a number of incoming questions, and fix a couple of newly reported bugs.
What’s unique about engineering at Optimizely?
Optimizely is a place where engineers care about and support one another learning new things. When I first started, I was working on the mobile team but wasn’t able to contribute to the SDKs because, lacking a traditional CS background, I’d never learned Java or Objective C. My team members started giving me small tasks and pairing with me, even though it would have been faster for them to just do these things themselves. This theme has continued as I’ve branched out and taken on projects that required me to learn new technologies.
Optimizely is also a place where work-life balance is a real thing. Unlimited vacation means that I’m trusted to take time off when I need it. I’ve also been able to work remotely from Tahoe so that I can drive up when there’s less traffic, and from Boston so that I can spend time with my family. I recently returned from maternity leave, which has been tough. But my manager and co-workers are super supportive of me working from home, shifting my hours, and taking some extra time off when my daycare plans fell through. This support has made the transition infinitely easier.
What advice do you have for other engineers?
Ask the stupid questions. It probably turns out that it wasn’t such a stupid question after all.
What do you do outside of work?
I have a six-month old, so my new favorite thing is hanging out with him. I also enjoy skiing, climbing, hiking, gardening — basically anything that gets me outside — and cooking and craft beer. I’m starting to feel like a cliche, so I’ll stop there.