Job Portraits
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Job Portraits

Note: At Job Portraits, we default to honesty. And the truth is, the world looks a lot different now than it did when we began production on the below story. But we also believe that now more than ever, it’s important to share stories of good people doing good work, like the folks at Quizlet. During this time of uncertainty, we’re sending well wishes to all our readers. May you be safe and healthy.

Quizlet Engineering Manager Genevieve Krzeminski on Using Data to Help the World Learn

As a lifelong Denverite, Engineering Manager Genevieve Krzeminski was already sold on the location of Quizlet’s second HQ. But it was the people — and the company mission — that convinced her to join. Below, she shares about the team’s structure, processes, and tools; discusses some of the challenges she’s currently tackling; and explains the company culture that sets Quizlet apart, not only in Denver but among tech companies in general.

What’s your role on the team?

I’m a senior engineering manager for the SEO pod in our Denver office. We’re part of the Growth team, which helps users both find the study sets already on the platform and create new ones of their own. Right now, Growth is particularly focused on international expansion. In the U.S., two-thirds of high school students and half of college students are already using Quizlet. We want to replicate that throughout the world.

Genevieve (center) leads a meeting while visiting the SF office.

Why did you decide to join Quizlet?

I’ve always been passionate about learning and teaching; my mom and grandfather were both teachers, and I teach knitting for fun. I also have a background in cognitive science as well as computer science, and I’m especially fascinated by the brain. So the fact that Quizlet is not only helping people learn but using data science to understand how they learn was definitely a draw.

What’s the company culture like?

There’s a mission-driven energy here that’s really special. We’re thinking about the impact we can have globally, not just in the U.S. or with a certain demographic, and about how to prioritize the right things. I think it comes down to a focus on people — both users and employees.

“There’s also a lot of emphasis on servant leadership. It’s a very bottom-up culture, not top-down.”

We do have a good work-life balance. Tech has a reputation for working people to death, but that’s not us. There’s also a lot of emphasis on servant leadership. It’s a very bottom-up culture, not top-down. That starts with Matt, our CEO, who is so approachable and easy to talk to. He’s a human, and he treats the rest of us like humans. He puts a lot of emphasis on empowering and trusting the team, which I appreciate as an employee and a manager. It’s not about being told what to do; it’s about being asked what you think. We do have company OKRs and goals, but the teams are the ones deciding how we should get there.

Learning has always been at Quizlet’s core — the company was founded in 2005 by then-high school sophomore Andrew Sutherland who needed a better way to study French vocabulary words.
Above: Lunchtime for San Francisco. Lunch is catered every day in SF, and ordered via DoorDash in Denver.
Circle of (startup) life.

How is the Engineering team organized?

The Engineering team is distributed among pods, which are like delivery teams. Most pods have a product analyst, a product manager, an engineering manager, and a tech lead. As an engineering manager, I love having a tech lead partner who can go deeper on the technical side because it frees me up to focus more on the people aspects. Then we have engineers, most of whom either work on mobile or are full-stack web engineers. Being full-stack is nice because you get to own your projects all the way through, but we’re also talking about moving toward frontend and backend specialization as more senior people join.

“As an engineering manager, I love having a tech lead partner who can go deeper on the technical side because it frees me up to focus more on the people aspects.”

In addition to leaders and engineers, pods have User Ops people who talk directly with users, and product support specialists who communicate with User Ops and Product about new features and any issues that come up. We collaborate cross-functionally with a lot of other teams, too — my pod works closely with Data Science, for example.

Our group is one of many. We have a team that focuses on search within Quizlet; we’re introducing ElasticSearch to give us more flexibility on that front. Another is focused on re-engagement — encouraging existing users to come back to Quizlet more often. And there’s a team of pods within the Core Value Product group that is doing more intense cognitive science work, figuring out how to expand the platform to work for more learning styles and different types of content.

Above: QA Engineer Remya Ravindran reppin’ team Data. Below left: Devices for mobile development. Below right: Senior Director of Design Vickie Chiang (standing, far right) syncs with Product Design Manager Sal Bertucci (seated, center) and Senior Product Designer Memie Huang (standing, far left).

