It’s a new year, and we’ve got a fresh batch of String and Key Crew profiles coming your way! These profiles are a great way to get to know the people who inspire us and make our company awesome. As always, if you like what you read and you think you’d enjoy working with us, check out our job openings because we’re hiring.
Company Role: Director of Platform Engineering
Most likely to: Show up on a bicycle
Secret talent: Staying up later than you
If you’re looking for some cool extra-curricular ideas, look no further as we share some hobby inspo via our Director of Platform Engineering, Seth. He builds his own bicycles, knows a thing or two about lockpicking, and can give you the oral history of most dance music styles. So how did this bike pro, part-time locksmith, and dance music enthusiast end up as part of our senior leadership at String and Key? Well, his story begins in the ‘burbs of Tampa, where he grew up. Choosing to stay in his home state to go to college in Miami, Seth graduated as a classically trained tubist, then spent some time playing music and working as a recording engineer in the magic city. He intended to stay in that lane career-wise, however, as many a tech tale goes, his side gig of doing web development for extra income really took off, and well, you know how that story ends…
After moving out to San Fran to kickstart his software career, Seth has spent most of his career working remotely. But, craving an office culture, and partly enticed by the awesome people at String and Key, and also by the opportunity to work more closely on financial products, Seth joined our Crew in NYC and has been jamming with us for about a year and a half now. And although the COVID pandemic deflated his office-life dreams, he admits that there’s been no loss of our great social culture during this remote time.
So without further ado, here’s Seth.
What do you do, and what does your typical workday look like?
I run the platform engineering department, which means I manage a team of backend and infrastructure/deployment engineers — basically, everyone involved in creating and operating the software at the heart of S&K’s business, behind the scenes. I also work closely with other engineering leaders and our compliance/security folks to ensure we’re bringing a platform to life that does what we need from a feature standpoint, performs well, and is secure and safe for our customers.
A typical workday begins with our team standup, mid-morning (like many in our corner of the org, I tend to be a bit of a night owl and shift my workday to slightly later hours than typical). After that, I spend my mornings working on code reviews, helping devs review their tasks, and generally being a facilitator for others. In the afternoons, I shift to more focused work like writing requirements and hiring work (recruiting and interviewing has been a big part of my life lately). I also work on more individual activities like 1:1s with the team or coordinating with other teams to ensure we’re building things in the right way. I’ll occasionally find myself moonlighting as an infrastructure engineer while we’ve been building up that arm of the team. I always enjoy those times when it makes sense for me to get my hands dirty a bit.
What’s your favorite part about working at String and Key?
We’re in a very unique position right now compared to most other companies I’ve worked at or am familiar with. We’re working on a not-in-market yet product, we’re growing rapidly, and we’re paying very deliberate attention to setting ourselves up for the future and doing things in the most correct way.
A well-established team rarely gets to build a greenfield software product in such an uncompromising way. This has created an environment where it’s very easy to be confident in what we’re building and how we’re building it. We’ve done this many times for clients in our past life as an agency, so we have that as backup. Confidence in software is a precious and occasionally rare thing on its own, and informed confidence even more. And so, it’s great to lead a team and work within a larger organization where this is possible.
What excites you about your job?
It’s almost impossible to predict any given workday’s challenges because so much of the most impactful part of my role is helping to facilitate the team or engineering organization’s efforts. When engineers stumble onto undefined areas in our requirements or are notified about some upstream changes or a potential defect discovered in some software or infrastructure, we want to deal with filling in that gap. We also want to ensure the impact of that change is known and well-managed while triaging that potential issue in the fastest, most robust, lowest-impact way. It’s lots of thinking on my feet, collaborating with others, and using our experience and deep product knowledge to know when to make a quick decision and when to dig in further. It’s a very dynamic and almost improvisational role at times.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
It’s almost impossible to predict any given workday’s challenges (and yes, this is a very deliberate callback). Lots has been written, by Paul Graham and others, about the differences between a “manager’s schedule” and a “maker’s schedule.” A dynamic role that requires both very focused time for exploring technical challenges and very available, responsive time for the facilitation work can be challenging — and directly at odds with one another. Perhaps the most constant thing about my plan for any workweek is that it will be shuffled around, so I try to leave plenty of unscheduled time to accommodate the surprises which will come up. If nothing comes up, this is when the focused time for technical work comes to life. But, my priority is always to make sure I’m as interruptible as possible so that we can keep everyone else moving forward.
