Optimizely Engineer Q&A: Kelly Walker, Frontend Engineer, East Coast

I’m taking part in this Q&A as part of an effort to introduce the world to the Engineering team at Optimizely. If you’re interested in joining, we’re hiring Frontend Engineers in San Francisco and Austin!

Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, what do you do at Optimizely, and how long have you been here? Tell us a bit about your trajectory to get here.

My name is Kelly, and I’m a Senior Software Engineer at Optimizely. I’ve been at Optimizely for 3.5 years and have worked on a variety of our products, including the Web Editor, the Results page, and more recently Program Management.

I studied graphic design at UC Davis, and I’m from the Bay Area, so I sort of naturally fell into doing product design for tech companies based on proximity. I really enjoyed doing product design, but I struggled a lot with the lack of satisfaction of never being absolutely certain that I’d created a successful design or that my work was complete. I learned some HTML and CSS in college and grew those skills when I worked as a designer, but I kept finding myself pulled towards writing Javascript, but finding it hard to make progress on understanding it by taking little side courses. In 2014 I was working for a startup that was running out of money, so they laid off 25% of the company. I realized that I had an unexpected opportunity then to reevaluate my career path, so I decided I wanted to go to Hack Reactor to develop my javascript skills. My plan was to be a design/engineer hybrid when I was done. Before I even started at Hack Reactor I heard from a friend (Tom Genoni) that Optimizely was a great place to work, and that they were hiring designers. I chatted with the design team about my hybrid plan and it seemed to be a great fit. So right after Hack Reactor I joined the Optimizely design team. I really loved being on the design team, but I kept feeling the pull towards code, and kept wanting to dive deeper in and hone my JS skills. With the help of some great mentors (particular shout out to Jordan Garcia for constantly throwing tougher tasks at me with full confidence I could handle them), I made the switch to Software Engineer after a few months and haven’t looked back!

What are you working on this quarter?

I’m pretty excited about this quarter. I’m spearheading an initiative to convert our Program Management product from AngularJS to React. This is one of the biggest projects I’ve taken on at Optimizely and I’m excited to push myself to consider various architectural options. I’m also definitely excited about the end result, which means not having to write any more AngularJS. I’m also going to be working on a feature for Program Management called Custom Scoring. I’m planning on using this feature to test out a lot of the ideas I have around how to do the React conversion. Last but not least I’m going to run a couple of fullstack experiments to validate pieces of the React conversion. For example, we currently use a batch endpoint in Program Management that relies heavily on an AngularJS service, and I want to validate that it aids our performance before going through the trouble to replicate the functionality in our new React architecture.

What’s your favorite thing about Optimizely? What’s unique about Optimizely?

I love how easy it is to work on whatever you find most interesting at Optimizely. Just say the word and you can pretty much work on whatever project you want. Many projects have originated from ideas from engineers, so you can even come up with a project you want to work on, make a good case for why it’s needed, and be able to drive that project forward with full support from the team.

Another thing I think is so cool about Optimizely is how many people have transferred between radically different jobs within the company. I went from design to engineering, we’ve got engineers who were on customer success and technical support, engineers who have transferred to other departments, etc. I think it really speaks to Optimizely’s desire to support their employees’ growth and keep long lasting, happy employees. Optimizely is also really accommodating to employee’s personal lives, speaking from experience here. A year and a half ago my partner got an job offer on the East Coast. I was pretty concerned about having to find a new job, particularly because his offer was not in a great area for tech jobs. I chatted with my manager about the possibility of working remotely and she set the ball in motion. My experience working remotely has been pretty great, with a ton of support from my managers and teammates.

If you’re working remotely… how do you do it? What tips and tricks do you have for someone?

I’ve been working remotely for Optimizely for 1.5 years now and I’ve found the most important thing to be communicate and overcommunicate. It’s a lot easier for work to go unnoticed and for me to be on a different page than my coworkers if I am not super clear about exactly what I’m working on. I’ve come to really appreciate the art of the technical design doc. I tend to write extremely extensive ones so that no stone is unturned and all stakeholders are on board by the time I begin implementation. I also proactively communicate my status on things to people that might care. Who doesn’t love a random update? And since I don’t have a physical presence in the office, I’m often one of the more talkative one on our company slack, including the less work related channels.

Video calls are essential. I really appreciate daily standup video calls, they help me feel much more connected to the team than the same set of updates would in written format. I have also found that having a 10 minute video call with a coworker can unblock way more than going back and forth asynchronously on an issue, and I try to intervene with a video call when I can see that we’re not getting to the solution through writing.

Remote working is fantastic for obvious reasons (flexible schedule, sweatpants all day, etc), but the main thing I’ve struggled with is not letting work bleed into after hours, particularly because my team is based in the west coast, so work 3 hours later than I do due to time difference. I think the smart advice here would be to turn off Slack and email after work hours, maybe some day I’ll listen to this :)

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’ve been picking up sewing as a hobby recently, so far I’ve finished a jacket, a sweatshirt, and a shirt. None of them are wearable, but I’m learning! I also watch way too much TV, do some exercising, and love a happy hour beer or two.