The String and Key Crew: David Hyman
As part of our ongoing employee spotlight series, we’ll be profiling colleagues who inspire us. Today, meet David Hyman.
Company Role: Director of Client Engineering
Most likely to: Be too honest (to his own detriment)
Secret talent: Actually a musician in real life
What if we told you, our Director of Client Engineering, David (basically the guy who runs the mobile and web frontend engineering show at String and Key), has a master’s degree in Jazz Studies and another one in Music Technology. A bit of a head-scratcher, right? Well, to cut a long story short, David’s tale is the tale of many a struggling artist. After spending 15 years in New Orleans going to school for music and just living that laidback NOLA life, he woke up one day and said, “hmm, I just can’t keep playing music for no money.” While looking into more “professional” jobs, a friend told him that musicians make pretty-good programmers (we looked it up, and yep, that’s a thing). So, he took a programming grad course and, sure enough, found a parallel with composing music, which was the ability to create and shape something from nothing. Turns out swapping chords for code was a great decision.
A far cry from painting houses, waiting tables, playing music, and doing whatever he had to do to survive as a musician, David is now a valued member of our senior leadership team. Still a music man at heart though, the only thing that’s really changed is his audience, which now consists of his two young kids vs. strangers at a venue.
David is the epitome of a true ride or die — he’s been creating products with our CEO, Alex, for over nine years, and he has continued to bring his expertise to his work here at String and Key. So read more of his story below and see what he has to say.
What do you do, and what does your typical workday look like?
I spend a lot of my time orchestrating the client teams and seeing what I can do to make sure they’re successful. Since each of our teams (iOS, Android, and Web) are in different development stages, I try to make sure that they’re all tended to, gelling, and just getting into their grooves.
On a typical workday, I wake up around 6am with my son; I chase him around and try and get a few things done like emptying the dishwasher and making my daughter’s lunch — you know, all that fun stuff. After the kids get to school, I sit down in front of the computer, and the first thing I do is check on what items other devs need from me. There might be some pull requests or some questions that I’ve marked as unread on Slack that I need to get to. I just work to unblock anyone whose way I’m in. Depending on what there is in that vein, I’ll then immediately go to GitHub, review code, and see what I can comment on. So that’s where I start — making sure that things are moving forward so that as people come online, I know they have everything they need to progress efficiently. After that, it’s standup time and then planning, coding, and meeting.
What’s your favorite part about working at String and Key?
I’ve worked on many helter-skelter software projects over the years. I won’t deny that I learned a ton from working this way, but it could be frustrating to make decisions out of expediency instead of out of consideration for the code itself. At String and Key we are being deliberate, thoughtful, and taking the “extra time”. A huge chunk of that “extra time” goes to collaboration. Instead of sweeping issues under the rug or kicking them down the road, we surface them immediately and make a decision based on a broad long-term vision. This allows and even forces us to think more architecturally. If we need to throw something overboard because it didn’t work, WE DO IT! If we need to jump into a major refactor for the long-term health of the codebase or to make something more testable, WE DO IT! Ultimately this gives me way more time to work at the team level and with individual contributors. I really love teaching and seeing the vision actualized in applications.
What excites you about your job?
So this goes back to how much I enjoyed going to school for a long time — I feel like I get paid to learn. I really enjoy having “eureka!” moments because they’re fulfilling and help energize me to continue moving forward. To always be learning is exciting; I feel like a Viking conquering new territory. As you go further and further as a programmer, you’re getting less “eureka!” moments, so it’s nice to be in a position where I get to continually explore new technologies.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
The challenge for the client team is to ensure that all of our applications (iOS, Android, Web) have the same functionality while expressing the uniqueness of each platform. Technically, I know a lot about building applications; I know a lot about all of the soft processes that go into building them. On the other hand, I don’t have the skillset at the level we are trying to achieve on each of these platforms. Across the client team, we are dealing with a bunch of programming languages and frameworks, disparate ways of building UI, different development environments. I need seriously talented devs to execute in each domain. I have to be comfortable not knowing everything. The only way that works is by investing in a strong team, creating an environment of trust. That is a process that requires constant attention. When we get it right we empower the team to maximize the realization of the application on their platform.
How do you stay on top of your game?
There are two paths to staying on top of my game. The first is a lot of collaborating and asking questions of the people at the company. For example, suppose I need to understand something deep and specific about Android; in that case, I’m 100% going to go to one of our Android engineers and ask them first. They are going to give me a really dope answer. That answer will either give me everything I need or lead me further down the path. The second path to knowledge is just fishing on the internet since, obviously, most of the solutions are out there. But for me, the first place I always go (maybe to the annoyance of some) is finding a person to take me through complex questions (not simple ones that I can find on the internet). Luckily enough, as we’ve grown and leveled up as a company, I have many more people to answer questions for me. Our expertise has grown broader and deeper. I love this.
What are the values that drive you?
Honesty, compassion, and gratitude.
On the honesty and compassion side, I always try to think about the people who are subject to my whims and fancies — not just the people who work under me, but the people who will be using the product we’re building. Because you can’t assume everyone who is helping put this product together to be thinking in those terms. I always have our end users in mind, and I’m compassionate to their needs. Honesty comes in when challenging people and having hard conversations. An example is challenging a colleague where they say, “you’re not thinking about the business side,” and I have to come back with, “well, you’re not thinking about the people side.” It’s all about creating that balance.
And on the gratitude side, one of the things that drives me insane is dealing with anyone — at work or outside of it — who doesn’t care about their work. And I’m not talking about you having a bad day, or if I come into work and you’re a zombie, it’s not that. It’s more about not being invested and not appreciating the opportunity and the privilege you have where you’re getting paid to learn. That sh*t drives me insane.
What’s one thing — either industry-related or not — that you’ve learned in the last month?
I’ve learned that there’s a type of shark that glows! It glows because it has some sort of bioluminescent stuff in its body. I think it’s called a Lantern Shark. The reason it glows is to make it look to the other fish that there’s nothing there. It’s basically camouflage! How do I know so much about this? Well, I’ve been reading those Little Golden Books for kids to my four-year-old daughter. She’s really into sharks, so I’ve been reading this particular book to her every night. Also, just google Goblin Shark. Its jaws come out of its face — it’s freaky stuff!
If you could swap places with anyone at String and Key, who would it be and why?
I’d choose either Soong or Luis (the S&K UI designers), just someone that gets to think in pictorial ways. I have no visual arts talent, so I envy their ability and opportunity to be really close to their art in a professional environment. The closest I’ve got to being close to music — in a professional space since becoming a programmer — is when I worked with our Head of Creative, Micah, and our CEO, Alex to craft the music for a game. Alex had read this article that said something crazy like 70% of the revenue that went through the AppStore went through games, so we said we gotta do a game! Luckily, Micah already had a really cool puzzle game he’d conceived with a friend a while back, so I said, “I wanna do the music.” I got to make music for this game on company time, and that was as close to the sun as I was able to fly.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
My children and my family — there’s really nothing else. Even the music I now play is to entertain my children. I have a guitar hanging on the wall in the living room, which I often pull down to play for ten minutes or so, but then it’s like somebody fell or it’s bath time so that never lasts too long.
Can you list five hashtags that describe your personality?#NoTwitterAccount #BitOfACutUp #Music #DefendNola #LivedThroughHurricaneKatrina
Burger or tacos?
Early mornings or late nights?
Movies or books?
Private island or private jet?
Speak 10 languages or play 10 instruments?
Play 10 instruments.
Interested in working at String and Key? Join us!
Learn more about the other members of our team here.