As a Product Marketer I’m used to interviewing our user base to learn about how folks discover Geckoboard. As part of a mini-overhaul of our careers page (YES, WE ARE HIRING), it made sense to do a little internal “customer development” on ourselves for a change to find out how and why our team has come together the way it has.
I recently sat down with Klara Pum, one of our front-end engineers, to hear her story on how she got into programming and what it’s like to work as a front-end engineer here day-to-day.
Nick: So could you start by telling me a little bit more about yourself?
Klara: That’s a broad question!
Nick: Your entire life story, please.
Klara: My life story... So I grew up in Austria. I went to high school in Linz and studied Communication and Media design.
Back then, I thought I’d probably become a designer, but I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to go down the art route or the technology route, so I went to Hagenberg to do a degree in Multimedia Tech and Design.
We got to do some cool projects and I realized that I was really enjoying the technology part. I got some really good problems to solve! So after the first or second year, I started to specialize on the technology side.
I then went on to do a Master’s in Multimedia Technology in Salzburg. That was completely technology-focused and pretty hardcore!
Nick: What sort of things were you doing?
Klara: It was still around media but it involved web development and installations. We played around with multi-touch tables, shoes that played a beat when tapping a ball, and other fun things! I also learned about the Chomsky Hierarchy, Alan Turing and the Halting Problem — which will haunt me forever.
Nick: Is that what initially got you into programming?
Klara: No. That was before. I’d already done quite a lot during my first degree. Each year we got to do a big project we could choose ourselves. My first was a map showing you the lunch menu of every place in the area. I designed it, but then I decided to sneak in the development too and I found it really satisfying to actually execute the idea!
I did some more projects where I got the chance to code, and the next semester I chose as many programming modules as I could. That’s what really got me into it.
Nick: If you hadn’t discovered coding, what do you think you would be doing now? Would you be a designer right now?
Klara: No, I don’t think I would be a designer. I would be a dancer.
Nick: A dancer?
Nick: Any particular type of dance?
Klara: Musical dancing.
Nick: Salsa or something?
Klara: No, musical, like Grease or Footloose!
Nick: Nice! So what brought you to Geckoboard?
Klara: After university, I didn’t really know what to do. I started to work at an advertising agency in Salzburg, but I always knew that wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. I started looking for startups and interesting jobs at product-focused SaaS companies, but in Austria there wasn’t really anything that I found super exciting at that time. I began to think “I need to look further afield”.
Finding somewhere with the right culture was really important to me. I wanted to work for a fun, open minded, and progressive company where the people were motivated by building something great.
I started to look in Barcelona, London, and also Poland — I don’t know why I narrowed in on those locations — and then, quite quickly, I came across Geckoboard by Googling cool startups in London! I came across one of the blog posts on the Geckoboard blog and thought it sounded like the kind of company I was looking for.
I noticed they were hiring so began to dig a little deeper. During my Masters, I’d done quite a bit of work on data visualization and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d find the product interesting to work on too.
Nick: And so you came over for the interview… What sort of things were you looking out for when you came to the office for the first time?
Klara: It was incredibly exciting. I mainly wanted to know about the people. “Is it vibrant and friendly?”, “Do people have a life here?”, “Do people walk around and talk to each other?”, “Is it uptight and formal or open and relaxed?”, “Are they professional?“, ”Is it pretentious?”.
I’m put off by pretentious startups or agencies that take themselves too seriously. I felt really welcomed, and got on well with all the people I met, so that was a major plus point.
Nick: Does it still match what you saw then?!
Klara: Oh, yes!
Nick: Luckily, you chose to join us! What does your average day look like working at Geckoboard?
Klara: Well, I’m usually one of the last ones in, arriving just before 10am for our standup.
Nick: You live really close by as well, right?
Klara: Yep. I walk in, it only takes 17 minutes!
There are two development teams, Taco and Burrito (it’s a long story!). Taco, my team, have their standup first. It usually takes about 10 minutes, and once the standups are over I sit down and start working on my current task.
Most days it’s a brand new task, since in our Kanban process we always try and split bigger bits of work into small, releasable pieces so that each task takes less than a day to complete.
Once I’ve started coding, lunchtime comes around quite quickly. After we’ve gone out to grab some lunch I pick up and carry on. We usually go out for an afternoon coffee too, even though the coffee in the office is great thanks to Carl’s setup!