What are the values that drive you?
Kindness, but also precision. Kindness sounds super vague, but it’s way more than just being nice. It’s not kind to waste someone’s time (because nobody has enough time). It’s not kind to withhold feedback for your own comfort if that feedback could help someone grow positively. When you’re being kind, you’re creating an environment where people can trust and operate in good faith, and the world would probably be a better place if we could all expect that from our friends, family, neighbors, etc. I’m fortunate to work with colleagues who share those values around kindness, transparency, and a high-trust environment.
Precision is the trait that drove me to say “kindness” and then explain exactly what I meant anyway. But, it’s also just a broad desire for some kind of correctness. I like chasing an ideal, anything where there is continual improvement and always something new to learn. So, I guess it’s not much of a surprise that I ended up in a technical career dealing with a lot of data and infrastructure. There’s plenty of correctness to chase, constant learning, and constant room for improvement.
What drew you to tech, and what excites you about the industry?
Tech is still doing a decent job of remaining an industry where formal credentials are mostly secondary to whether you can show up and do the work. Our technical teams are evidence of this. We have prior-career bootcamp grads, musicians gone engineering managers (seriously, multiple of us). Our Director of Client Engineering, David, and I attended some of the same music industry conferences in earlier chapters of our lives. We even have people without any formal/structured tech education, all working alongside our team members with bonafide computer science degrees. If you can deliver the right work with the proper care and attention, you’re in, and that’s a really cool and powerful thing to me. I don’t know of many other industries where there are so many different paths to a fulfilling career.
What’s one thing — either industry-related or not — that you’ve learned in the last month?
In pursuit of the outdoors and reasonably pandemic-safe things to keep busy with outside of work, a friend and I have been trying to get up into the mountains regularly to snowboard. I grew up in Florida, where snow sports aren’t really a thing, so it has been a giant learning exercise for me — and I think it has finally started to click. I technically started trying to learn prior to the last month. But, if we’re being honest, I don’t think I was really doing it right until very recently (so we’ll say I learned it recently).
If you could swap places with anyone at String and Key, who would it be and why?
Probably Jasmin, our senior copywriter — and I’m not just saying this because she’s helping to prepare this interview! I’ve always enjoyed writing, crafting a narrative, and figuring out what a good brand is all about. Hearing bits and pieces of the work our creative department has done to develop a meaningful brand identity for our products and use that to come up with everything from a name to tone of voice to choosing the right copy to put on buttons in the user experience is fascinating. It seems like it would be a really cool and different angle to approach building something that people love.
What unexpected subject could you give a one-hour presentation on with no advance prep?
Anything related to bicycles. How to build them, how to maintain them, how to ride them… and ride them backward… and stand still on them. There are always a few bikes around my apartment, space permitting, and I really enjoy wrenching on them. They’re such mechanically simple things and such a contrast to the somewhat intangible and complicated nature of technical work that I can’t help but fill tons of my free time working on my own bikes or even friends’ bikes. I’ve given at least one impromptu presentation on bike maintenance at a How-To Fika hosted by our People team and a much longer Bicycle 101 session for another event, too. Give me something to point with and a bike to point at, and I’ll teach you things you never knew you didn’t know about getting around on two wheels.
And finally, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A touring sound engineer — living on the road, working high profile stuff, and maybe eschewing the ever-popular sound guy ponytail. Working behind the scenes on software weirdly scratches some of the same itch to be making the magic happen in all the ways nobody ever thinks about.
Super strength or super speed
Super strength. (I like running; I hate lifting weights. I can train for the speed and take the strength for free).
Passenger or driver?
Jokes or riddles?
Saturdays or Sundays?
$1 million in gift cards or $100,00 in cash?