What tools and processes do you use?

On the frontend, we’re using React, Redux, and TypeScript. React is super popular in Denver right now, but if you don’t have a background in it, experience with things like Vue.js also translates well. For the backend, we’re using Hacklang PHP. It’s not that common — although Facebook and Slack do use it — but it’s worked well for us, and we have a lot of good documentation. Data-wise, we use MySQL, Spanner, and BigQuery.

In terms of processes, we’re on continuous integration, so we’re deploying changes and updates multiple times per day.

What’s challenging about your work?

As a company, I think the big challenge is how quickly we’re growing. We all recognize that the structures that got us this far aren’t necessarily going to take us to the next level, and we’re figuring out how to scale our technology and our processes while still staying focused on the long-term vision.

“We’re figuring out how to scale our technology and our processes while staying focused on the long-term vision.”

For the SEO pod specifically, international growth has opened up a bunch of interesting puzzles, because there are differences in how people from other countries find Quizlet and use us. And regardless of the market, Google’s algorithm for search is constantly changing, which makes it tricky to figure out the best way to structure the site. Our team’s experiments also take a long time, because while another pod might be able to complete A/B testing in a week, we have to wait for Google to crawl our site, and for things to rank in order to understand what’s working.

Sometimes people are skeptical about working on SEO, but there are actually a lot of exciting challenges in terms of building an engine that’s constantly getting smarter. It opens up the door for new technologies, and we have a lot of data to work with. We just did a project with the Data Science team where we classified 300 million study sets in an academic taxonomy — so a user can navigate from science down to biology to anatomy — and we’re going to keep building on that with other forms of classification.

From new jokes, to recipes, to surfing, to data science, Quizlet team members love learning.

How does Quizlet support learning?

We definitely go after it from multiple angles. Every employee gets a $1,000 personal development budget for things like conferences, classes, and books, and we do a lot of internal training, as well. I think I’ve had more training in the past nine months than in the seven years before I joined! That starts with onboarding sessions to help people ramp up, but then there are ongoing sessions on things like interviewing and unconscious bias. I’ve been really impressed with those programs in particular; you don’t always get a lot out of trainings like that, but ours are awesome — super interactive and really helpful.

I think the bias training in particular is so important. To make sure we’re building the best product for our users, we need diverse perspectives. When we’re thinking about how and where we should look for candidates to bring in more people from underrepresented groups, it really helps that everyone on the team has the same fundamental education.

Quizlet’s first Womxn of Technology meetup, hosted by Genevieve (below), Web Engineer Lori-Anne Ashwood (above right), and Site Reliability Engineer Yanet León (below right).
Left: Genevieve gives a lightning talk on transitioning to management. Right: Yanet shares leadership training advice.

What’s it like to work in Denver, especially for a San-Francisco-based company?

Denver itself is wonderful. It’s becoming less of a well-kept secret, but our weather is great, and there’s a fabulous energy in the downtown area, where our office is. And within Quizlet, we’re definitely treated as a second HQ rather than a satellite. We’re adding more functions here all the time, and we’ve doubled in size in the nine months since I joined. We just moved into a bigger space.

As a Denver native myself, it’s especially exciting to be growing something I’m passionate about in the place I grew up. Tech is blowing up here — there are several San-Francisco-based companies that have a presence in Denver now, as well as homegrown companies — and I’m excited for Quizlet to have a larger influence in the community. The people on this team genuinely want to do good, and we live our values every day. As we have more success, I’m hopeful the way we do things will catch on.

Want to build a product for billions of global users?

Get in touch or check out open roles.

“There’s a mission-driven energy here that’s really special. We’re thinking about the impact we can have globally, not just in the U.S. or with a certain demographic, and about how to prioritize the right things. I think it comes down to a focus on people — both users and employees.” — Genevieve

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Job Portraits

Job Portraits specializes in Managed Employer Branding We use the truth to help teams find their people.