Throughout the day, I’ll usually be talking to one of our designers, Pete or Jack, and Tom, Taco’s product manager, about the feature I’m working on. Often, there’ll be something new to show them and get feedback on or decisions about approaches we need to take. We also do a lot of pair programming where two people work on a specific problem or project together.
Once we’re happy with a feature, I’ll create a pull request on GitHub. Someone else in the development team will review it. And if it’s fine, I can merge it and just deploy it with the feature. I’ll also look over other people’s pull requests most days too.
Nick: Is every day like that?
Klara: It varies. Like today, it’s our ‘Innovation Wednesday’, where once a fortnight everyone in the development team picks an interesting topic or project and spend the day on that. It’s a great way to learn or try out an idea.
Nick: What have you done on ‘Innovation Wednesdays’ in the past?
Klara: All sorts of things. Sometimes, I’ll use it as an opportunity to learn or read around a particular subject. Recently, I’ve been reading some scientific papers on the topic of data visualization which led to me designing a flowchart to help decide which data visualization to use in certain scenarios. I also love trying out new technologies — this week it was CSS variables.
A few months ago, I was really interested in trying React Native to make an iPhone app, so I built Tinder for Idioms! I’ve still not mastered English Idioms.
Nick: On that point about technologies, what sort of technologies do you work with at Geckoboard?
Klara: I’m part of the front-end team, and we’re using React. We moved over from Backbone about 18 months ago. In terms of architecture, we’re using a Flux implementation and for CSS, we’re using CSS modules.
We’re constantly trying to make the codebase better and trying to find some smart solutions to avoid a lot of boilerplate which is introduced when using React and Flux. But so far it’s working very well for us.
Nick: Cool. Are you working on any particularly interesting problems at the moment?
This week, I’m building a new text visualization which supports automatically looping through messages. Since it uses both React and old technologies, I had to be very careful to not introduce any memory leaks — memory leaks are very, very bad!
Today, I was researching approaches we might take for improving how the product allows customers to theme their dashboards. One approach is based on React, the other onCSS. I’m going to prepare both solutions and show them to my colleagues in the front-end and product teams so we can discuss what would be better for us.
In the past I’ve worked on our new Salesforce and Spreadsheets integrations, both of which were big green-field projects where we got to completely reimagine how customers get their data into Geckoboard and set up widgets.
Nick: Can you teach me a bit more about the process we use to build features?
Klara: Big features always begin with a workshop that the whole team attends. The most recent one was for our new Datasets feature.
We don’t have a long, detailed feature roadmap, but generally there’s a theme or area we’re concentrating on and the Product Managers propose projects to address them. In the workshops everyone’s encouraged to bring and share their ideas and research.
After that, we usually get a few people together to build a prototype. That’s always a very interesting phase. Once we’ve validated our approach technically and with users then we go away and start building the minimum viable product.
As a team, we break the project down into functionality we want to deliver, and then slice that functionality into chunks of work we can deliver in a day. In our planning sessions we talk through the upcoming work, elaborate designs, and discuss the technical approach we’d like to take, and whether we need to go away and spike it first.
Nick: And then ship, ship, ship?
Klara: Yes — We usually ship a couple of times per day.
Nick: Nice. So what’s your favorite thing about working at Geckoboard?
Klara: My favorite thing? That’s hard! It’s really cool that we’re open to using new technologies. If I find something new, make a case for us using it, and get my colleagues excited about it, I can go away and introduce that technology. It is nice working with people who get excited about that kind of thing!
I also really like the team! Everyone’s very different and has their own character and strengths, but we all work very well together. That’s really nice.
Nick: Cool! And if you had to send one message to someone who was thinking “Should I work at Geckoboard or not?”, what would that be?
Klara: I’d say “Yes, definitely!”
I’m actually trying to persuade a very close friend to apply right now! I know she’d love it for the same reasons I do. Our process and technology are great, we build things to a really high standard and that translates into a really strong, popular product. Best of all, we have fun doing it.
Geckoboard makes it easy to connect to business data and build beautiful, live TV dashboards that keep teams informed, motivated and on track. We’re a friendly, focused, passionate team of 35 individuals based (mostly) in East London, and we’re hiring!